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A Gap to be Filled: How Can Africa Keep Up With its Sustainability Targets?

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africa. sustainability. Roberto-Vigotti

There’s no way around it: in order to lessen the effects of climate change, the increase in global temperatures must be limited to + 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

The achievement of such a result, however, doesn’t come effortlessly: a coordinated and global mobilization, based on sustainable and smart solutions, is a pre-condition that cannot be overlooked, and which sinks its roots in the many international agreements (UN 2030 Agenda, Paris Agreement, etc.) we’ve seen flourishing in the last decade. 

These governance milestones have laid the foundation for the mushrooming of regional and national commitments.

From the African Development Bank’s New Deal on Energy, which aims to achieve 100% urban and 95% rural energy access by 2025, to the Agenda 2063, defined by the African Union as “Africa’s blueprint and master plan for transforming [the continent] into the global powerhouse of the future”.

Despite these hopeful advancements, the results of commitments and policies are still quite uneven. Only 40 out of the 53 African countries that approved Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) included specific development objectives for renewable energy.

Additionally, international accords are yielding dubious results in comparison to the goals they declare. Global emissions are expected to grow by 16% before 2030, and unfortunately Africa is not immune from this unsettling trend. Just a few nations (Jordan, Egypt and Morocco) are on track to reach their specific sustainability goals, and the growth of REs is still modest and often inconsistent. Additionally, when it comes to renewables, Africa experiences a high degree of polarization: Northern and Southern Africa channeled more than 50% of all added RE capacity since 2009, with only a few nations (Egypt, South Africa, and Morocco) luring more than 60% of REs-related investments. 

At this point, a fundamental doubt arises: what is hindering the full realization of international agreements, NDCs and other sustainability commitments? 

The answer is clear, and consists in eye-catching, implausible plans for the expansion of the REs markets. Few African nations have reliable procurement planning procedures, which frequently results in underinvestment in their renewable energy industries. Other structural inefficiencies (slow auctions, lack of transparency about important factors like tariffs, sluggish bureaucratic procedures,) contribute to the status quo, blocking the widespread adoption of sustainable power.

These issues are worsened by market distortions which favor fossil fuels, and by the absence of an effective fiscal framework able to regulate (and discourage) their exploitation. However, shifting away from them requires wisdom and planning, as fossil fuels continue to provide a considerable portion of Africa’s basic energy access. For instance, in the MENA region alone, non-renewable energy sources account for 90% of the electricity generated, and many of its national economies heavily rely on their revenues for their national fiscal balance.

But there’s more: in Africa, a new political agenda is gaining strength.  Its main pillar is the assumption that African countries shouldn’t necessarily refrain from utilizing the resources associated with fossil fuels. Timipre Marlin Sylva, Nigeria’s Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, stated that “We are still in the transition from firewood to gas. Please let us carry out our own transition”. Effective advocacy efforts should then stress on the economic and logistical advantages of renewables, in addition to their environmental benefits and their capacity to boost the socioeconomic development of the local communities.

In conclusion, the process of turning commitment into action should not be taken for granted, as it involves a significant amount of planning, policy updates, institutional awareness, and market reforms. A concerted effort must be kickstarted in order to utilize the vast renewable energy resources Africa is endowed with, and guarantee that everyone has access to sustainable energy. This effort must be based on shared objectives and common benchmarks, without neglecting the unique features, needs and issues of all the African countries.

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Roberto Vigotti

Roberto Vigotti

Roberto Vigotti is the Secretary General of RES4Africa Foundation, which gathers more than 30 stakeholders to accelerate the renewable energy transformation in Africa, with Africa and for Africa. In his 30+ year-long career he has covered various positions at Enel, University of Pisa, IEA and IRENA. When it was still considered an unlikely option, he was already convinced that deploying renewable energy in Africa would result in a positive socioeconomic impact for its population. In 2012, he therefore embarked on the RES4Africa adventure, to support a wider participation of private players in delivering investments in Africa. He also coordinates renewAfrica, an industry-backed Initiative that advocates the creation of a European comprehensive Programme for RE investments in Africa, to be promoted and owned by EU institutions