Equal rights to renewable energy fixing the challenges of livelihoods

Rising renewable energy in rural Africa

The EU’s closest neighbor is undoubtedly Africa, with which there are deep historical and cultural ties.

A strong partnership is needed here, as economic, political, social, climate and environmental changes in Africa are creating new perspectives and new challenges.  New perspectives include low-cost renewable energy, green transition, low-carbon economy, blue economy and circular economy. There are also key challenges: climate change, environmental degradation and pollution.

This is why Africa and the EU must work together to address challenges and opportunities by building a partnership that promotes, among other things, sustainable livelihoods, the fight against climate change, sustainable economic growth based on healthy ecosystems, access to sustainable energy and the protection of biodiversity and natural resources. This partnership is therefore crucial for the achievement of the goals set by the Paris Agreement (December 2015) and the 2030 Agenda (September 2015).

Over the past two decades, the African continent has experienced significant economic and demographic growth, making Africa a dynamic and young population. Alongside this growth, there is a clear need for reliable and sustainable energy sources that can provide Africa with the necessary supplies. There is no doubt that the African continent has great potential in terms of renewable energy, however today only 2% of energy comes from renewable sources. The limits to the development of these technologies in Africa are linked as much to internal political issues as to relations with regional and international actors.

As a fast-growing continent, Africa has an extremely high demand for energy, which explains the high-energy potential of a continent where renewable energy sources are used in many countries to meet local energy needs. Small wind, solar and geothermal power plants are present in many places in Africa and provide energy in remote areas where there is no distribution network. However, studies show that about 50% of renewable energy investments in Africa between 2009 and 2018 came from Foreign Direct Investment making the African renewables sector particularly dependent on foreign financiers. Undoubtedly, such investments have grown over the years, but they still remain few when compared to those directed towards other continents such as Asia. This lack of investment is rooted in certain political and regulatory constraints that make investment in Africa unstable and risky, discouraging international players. It is no coincidence that, despite the growing demand for energy and the huge potential for renewable electricity generation on the African continent, investment in renewable energy in Africa is still limited and highly dependent on internal, regional and international political and economic variables.

Right time in the right place

Africa has significant advantages and prospects for renewable energy because of its abundant sun, wind, and geothermal resources.

Mineral resources are rich in Central and Southern Africa, which are critical for the development of electric batteries, wind turbines, and other low-carbon technology.

Only 2% of worldwide renewable energy investments were made in Africa over the last two decades, with considerable regional differences.

Africa employs less than 3% of the world’s renewable energy workers.

In 2019, the electrification rate in Sub-Saharan Africa remained stable at 46%, with 906 million people still lacking access to clean cooking fuels and technologies.

For its part, on 15 April 2021, the European Union supported the initialing of a new partnership between the EU and the members of ACP (Africa, Caribbean and Pacific). This agreement provides for a ‘3+1’ structure, a common basis for all 88 countries involved, setting out values and priorities, complemented by three different regional protocols (one for Africa, one for the Caribbean and one for the Pacific). The 20-year agreement provides for the achievement of the goals set out in the European Green Deal, the SDGs of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement. Moreover, precisely in relation to African demand for renewable energy, the EU has supported the African-led “African Renewable Energy Initiative” (AREI), which aims to accelerate and increase the exploitation of the continent’s huge renewable energy potential (10GW by 2020 and 300GW by 2030). The EU has a strategic interest in supporting this initiative, whose objectives, identified in the Partnership for Green Transition and Energy Access included in the future comprehensive strategy for Africa, are aligned with the European Green Deal.

Francesca Teresi

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