19 May 2023

Fostering Energy Transition In Africa Through Policy

The world is at a critical juncture today where every small decision taken by the players of our society, be it businesses, governments, or multilateral institutions, can either result in a catastrophic future trifled with climate calamities induced by climate change or a greener and sustainable future.

At the current trajectory of global greenhouse emissions, the world is poised to exceed the target of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above the pre-industrial level, for which greenhouse emissions were supposed to peak in 2025 and decline by 43% till 2030. On the contrary, considering the current policies and pledges in place by several nations to reduce their carbon emissions and attain net zero emissions, the world is still poised for a 2.8°C increase above the pre-industrial level by the end of the century, far exceeding the goal of 2°C which could severely increase the risk of climate hazard for the world.

To make matters worse, climate change is only likely to worsen the existing inequality in the world. Climate change leads to natural disasters and calamities which result in forced migration and displacement of people, uprooting families from their native place of residence. People with access to resources are often in a better position to deal with adverse climate shocks than poor and vulnerable factions of society who do not have access to resources.

Climate change, therefore, widens the gap between the rich and the poor, communities as well as nations. The energy sector is the most significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the world, accounting for roughly 73.2% of total global greenhouse emissions. Therefore, a just energy transition away from high-carbon alternatives such as fossil fuels to low-carbon emitting sustainable and renewable options such as solar and wind energy, is vital to lower the global greenhouse gas emissions. A just energy transition is centred around people and communities.

It involves increased stakeholder participation and involvement in policy formulation and plans to transition away from high-carbon emitting alternatives to more sustainable and lower or zero-carbon emitting resources.

The government has a vital role to play in shaping the energy transition of a nation. The policies set up by the governments of a nation play a key role in fostering a conducive and enabling environment to transition to renewable energy. Just like the industrial policies of the government which foster business and economic activities in a nation, policies set in place to provide incentives to various sectors of the economy to decarbonize and switch to low-carbon emitting alternatives can play a pivotal role in fostering a just energy transition.

Under the Paris Agreement 2015, governments were required to “prepare, communicate and maintain successive Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) which it intends to achieve”. NDCs elaborate on the plan of a country to decarbonise its economy and address the impact of climate change. NDCs are an essential tool to set up the targets and goals of energy transition and net zero emissions and devise a pathway of the energy transition for each sector of the economy through policies and measures.

Achieving nationwide net zero emissions requires full commitment from the government, which needs to push various ministries and departments including energy, climate, environment, transport, health, etc. to adopt the vision of net zero emissions. For this purpose, NDCs can be used to align the policies for several critical ministries towards the same vision of net zero emissions in the economy. Mobilising climate finance through government policy is also essential for implementing climate adaptation and climate mitigation measures.

It is not possible for the government to solely take charge of the responsibility of energy transition in the country. The support and efforts from the private sector will play a pivotal role in determining the fate of energy transition and net zero emissions plans of the government. Therefore, governments can also use policy to mobilize and incentivize the private sector to join hands to realize the vision of a just energy transition.

Policies can be used to catalyze competition in the economy, especially in the private sector, which can fuel innovation and creativity, resulting in the generation of superior and efficient technology. For example, policies implemented by the US in the solar energy sector that fostered competition through incentives resulted in a steep decrease in the price of solar panels, thus improving their affordability. The affordability of clean energy is a key element of just energy transition.

Energy transition presents several benefits to the economy. Aside from preventing catastrophic losses in the future due to climate hazards, energy transition also generates economic opportunities and provides employment generation in the nation. It also improves the health of the citizens of the nation, preventing ailments caused by air pollution from fossil fuels. Meeting the needs of future generations with sustainable alternatives will be vital for the socio-economic progress of Africa.

Even though Africa has tremendous potential for renewable energy, the benefits of renewable energy remain to be tapped by the nations of Africa. According to the estimates of the International Renewable Energy Agency and the African Development Bank, Africa has a solar photovoltaic (PV) technical potential of 7,900 GW, a hydropower potential of 1,753 GW, and a wind energy potential of 461 GW.

The government will play a key role in utilizing this potential by putting in place national action plans and policies to transition to clean energy sources. The African nation of Nigeria is paving the path for the just energy transition. It has developed its Energy Transition Plan (ETP), Sustainable Energy for All Action Agenda (SE4ALL) and Building Energy Efficiency Code.

Nigeria’s SE4ALL has set the target of tripling the generation capacity of the country to 30 GW by 2030, out of which 30% will be generated from renewable sources. Nigeria Energy Compact has set a commitment of electrifying 25 million people across 5 million homes by 2023 using solar technologies while creating 250,000 jobs. It also includes providing 30 million households access to clean cooking and energizing sectors such as agriculture, textile and cold storage by using gas as a transition fuel.

The Paris Agreement 2015 talks about “common but differentiated responsibilities”, a concept that acknowledges the historically varied levels of greenhouse gas emissions by nations in the Global South and the Global North, but at the same time encourages all nations to contribute towards the goal of net zero emissions and climate action. As future policymakers, youth has a key role to play in advocating for the implementation of NDCs. Energy transition is essential for all countries, especially African countries which are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Author: Pranav Anand, The Geostrata

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