Africa’s future hinges on our ability to address both the climate crisis while supporting the continent’s development.
In 2022, Africa represents one of the destinations most affected by climate change as well as the continent with the highest rates of energy poverty worldwide.
While global stakeholders call for the immediate end to fossil fuel utilization and the rapid adoption of renewable energies, citing climate change concerns driven by greenhouse gas emissions, Africa’s capacity to achieve universal access to reliable electricity is centered around a differentiated and country-specific approach.
Therefore, the need for a just transition in Africa is emphasized, one in which climate change mitigation and Africa’s socioeconomic development is pursued hand in hand, rather than in opposition.
Towards a Just Transition
Currently, a mix of biomass (50%), oil (22%), coal (14%) and natural gas (14%) make up the energy mix, with over 600 million people living without access to electricity in Africa. Despite the fact that 40% of the population have access, the number of people with access to reliable electricity is considerably lower. In Nigeria, for example, 90% of the population have access and 95% a connection to the grid, and yet the country’s reliable power supply is merely 18%. Comparatively, despite only 23% of the population connected to the grid in Tanzania, reliable power supply sits at 54%, demonstrating a disparity that calls for not only a transition but one that is just.
So, how quickly can the continent implement a just transition? From a definitional aspect, the African Development Bank (AfDB) considers a just transition to be “Africa’s right to development and industrialization based on the Paris Agreement-negotiated language of equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.” While some countries boast significant coal deposits, others have better potential for oil and natural gas, each deserving to use their resources for sustainable development. For example, South Africa has over 9.9 billion tons of coal, the eighth largest reserves worldwide; Libya the largest oil reserves in Africa at 48.4 billion barrels; and Nigeria the biggest gas deposits at 200 trillion cubic feet. Meanwhile, countries including Kenya, Ethiopia and The Gambia hold better potential for renewables. A just transition, therefore, ensures each country adopts its own approach to the energy transition, one which prioritizes the development of economies through the monetization of resources.
Unlocking Sustainable Energy Solutions
To achieve universal access, the AfDB states that an additional 160 GW of new capacity, 130 million on-grid connections, 75 million off-grid connections and the provision of over 150 million households with access to clean cooking solutions is required. While renewable energies alone cannot provide enough baseload power to meet demand, low emission fuels such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) can. Recognized as the cleanest fossil fuel, LNG not only represents an excellent alternative to high emission sources but a key driver of Africa’s development. By monetizing its gas resources through LNG, Africa will unlock significant revenue, kickstart infrastructure development and usher in a new era of economic growth on the back of a clean energy source. Already there has been progress in this area with Senegal and Mauritania’s 10 million tons per annum (mtpa) Greater Tortue Ahmeyim development; the 12.8 mtpa Mozambique LNG project; and the 10 mtpa Tanzania LNG plant. By driving investment in LNG, Africa will be well positioned to address both climate change and energy poverty.
Meanwhile, with coal and oil continuing to play a power generation role in Africa – South Africa produces 80% of its electricity from coal for example – the adoption of carbon reducing measures across these industries will be key for addressing climate change while enabling sustainable development, with a number of solutions emerging. Firstly, carbon removal through technologies such as carbon capture and storage and the elimination of gas flaring is taking off across the continent. In South Africa, the Council for Geoscience is implementing a pilot carbon capture and storage project which is set to become operational by 2024. Similarly, the AfDB has launched the African Carbon Support Program – a two-year technical assistance program intended to assist member countries with access to carbon finance – while the World Bank is supporting a number of projects in Africa to lower emissions and drive carbon credit.
Secondly, with Africa responsible for merely 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the application of carbon credit solutions will not only help reduce emissions but enable the ongoing utilization of key resources such as coal and oil. By adopting technologies such as carbon removal and storage while applying carbon credit and tax across key industries, Africa will be able to directly address climate change, thereby reducing impacts, while prolonging the utilization of resources such as oil and coal integral for Africa’s socioeconomic development. Increasing access to electricity in Africa is important, but ensuring access to reliable electricity is just as significant, and the only way of achieving both of these goals is through a just transition centered around country-specific resources and carbon reduction.