ENERGY WILL BE AT THE heart of the future economy, locally and globally. It will set apart the poor and the prosperous. It will define prosperity or poverty at the individual, household, corporate, national and global levels. Energy will influence productivity in no small measure for good or for bad. The dichotomy is already becoming self-evident as some countries are at the forefront in matters of energy, while many others are way behind, with no visible sign of them catching up soon. The world will still be further divided into two on the basis of energy and the vulnerabilities of the hitherto poor countries will be made even worse as the full picture of the future of the global energy industry unfolds. Nothing drastic or magical will make those behind to suddenly spring any surprise as a lot of investments going into the energy sector will keep the frontline states ahead and the laggards still behind.
The ideals espoused by the proponents of energy transition will end up with a lot of upsides and downsides – for the universe and the inhabitants, particularly mankind. Ideology, politics, economics and sheer recklessness will play significant roles in shaping the world that will emerge through energy transition. A new world that is emerging will take a clearer shape when the full ramification of energy’s relevance emerges. Clearly, the world’s reliance on energy as a central commodity will be more pronounced. The type of “energy equity” that will be bestowed on the world will get clearer in a matter of time as some countries become both energy sufficient and more energy efficient. The new realities will shape global diplomacy, new hubs of supremacy and activists’ advocacy. Jobs, food, health, economies and logistics will be significantly affected in profound ways. It is already becoming clear who are likely to become the leaders and foot-draggers in the emerging world of energy transition.
Climate activists, policymakers, politicians, indigenous populations and corporate commercial entities now seem to realise the risk the future holds if nothing drastic is done about the status quo in the global energy sector. While the hitherto industrialised countries appear poised for the next big thing, those still struggling with development may remain bogged down essentially by livelihood challenges and vulnerabilities. These will be further exacerbated by the various vulnerability contexts that will shape their utilisation of the various livelihood assets, which will further determine their livelihood outcomes as shaped by existing or prevalent processes and structures. It needs to be emphasised that the dominant structures and processes will in turn shape the strategies that will produce the outcomes. There is no dispute that politicians will be at the very centre of all these and their determination or lack of it will largely determine how any country adapts.
To their discredit, the same politicians and public officers that attend climate conferences in their official capacities have not been able to influence the direction of global climate change significantly in favour of the vulnerable population, which constitute the majority. This is especially so when conflicts of interests are involved. Some outcomes of countries’ commitments to reduction of global warming have already become self-evident in recent times. While the EU’s initial nationally determined contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement at COP21 was the commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030 compared to 1990, under its wider 2030 climate and energy framework, many countries are yet to take off. Notably in Africa, policies and practices have hardly been modified in many countries to reflect their readiness for new realities. Seven years after, evidence that African countries are truly committed to COP 21 are yet to emerge since the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate change agreement was adopted at the Paris climate conference.
The Paris Agreement, which sets out a global framework to avoid perilous climate change by restricting global warming and limiting it to 1.5°C, was such that each country was expected to submit an updated national climate action NDC plan every five years. Africa, by contrast, has only been progressing slowly in grades. Here are some timelines to buttress this point. The Africa NDC Hub was established by the African Development Bank (AfDB) in November 2017, with support from intergovernmental pan-African institutions such as the AU Commission, UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), among others. This was to act as a backing platform in response to the call by African countries for support. As at December 2019, Africa was still waiting for ECA and possibly other regional agencies to support African countries to revise their NDCs to attract the private sector. In June 2021, there were talks about Pillar Two of the Green Recovery Action Plan on supporting Renewable Energy, energy efficiency and national ‘just’ transition programmes. And, in February 2022, African leaders were still pushing for adequate financial and technical support to address climate change challenges in the lead up to COP27.
The far-sighted Agenda 2063 of the African Union (AU) may not yet have got to the point of prioritising climate and energy issues with the needed urgency in line with the NDCs, which embody efforts by each country toward the achievement of these long-term goals at the heart of the Paris Agreement. A single country in Africa seems to have become an outlier and has decided to take its own fate into its own hands since COP21 when South Africa launched an ambitious long-term Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP). This was in partnership with France, Germany, the UK, the US and the EU, to support its decarbonisation and energy transition efforts. Nigeria, the biggest economy and largest country by population in Africa, still remains in a quandary. While the government talks big on climate investment, official policies implemented since 2015 seem to be at variance with the climate change mitigation goals.
