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Africa on Threshold of Triple Energy Win for People, Power and Planet

CAPE TOWN, Jun 11 2015 (IPS) - Renewable energy is at the forefront of the changes sweeping Africa, and a “triple win” is within the region’s grasp to increase agricultural productivity, improve resilience to climate change, and contribute to long-term reductions in dangerous carbon emissions.

This is the message of a new report by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Africa Progress Panel, titled Power, People, Planet: Seizing Africa’s Energy and Climate Opportunities.

The report calls for a ten-fold increase in power generation to provide all Africans with access to electricity by 2030, saying that this would reduce poverty and inequality, boost growth and provide the climate leadership that is sorely missing at the international level.

It also urges African governments, investors, and international financial institutions to scale up investment in energy significantly in order to unlock Africa’s potential as a global low-carbon superpower. 

“We categorically reject the idea that Africa has to choose between growth and low-carbon development. Africa needs to utilise all of its energy assets in the short term, while building the foundations for a competitive, low-carbon energy infrastructure” – Kofi Annan

“We categorically reject the idea that Africa has to choose between growth and low-carbon development,” said Annan. “Africa needs to utilise all of its energy assets in the short term, while building the foundations for a competitive, low-carbon energy infrastructure.”

Over 62 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to electricity – and this number is rising.

The report notes that, excluding South Africa, which generates half the region’s electricity, sub-Saharan Africa uses less electricity than Spain. It would take the average Tanzanian eight years to use as much electricity as an average American consumes in a single month. And over the course of one year someone boiling a kettle twice a day in the United Kingdom uses five times more electricity than an Ethiopian consumes over the same year.

Power shortages are estimated to diminish the region’s growth by 2-4 percent a year, holding back efforts to create jobs and reduce poverty.

Despite a decade of growth, the power generation gap between Africa and other regions is widening. Nigeria, for example, is a petroleum exporting superpower, but 95 million of the country’s citizens rely on wood, charcoal and straw for energy.

The report reveals that households living on less than 2.50 dollars a day collectively spend 10 billion dollars every year on energy-related products, such as charcoal, kerosene, candles and torches.

Measured on a per unit basis, Africa’s poorest households are spending around 10 dollars/kWh on lighting – 20 times more than Africa’s richest households. By comparison, the national average cost for electricity in the United States is 0.12 dollars/kWh and in the United Kingdom 0.15 dollars/kWh.

The report says Africa’s leaders must start an energy revolution that connects the unconnected, and meets the demands of consumers, businesses and investors for affordable and reliable electricity.

It urges African governments to:

  • Use the region’s natural gas to provide domestic energy as well as exports, while harnessing Africa’s vast untapped renewable energy potential.
  • Cut corruption, make utility governance more transparent, strengthen regulations and increase public spending on energy infrastructure.
  • Redirect the 21 billion dollars spent on subsidies for loss-making utilities and electricity consumption – which benefit mainly the rich – towards connection subsidies and renewable energy investments that deliver energy to the poor.

The report also calls for strengthened international cooperation to close Africa’s energy sector financing gap, estimated to be 55 billion dollars annually to 2030, which includes 35 billion dollars for investments in plant, transmission and distribution, and 20 billion dollars for the costs of universal access.

A global connectivity fund with a target of reaching an additional 600 million Africans by 2030 is said to be needed to drive investment in on- and off-grid energy provision, with aid donors and financial institutions doing more to unlock private investment through risk guarantees and mitigation finance.

Time to end ‘climate negotiating poker’

The report also challenges African governments and their international partners to raise the level of ambition for the crucial climate summit in Paris in December, and calls for wholesale reform of the fragmented, under-resourced and ineffective climate financing system.

G20 countries are called on set a timetable for phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, with a ban on exploration and production subsidies by 2018.  “Many rich country governments tell us they want a climate deal. But at the same time billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money are subsidising the discovery of new coal, oil and gas reserves,” said Annan. “They should be pricing carbon out of the market through taxation, not subsiding a climate catastrophe.”

While recognising recent improvements in the negotiating positions of the European Union, the United States and China, the report says that current proposals still fall far short of a credible deal for limiting global warming to no more than 2˚C above pre-industrial levels.

The former U.N. Secretary-General said that “by hedging their bets and waiting for others to move first, some governments are playing poker with the planet and future generations’ lives. This is not a moment for prevarication, short-term self-interest and constrained ambition, but for bold global leadership and decisive action.”

“Countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa,” he added, “are emerging as front-runners in the global transition to low carbon energy. Africa is well positioned to expand the power generation needed to drive growth, deliver energy for all and play a leadership role in the crucial climate change negotiations.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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