Moving away from coal to achieve Africa’s sustainable energy future
By Michael R. Bloomberg and Damilola Ogunbiyi
Without international support, including large-scale investments, African countries will not be able to extend energy access to all and achieve their climate goals. The alternative – an increased reliance on coal – would have devastating consequences.
Economic growth and population growth mean growing energy needs. The international community must work with developing countries to meet these needs through universal access to affordable, reliable and clean energy. At the same time, we must enable a fair and just transition away from coal and other fossil fuels, in line with the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
Nowhere is this more true than in Africa, which has rich solar and wind energy potential and has made great strides in using other renewable sources, including hydropower, geothermal and biofuels. But without international support, including large-scale investments, African countries will not be able to extend energy access to all and meet their climate goals.
The alternative – an increased reliance on coal – would have devastating consequences. Globally, coal is the biggest contributor to climate change, and increasing coal use will make communities even more vulnerable to its effects. The burning of coal and other fossil fuels also releases deadly chemicals into the air and water, contributing to more than one million deaths worldwide from burning fossil fuels each year.
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Choosing clean energy over coal will therefore have immediate health benefits. It will also create new jobs and stimulate economic growth. Coal is increasingly more expensive than solar and wind, even before its terrible and costly effects on public health are taken into account. Since coal-fired power plants become even more expensive to operate as they age, coal investment costs will only increase for many years to come. Meanwhile, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has highlighted the urgent need for countries to reduce their reliance on imported fossil fuels.
Clean energy promises even greater opportunities in Africa, where many communities are removed from centralized grids and extending the grid to reach everyone may not be financially possible. Decentralized clean energy offers a faster and more affordable way to expand access to energy, thereby expanding opportunities and further accelerating Africa’s economic growth. Solar and wind mini-grids can power not only homes, but also local hospitals, schools, businesses and other essential community resources.
Rich countries – including the United States – have a responsibility to help Africa seize these opportunities. They have benefited from more than a century of carbon-intensive development that now puts people in Africa and the developing world at great risk. African countries, which account for only 2-3% of current global carbon dioxide emissions, have contributed the least to the climate crisis but face the most devastating consequences.
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In 2009, rich countries pledged to provide $100 billion a year to help the developing world fight climate change and prepare for its effects, but that promise has never been fulfilled. This needs to change now, but more needs to be done. Governments, multilateral banks, private investment firms and philanthropists must do more to boost clean energy financing in developing countries that might otherwise be forced to rely on carbon-intensive solutions .
At the ongoing Sustainable Energy for All Forum 2022 in Kigali, Rwanda, which brings together African leaders and other world leaders, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced a new investment of $242 million to accelerate progress on clean energy in ten developing countries. Four are in Africa: Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria and South Africa. Each of these countries has enormous renewable energy resources and can serve as an example to others around the world.
In partnership with Sustainable Energy for All, the International Solar Alliance and other organizations, this funding will help these countries boost investment in clean energy and avoid having to build new dirty coal plants. Together, we will help countries develop smart policies, attract new financing, set up clean energy pilot projects, engage the public to encourage leaders to adopt clean energy, and provide the data and the research these leaders will need to develop the most effective policies. We have seen that it is possible to reduce CO2 emissions and increase access to affordable, clean energy at the same time, and to do it quickly.
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There are promising clean energy developments across Africa. For example, the presidency of last year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) and the Energy Transition Council brought together governments, development institutions and financiers to create an enabling investment framework. Nigeria’s energy transition plan. Kenya’s electrification strategy has focused on a variety of renewable energy sources, leveraging multiple public and private financing channels and strategies for industrial, rural, and on-grid and off-grid alternatives to coal.
However, we urgently need more action and investment ahead of COP27 in Egypt in November – Africa’s first global climate summit since 2016. African countries can lead the way by fueling growing their economies with clean energy. But they shouldn’t have to act alone. ESI
Michael R. Bloomberg is the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Climate Ambition and Solutions.
Damilola OgunbiyiCEO of Sustainable Energy for All, is the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All and Co-Chair of UN-Energy.
Republished with permission