Today’s global energy inequalities are staggering.
Video gamers in California consume more electricity than entire nations. The average Tanzanian only used one sixth of the electricity consumed by a typical American refrigerator in 2014.
Globally, the richest 10% of countries consume 20 times more energy than the poorest 10%. And 1.1 billion Sub-Saharan Africans share the same power generation capacity as Germany’s 83 million people. At least half have no access to electricity at all.
The majority of the Congolese population does not have access to electricity. Eduardo Soteras / AFP via Getty Images
These high energy inequalities are fueling thorny debates over financing Africa’s energy future as world leaders and their negotiators prepare for COP26, the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November. .
An increasingly common theme of wealthy countries – including those responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions over time – is the wish that they will stop publicly funding all (or nearly all) of them. fossil fuel projects in less developed countries, even though they continue to finance, and in many cases heavily subsidize, the fossil fuels themselves.
It is generally easier for countries offering overseas development finance for energy projects to set low carbon rules for others, rather than for themselves. For example, China, Japan and South Korea – some of the most coal-consuming countries in the world – have each recently pledged to stop funding overseas coal projects and increase investment in energy. renewable. But they did not make any equivalent commitment at home.
The US Treasury and UK development finance institution CDC Group have taken a more nuanced approach. They limit all coal and oil-based power generation projects and leave a narrow window available for natural gas projects in poor countries that go through a rigorous screening process. This is roughly similar to the World Bank’s approach.
As seasoned clean energy policy researchers, we believe that the categorical exclusion of all non-renewable energy projects from development finance is an inequitable and inefficient climate strategy that highlights over a billion dollars. Africans.
Tiny climatic gains, major development losses
Focusing on limiting emissions from the world’s poorest countries while emissions continue to rise in industrialized countries is clearly misguided in our view. Given the glaring inequalities in energy use and emissions, this could instead worsen poverty and worsen inequalities induced by worsening climate change, while doing very little to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. tight.
Together, the US, UK, EU, Japan and Russia have almost the same population – 1.1 billion people – as sub-Saharan Africa, but 35 times as many gas-fired power plants. in operation or in development, and 52 times more coal-fired power plants.
When it comes to carbon dioxide emissions, sub-Saharan Africa is collectively responsible for barely half a percent of all global emissions over time, while the United States, United Kingdom, EU, Japan and Russia are responsible for more than 100 times this amount, or about 57%.
The upper limit of Africa’s future growth in electricity sector emissions is also negligible. If the region’s electricity demand hypothetically triples tomorrow, rather than doubling by 2040 as recently predicted by the International Energy Agency, and if only natural gas is used to meet the new demand , annual global emissions would increase by only 0.62%, according to one estimate. This is the equivalent of the annual emissions of the state of Louisiana today.
In addition, the share of renewable energy in many national grids in sub-Saharan Africa is already higher than that of almost all major emitters of greenhouse gases. In at least six countries – Kenya, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique and Uganda – renewable energy accounts for more than 50% of their annual production. In 2018, hydropower, geothermal, solar and wind represented around 20% of the total electricity produced on the continent.
Most of the region will find renewable energy the fastest and cheapest way to expand its generating capacity, but some regions may still need to rely on fossil fuels in various sectors of the economy. as they develop.
It has been clear for decades that the world must quickly and aggressively reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Many parts of Africa, including the Sahel and Mozambique, are already facing the effects of climate change, including worsening droughts, food insecurity and severe storms. Adapting to climate change and building resilience require energy, economic development and infrastructure that are currently lacking in some of the regions most affected and least prepared to adapt.
Climatic colonialism and the legacies of colonization
Other experts agree that this orientation of climate policy is not only ineffective, it is rooted in the historical inequalities of colonialism.
Philosopher OlÃºfáº¹Ìmi O. TÃ¡ÃwÃ² defines climate colonialism as âthe deepening or expansion of foreign domination through climate initiatives that exploit the resources of poorer nations or otherwise compromise their sovereigntyâ.
The legacy of colonialism is a contributing factor to a wide range of problems, from conflict to corruption, and the poor state of access to electricity in much of Africa today.
As industrialized countries in the 1900s built electricity grids through massive public spending campaigns, like Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the United States and the Electricity Supply Act of 1926 in the United Kingdom, most of Africa was actively plundered for its rich natural resources. Much of the infrastructure built in colonial Africa during this period was only built to facilitate the operations of extracting resources, such as extracted raw materials, petroleum, timber, rubber, tea, coffee and spices.
In 1992, a coalition of low-income countries successfully advocated for the UN’s climate change mitigation pathways to include their right to development and a “common but differentiated responsibility” to address the twin challenges of development and climate change. climate change. This language has long been the basis of equity considerations in climate policy, including in the 2015 Paris Agreement, which expects greater emission reductions from developed countries according to their “respective capacities”.
A transition from what?
Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo recently called “energy transition” a “curious term” when applied universally, given energy shortages in countries like Nigeria. He pleaded for an energy transition in which Africa can develop rapidly and grow. The increase in electricity in the industrialized regions of sub-Saharan Africa would initially supply income-generating activities and public services, both engines of economic growth.
Fair and effective climate negotiations will require nuanced political considerations that balance the priorities of energy poverty reduction with urgent climate change mitigation and adaptation. A just energy transition would let African governments develop and implement policies and meet their own national climate commitments under the Paris Agreement rather than endorsing those of the West.
By Benjamin Attia, Non-Resident Fellow, Payne Institute for Public Policy, Colorado School of Mines and original article.