| 18 July 2024, Thursday |

UN call for transition to green energy finds no traction in Africa

Despite the United Nations’ call for Africa to take the lead in transitioning to renewable energy, experts suggest that this initiative has encountered resistance, with many African nations showing reluctance to move away from the use of fossil fuels.
Africa remains heavily reliant on natural gas, oil, coal, and charcoal, with low progress in adopting cleaner energy sources, says Samuel Wangwe, a researcher with the Economic and Social Research Foundation (ESRF), a Tanzanian think tank.

Talking to Anadolu, Wangwe highlighted the challenges hindering Africa’s push for renewable energy, including the absence of clear-cut policies on green energy sources and drought spells that disrupt cleaner electricity generation from hydropower.

He emphasized that the choice between immediate economic gain and long-term environmental sustainability is central to the energy debate across Africa.

At the African Climate Summit in Nairobi, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday stressed the critical need for African nations to embrace renewable energy to fight climate change.

Guterres urged Africa to become a global leader in renewable energy to reduce the carbon footprint and mitigate the adverse effects of fossil fuels on health, the economy, and the climate.

Kenya’s President William Ruto, who launched the Accelerated Partnership for Renewable in Africa (APRA) at the Summit, outlined the country’s ambition to achieve 100% renewable power by 2030 and to fuel the green industries of the future by 2040.

“Our ambition is not in question – it’s how we make this ambition a reality. This journey demands a united front. As leaders across Africa, our strategies must be woven together, tailored to find African solutions to African challenges,” he said.

Dirty energy, short-term gains

However, Wangwe said political leaders in many African nations remain reluctant to abandon their reliance on dirty energy sources due to short-term gains.

“How many countries have abandoned charcoal for cooking energy, even though it is quite clear that it is a source of forest destruction?” Wangwe asked.

In Tanzania, where hydropower has the potential to generate 4.7 GW of electricity, only 12% of this capacity is currently being realized due to weather variability linked to climate change. Tanzania, with abundant natural gas reserves, is increasingly turning to fossil fuels to address its electricity deficit, indicating a reluctance to embrace renewables.

The discordance between the urgent need for cleaner energy and Tanzania’s continued reliance on fossil fuels underscores a complex issue. While fossil fuel investments offer short-term economic gains, experts argue that they perpetuate a carbon-intensive trajectory that contradicts global efforts to combat climate change.

“African policymakers must decide whether to prioritize short-term economic benefits or commit to long-term environmental sustainability through transition to renewable energy,” Wangwe said.

Fossil fuels dominate Africa’s energy landscape

Despite the global push toward renewables, fossil fuels continue to dominate Africa’s energy landscape, largely due to massive government subsidies that make cleaner options like solar power less economically attractive.

Globally, fossil fuel subsidies were $7 trillion or 7.1% of GDP in 2022, reflecting a $2 trillion increase since 2020 due to government support in the face of surging energy prices. Subsidies are expected to decline in the near term as energy price support policies are unwound and international prices fall, but then rise to $8.2 trillion by 2030 as the share of fuel consumption in emerging markets continues to climb, according to the International Monetary Fund estimates.

In Tanzania, a significant fuel subsidy introduced in July amounts to a staggering Tanzanian Shillings 100 billion ($43 million) monthly.

Moreover, while solar panels and wind turbines are exempt from VAT (value-added tax) and import duties, essential accessories like batteries for household solar packages face high import duties, discouraging investment in solar technology.

These fossil fuel subsidies not only hinder the adoption of renewable energy but also contribute to air pollution, responsible for approximately 1.1 million deaths annually in Africa, according to the United Nations.

Solar, wind resources

Africa boasts abundant renewable energy potential, particularly in solar and wind resources. Solar power, in particular, could offer a sustainable solution to the continent’s energy needs.

However, obstacles such as fragmented financing plans, inadequate post-sales services, and technical weaknesses in imported solar equipment hinder its widespread adoption on the continent.

Additionally, a skewed regulatory framework and a limited market for renewable energy pose challenges to its growth. High upfront costs, long payback periods, and the absence of adequate training institutes further deter investors from embracing renewables, Wangwe said.

According to him, the dilemma facing Africa’s policymakers is clear: balancing the immediate energy needs of the population with the long-term consequences of continued fossil fuel reliance.

While fossil fuels provide much-needed energy, they leave behind a catastrophic carbon footprint. At the same time, renewable energy subsidies, primarily for solar, remain fragmented and insufficiently supported by many governments.

While renewable energy sources like solar and wind offer a cleaner, resilient, and sustainable future, Wangwe said they require a concerted effort to overcome existing challenges and shift the continent’s energy landscape.

  • Anadolu Agency