Climate Change

21 Nov 2022

Africa’s Energy Trilemma

21 Nov 2022  by   
The world is facing an energy trilemma. Leaders in the public and private sectors are faced with the challenging puzzle of how to ensure a secure and reliable supply of energy while also keeping energy prices affordable and minimizing negative environmental externalities. This isn’t easy anywhere on Earth, but nowhere is it more of a challenge than in Africa, the continent that epitomizes the trilemma as well as the consequences of falling short.

600 million people across the continent still lack access to energy, and that number will only expand as the population continues its growth trajectory. It is projected that by 2050, one in four of the world’s people will be sub-Saharan African, and the region’s energy demand is expected to increase by a third over the next ten years. As such, meeting this projected energy demand will require a ten-fold increase in power generation capacity by 2065.

Development of affordable energy resources is therefore of top priority for development. In Africa, cheap energy often means taking advantage of the fossil fuel resources and infrastructure that are already in place locally. However, Africa is also disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, despite contributing just 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Seven out of the ten countries most vulnerable to climate change are located in Africa, and therefore will be disproportionately impacted by each additional ton of carbon dioxide equivalent released into the atmosphere.

For these reasons, the World Economic Forum has stated that “financing Africa’s green energy transition should be the focus of COP27.” The 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference is currently taking place for its second and final week in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. But as the conference draws to a close, African leaders don’t feel that their unique position has been fairly weighed. According to African leaders, the focus on decarbonization is all well and good but needs to be seen from a different lens and with differentiated priorities in the context of Africa. As Verner Ayukegba, Senior Vice President of the African Energy Chamber told CNN, “If in the US your fridge uses more power in a year than an African family, where do we start in terms of addressing the problem?

This sort of climate (in)justice is a common refrain from the developing world, who feel that they should have the opportunity to develop their economies just as the developed world did before being asked to kickstart a green energy transition that they can’t afford. This is where climate financing is key. Africa has 39% of the world's clean energy potential – more than any other continent. Tapping into that potential will be essential to addressing the energy trilemma, but doing so will require that the world’s richest countries make good on their repeated (and repeatedly shirked) promises to direct $100 billion a year in climate financing to the world’s poorest nations.

The problem is that while there is currently plenty of foreign investing in the African energy sector, the vast majority of that is directed at oil and gas, and mostly for export. "Fossil fuel companies are showing their greed and plan to exploit fossil fuels in 48 out of 55 African countries,” Joab Okanda, Christian Aid’s Pan African Advocacy Advisor, said at COP27’s Energy Day. “If all this fossil fuel is successfully burned then it will push us past the Paris Agreement goals and spell misery for African people already on the front lines of this crisis.”

While increased oil and gas capacity would be welcome for many Africans living in energy poverty, these developments will do nearly nothing to fill their own energy needs; Africans themselves are not the target of the fuel, just the consequences of the emissions. “What’s so galling is that 89% the liquified natural gas infrastructure being built in Africa is to be exported to Europe to bail them out of their addiction to Russian gas,” Okanda continued. “We cannot be Europe’s gas station. Otherwise, we will crash the climate.”


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