Nigeria currently spends $366 million monthly on petrol subsidies alone. This is not an investment in a definite programme of decarbonisation, but on consumption, which makes it altogether unsustainable, especially under a government currently operating enormous annual budget deficits while incurring colossal foreign loan overhang. In the year 2023, the government is projected to spend $43 million daily on petrol subsidy and according to the Finance Minister, this could rise up to N6.72 trillion or $16.2 billion if it keeps a fuel subsidy in place. It means, with the right policies, appropriate priorities and political will, the Nigerian government could muster the funds needed for its climate intervention and energy transition internally. Nigeria still struggles with its electricity supplies at 55 percent access while four North African countries top the list of African countries with the best electricity access, based on statistics. “Tracking SDG7: The Energy Progress Report,” a global dashboard dedicated to registering progress on energy access across Africa and elsewhere, is a collaborative initiative by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), the World Bank and other partners. Last updated in 2019, the dashboard listed Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia as having 100 percent energy access, covering all of domestic consumption needs, for both rural and urban areas. Satellite imagery confirms these vast differences.
Compared with the neighbouring European Union having widespread bright sparks of light all over, the night time satellite image of Africa shows intense bright areas near the Mediterranean coasts of Africa. The rest is a dark continent – particularly Sub-Saharan Africa – with just a few dots of lights in the southern, western, central and eastern parts. Area occupied by South Africa on the map shows only a few scattered dots of lights. This alone remains a huge indictment on African leaders. Vanuatu, a country of an estimated 300,000 people spread over roughly 80 islands on the southwestern Pacific Ocean, is attracting global attention for its climate programmes. Easily one of the most climate change-prone countries, Vanuatu has launched one of the world’s most ambitious climate policies, committing to 100 percent renewable energy and asking the International Court of Justice to hand down advisory opinions on climate harm. The small island state is supporting communities to increase their resilience to climate change by offering loss-and-damage finance facilities to support vulnerable communities. Its National Adaptation Plan for Action (NAPA) has the support of the Global Environment Fund (GEF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This small country is also moving ahead with its Green Climate Fund.
The journey of Africa to 2030 global agenda timeframe will be an interesting one as Africa’s demand for energy is projected to grow exponentially in years ahead as the population grows. The homestead, industrial and transportation demands for energy will be on the increase. The crisis which Africa urgently needs to solve is that of meeting the rising demands while also keeping the environment under control. It has been variously acknowledged that Africa, which is about 20 percent of the total global population, is contributing just about three percent of the world’s total greenhouse emissions. Africans are also reportedly already disproportionately experiencing the negative effects of climate change, including water stress, reduced food production, increased frequency of extreme weather events and lower economic growth. The self-reinforcing factors of livelihood challenges could impede Africa’s progress on the energy sufficiency journey. It could also hamper the energy transition progress in many different ways as nearly 580 million people in sub-Saharan Africa still lacked access to electricity in 2019.
Livelihood consideration cannot be taken in isolation while dealing with energy issues, particularly energy transition in Africa. It has been reported that around 460 million people in Africa are living in extreme poverty, with the poverty threshold at 1.90 U.S. dollars a day in 2022. There is both a positive correlation and causation between poverty and access to energy. Many livelihood opportunities are missed and such missed opportunities also reinforce the lack of access to energy in a vicious cycle. Interventions on livelihood challenges and vulnerability will go a very long way in solving part of energy access hurdles in Africa. The projection by the International Energy Agency (IEA) that renewable energy will contribute 22 percent of Africa’s total energy consumption by 2030 sounds overly optimistic, especially considering the realities in various countries of Africa. Although it revealed that, as of May 2022, countries representing more than 70 percent of global CO2 emissions have committed to reach net zero emissions by around mid-century, stating that this includes 12 African countries that represent over 40 percent of the continent’s total CO2 emissions, details are yet to emerge how exactly their commitments will be translated into specific and verifiable actions.
The pressure for Africa to migrate from the present level of fossil fuel energy consumption to renewables may not bode too well for the continent in the short term and, in the long run, if it does not factor in the livelihood challenges of nearly 500 poor Africans. In reality, a rapid transition to renewable energy might upset the delicate balance between the affluent and the poor, tilting the balance more on the side of the poor. This has to be considered very well at the continental, regional, national, households and individual levels. The effects of the declining costs of renewable energy tools and technologies are not yet felt well in Africa. And, if the postulation of Varun Sivaram on the possible gang-up of leading investors to restrict free trade in renewable technology is anything to go by, Africa may still lag behind in a decade’s time. Except aggressive energy equity campaigns, backed by strong advocacy and policy support are in place, Africa‘s progress in energy sufficiency and in the direction of energy transition may remain as slow as ever in the years ahead.
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