Event Reports

Harnessing renewable energy sources for sustainable development in Africa

Given the need to prioritise growth in the developing world, the goals must be 'development-climate compatible,' not, 'climate-development compatible', according to Dr. Youba Sokona, coordinator, African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC) based in the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

2015
Jun
08

Given the need to prioritise growth in the developing world, the goals must be ’development-climate compatible,’ not, ’climate-development compatible’, according to Dr. Youba Sokona, coordinator, African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC) based in the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and co-chair of IPCC Working Group III. Additionally, they must not be top-down this time, and be open to wide, multi-stakeholder participation, said Dr. Sokona while speaking on the topic of the potential of renewable energy sources for sustainable development at Observer Research Foundation on August 9, 2015.

Dr. Sokona began the talk by saying that some energy strategies are local to the Indian subcontinent, such as the use of cow-dung to produce biomass energy. The India-Africa Summit could be an opportunity to get insight on local solutions and to facilitate cooperation between India and Africa.

Today, several countries in Africa, such as Nigeria, Rwanda, Congo and Ethiopia are fast-growing economies – growing at an average rate of 5% per year. However, there are certain problems in the growth. The growth in these economies is driven by primary production which makes them vulnerable to high dependence on natural resources, high commodity prices, and the dominance of extractive economy. Moreover, the growth has not been inclusive as large parts of Africa have witnessed ’jobless growth’.

This could be because the access to energy and other growth-enabling factors has been low and uneven. According to Dr. Sokona, the projections for 2014 demonstrate a further decrease in energy within the continent. Further, the agriculture sector which employs about 60% of Africa, is witnessing minimal mechanization and low productivity. The Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector has tremendous potential, but, the lack of electricity is a severe hindrance to its growth. Therefore, Africa is facing a huge energy investment gap.

However, Dr. Sokona stated that Africa does have several renewable energy resources, such as solar, hydro, wind, small hydro and geothermal energies. It is also gradually gaining, but needs more, access to lower cost renewable energy technologies. There is also growing experience in renewable energy deployment in the continent. According to Dr. Sokona, the future of power systems must be more flexible; hence, the main goal of Africa Renewable Energy Initiative is to widen the access of energy.

Universal access will not only help achieve the energy-specific SDG goal 7: ’Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all’, but can facilitate the achievement of all other goals, particularly, goal 13: ’Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’ , goal 2: ’End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture’, goal 8: ’Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all’, and goal 17: ’Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development’ .

Main elements of the initiative are focussed on mapping and coordinating of existing sources of renewable energy in an effort to not duplicate; determining the level of effort; providing long-term investment security; enhancing domestic renewable energy manufacturing capacity; and driving upgrades of existing grids and accelerated mini-grid roll outs. Moreover, it aims to expand the use of non-electrical energy in productive applications and to provide seed capital to improve energy efficiency.

Dr. Sokona said that though it is mutually beneficial, there may be some technical problems in energy technology exchange between India and Africa. Both regions have capacity, but both lack adequate mobilization of that capacity. Building partnerships with knowledge institutions could be useful. Additionally, the involvement of the Indian and African Diasporas could help supplement financing. However, funding from GCF to cover operating costs, and the fulfilment of commitments from international donors cannot be substituted.

The Africa Renewable Energy Initiative is envisioned as a global Africa led framework, with a content-wide reach, that involves comprehensive policy programming and international public financing that could harness new waves of transformation. Also, African governments will need to mobilize political support. The governments must be able to bring reforms and support at 3 levels: strategic, operational, and technical. A multi-stakeholder steering committee, a management mechanism which is light, flexible, responsive, and transparent in terms of decision-making and allocation of funds are aspects that could make a difference.

Addressing questions and comments, Dr. Sokona asserted that in Africa, different countries have different realities; however, certain commonalities exist. Most African countries have massive gas resources but no infrastructure to harness it. Plus, only 3% of all African land is under irrigation and a minimum amount of it is dedicated to energy issues. It is important for long-term impact that international climate change processes establish strong financial commitments.

Concluding the talk, Dr. Sokona said of the India-Africa cooperation that India has a ’late-comer’s advantage’ in Africa. It can choose to follow Chinese or the EU strategy, but could also bring something different given its situational similarities to Africa. However, in the past cooperation between India and Africa has been as-hoc and fragmented, it is time to depart from that approach and learn from past experiences. India has advanced technologies, transportation mechanisms, and capacities in the agriculture sector. Moreover, there’s growing interest in Indian government to collaborate with Africa – on scientific and research fronts. Cohesive research and co-designed partnership could be mutually beneficial for both regions.

Earlier, moderating the event, Mr. HHS Viswanathan, Head, ORF Africa Studies Programme and a former ambassador to Africa, said the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative, which is essentially a framework for harnessing renewable energy for sustainable growth, is highly topical in the current policy environment with the upcoming United Nations General Assembly session that will declare the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in September, the India-Africa Summit in October, and the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris (COP21) in December.

(This report is prepared by Vidisha Mishra, Research Assistant, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)