- Frankly Speaking
- By Shada Islam
How to turn energy access for all from a dream into reality
It’s a tough ask for developing countries to tackle the climate crisis and to ensure energy for all (UN SDG7), but it can be done. Five panellists, with expertise in the African public and private sectors, shared ideas on achieving these two key goals.
“Climate action is front of mind, because of this month’s UN COP25 talks, but many developing countries still face energy poverty challenges,” said the moderator Shada Islam, Director of Europe & Geopolitics at Friends of Europe. Around 840 million people globally still lack access to electricity. Is there any hope of achieving SDG 7 – of ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all – by 2030?
“We can tackle climate issues and energy poverty by transitioning the energy sector from fossils fuels to zero-carbon to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” replied Carla Montesi, Director for Planet and Prosperity at the European Commission Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO) . In her view, this is a great opportunity to achieve SDG7 – and several other SDGs, while meeting the EU’s mid-century climate action goals. Yet it will require an integrated approach, including reforms to governance and regulatory frameworks.
Africa Energy Outlook 2019
There was also optimism from Stéphanie Bouckaert, Senior energy Analyst and Co-Lead of Africa Outlook at the International Energy Agency (IEA): “Our new report concluded there is big potential growth for African energy demand.” This growth should stem from a soaring population by 2040, plus rapid urbanisation and industrialisation – all driving Africa’s need for more energy and unlocking economic growth.
The IEA report says this growth will be fuelled by renewable energies, energy efficiency, and natural gas. If African governments focus on these three areas, there is every chance the continent will achieve Agenda 2063 development plans as well as SDG 7, added Bouckaert.
Renewables were often highlighted, especially solar energy, which has enormous potential in the continent’s sunny skies. But Africa has only 5 GW installed solar capacity, little more than Belgium. Its other renewables, like wind and hydro, are under-developed too. Panellists also lamented Africa’s lack of electricity transmission and distribution capacity. This is an area the EU has addressed, investing €3bn in African energy projects since 2012. Further investment is expected under the EU’s new Green Deal and a European Commission committed to more support for Africa’s climate action, environment and biodiversity.
Investment is key for Africa and its energy sector, but extra funds won’t suffice. According to Michael Franz, Team Leader of GET.Invest (a European programme that mobilises investments in decentralised renewable energy projects), “Early stage money is really helpful for projects. We must also create the right conditions for business, including sound regulation, so money will flow into investments.” There is no lack of money available, but international donors and lenders should also fund smaller projects, not just big infrastructure. Further investment solutions could include diaspora entrepreneurs and innovative funding, such as the European Investment Bank’s new energy lending policy, concentrated on clean energy.
“€2bn a year flows into South Sudan, but there’s no money for renewables and little government interest in it,” said Peter Sam Mutoredzanwa, UNOPS Country Director for the country. The best way to support energy there is direct help for local communities, in partnership with private companies, though this is tricky in war-torn South Sudan. Nevertheless, he reckoned only “dreamers” think SDG 7 can be achieved there by 2030.
Public-private partnerships were widely recommended for Africa’s energy development, alongside clean cooking solutions. Today 900 million Africans rely on stoves that burn wood, charcoal or dung. “They’re harmful to human health and the environment. We advocate cleaner cooking, such as with natural gas, and assisting the transport sector to be energy efficient and use more renewable energy,” said Luca Giansanti, Senior Vice-President and Head of Government Affairs of Eni.
Download also our ‘Energy for development: Ten years left to achieve SDG7’, available here.
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