Roberto Vigotti, Secretary General of RES4Africa Foundation.
One of the key themes of the current public debate is, with no doubt, energy and how crucial it is to guarantee the provision of basic services and the hold of the socioeconomic fabric. In the historical period of climate change, however, the discussion is every day more focused on how necessary is that energy becomes safe, sustainable and reliable, laying the foundations for the complex topic of the energy transition.
At this point, though, a question naturally arises: if the energy world is destined to mutate, which socioeconomic impact could derive from a transformation of such magnitude? And what outcome should we expect in regions which, like Africa, deal every day with considerable challenges?
These questions represent the basis for the new Flagship Publication of RES4Africa Foundation, Towards a Prosperous and Sustainable Africa: maximising the socioeconomic gains of Africa’s sustainable energy transition, designed and edited with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the United Nations Commission for Africa (UNECA).
The starting point of the reflection is that, in Africa, there’s still a lot to do. Although considerable progress has been made (115 million people gained access to energy between 2014 and 2019), there are still 24 countries where the electrification rate is below 50%. Unsatisfactory levels of access to energy go hand in hand with disappointing economic performances: if the African continent extended its availability of renewable energy sources, keeping its average temperature increase within 1.5° C, we could witness an increase in GDP up to 6.4%, with 28 million more jobs by 2050, of which 8 from renewables (IEA data). A greater use of green energy would have an extremely positive impact also from a social point of view: about 60% of African healthcare facilities do not have access to electricity, as doesn’t 90% of schools. Such a complex picture is complemented by further dimensions to consider, such as social justice, empowerment, gender equality and safety.
The energy transition that we aspire to build must therefore be holistic and inclusive, and cannot be initiated without the involvement of the private sector. It is precisely from here that the most decisive impulse must come, to implement strategies that maximise the positive socioeconomic externalities of renewable energy projects. Numerous players have already embarked on this path: more and more companies have changed their operational strategy, implementing electrification projects in remote areas or inaugurating real socio-environmental balances in their project reports.
However, for such virtuous practices to become the norm, there is still a lot of work to be done. As emerges from the Flagship Publication, there are three preconditions that African governments should meet. The first consists of a broad package of macro and institutional actions: it is desirable that the authorities integrate inclusiveness, economic sustainability and social justice into their long-term energy programmes, creating multi-stakeholder platforms dedicated to partnerships, and aligning the construction of energy infrastructures to national socioeconomic indicators. Equally important are the interventions targeting the renewable energy industry: they should be aimed at maximising the socioeconomic contribution that the sector can make.
The creation of African supply chains and the birth of regional production poles should be the starting point, together with greater investments in research, innovation and capacity building. Finally, it is desirable to plan and implement strategies in favor of the business environment, in order to create a welcoming and safe sector, which favours the development of private initiatives with high added value in the field of socioeconomic sustainability. Desirable actions are the creation of adequate corporate financing schemes, or the creation of public support tools such as incentives and subsidies.
Our reflection represented a foray into a complex issue: as emerges from the Flagship Publication, renewable energies are an effective resource for combating climate change, but their potential goes far beyond the energy and production sector: they represent a ramp launch to build a more prosperous and sustainable Africa, based on work, social equality, access to quality services and new possibilities for community and personal empowerment.