A drastic improvement in international cooperation is required if we are to stand any chance of meeting the challenging goals needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
While Europe works well together, there is a global need for focus on one of the world’s largest land masses. As the world’s hottest continent, Africa has enormous challenges to overcome. Africa is already facing more severe climate change impacts than many other parts of the world, despite bearing far less responsibility.
But the size of the continent together with guaranteed sunshine and thousands of miles of coastline means Africa has the energy resources to drive the major change it—and the world—needs in the years to come.
With COP27 heading to Sharm El-Sheikh this November, the world’s attention is about to fall on Africa. Without Africa on the team, there will be no solution to the global climate crisis.
A sustainable path for Africa
The recent International Energy Agency (IEA) report on sustainable energy in Africa presents a ‘sustainable Africa scenario’ in which Africans will gain universal access to affordable electricity by 2030.
However, the report states that realizing these goals would be a “formidable undertaking.” At the time of writing, about 600 million people lack access to electricity, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa.
Africa makes great use of biomass mostly for cooking in highly inefficient stoves. This causes a lot of premature deaths due to the inhalation of unhealthy substances in the smoke. Achieving universal access to clean cooking fuels and technologies by 2030 requires shifting at least 130 million people away from dirty cooking fuels each year, according to the IEA report.
To stand any chance of achieving a sustainable future, African countries must take the lead with clear strategies and policies. But the report also made a compelling case for international institutions to “reinforce their commitment to significantly increase their levels of support.”
Africa’s energy potential
From a global perspective there is vast unapped sustainable energy resources in Africa. The continent is home to about 60% of potential solar resources, yet only 1% of the installed solar PV capacity is in Africa. In the few places where solar PV is installed, it’s often the cheapest source of power.
Beyond domestic use, Africa has a major opportunity to export excess solar energy in the form of hydrogen. The possibility to produce hydrogen from solar power and create ‘hydrogen corridors’ by pipeline and ship to Europe across the Mediterranean is a potential win-win situation for both Africa and Europe.
Maps showing promising areas in Africa for cheap (less than $2/kg) hydrogen production show potential production of about 5,000 Mton per year. That’s equivalent to the global energy use today and about 60 times the current global production of hydrogen.
In addition, related ammonia production can provide zero emission transport. It’s also great for making fertilizer, much-needed to boost agriculture and thus food production in Africa.
Supporting Africa on the road to sustainability
Of course, the elephant in the room is the long, dark history of the world’s exploitation of Africa and its resources. The IEA makes a compelling case for the involvement of European money, but a true partnership approach with African countries taking the lead is the only possible way of success. Investment requirements are not astronomical, but time is needed to build the bonds, confidence and business models necessary.
The early signs are positive. So far, 12 African countries that represent more than 40% of the continent’s CO2 emissions have committed to the global ‘net zero by 2050’ targets.
The goal of universal access to modern energy calls for investment of $25 billion per year. That’s a big number on the face of it, but it’s actually just 1% of global energy investment today. But such investment alone won’t be enough. It must be backed up by sustainable business models that feature an acceptable risk, fair revenue-sharing models and an acceptance of the urgent need for increased international co-operation.
This also calls for a massive increase in cooperative actions in capacity building and knowledge sharing. Such development will rest upon strong institutions and knowledge adapted to local conditions in Africa.
Europe must reach out to increase co-operation and knowledge building with African countries to an extent which is not there at present. The most obvious place for this to take place is at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh this November.