Decarbonising the energy sector

Now is the time for a just transition from a dirty energy era to renewable solutions which respect the rights and livelihoods of local communities, in which everyone can take part, and from which everyone can benefit.

The new climate reality demands immediate ambitious action: we cannot let global temperatures increase by more than 1.5°C. Yet, while more and more countries are going big on renewables, others keep clinging to fossil fuels – coal, gas and oil.

Fossil fuels carry multiple external costs and risks: climate change, corruption and conflict, resource instability, air and water pollution, occupational health and safety risks, and threats to arable land. They have also become more expensive than wind and solar energy.

Multiple social and economic benefits will be unlocked as electricity generated from renewable energy sources replaces fossil fuels over the next few decades.


Addressing electricity poverty and a rising demand for energy

A severe shortage of essential electricity infrastructure is undermining efforts to achieve more rapid social and economic development on the African continent. Africa has the world’s lowest electricity access rates, with more than half of its countries experiencing daily – and costly – power outages. Less than half of all Africans have access to energy. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 290 million out of 915 million people have access to electricity, and the total number without access is rising as populations continue to grow. For those Africans who do have access to electricity, supply is often unreliable, necessitating widespread and costly private use of back-up generators running on diesel or gasoline.
Because 45% of the African population is below poverty line, over-consumption is not yet a problem in Africa. However, there is a need to meet the universally accepted basic needs for the increasing population of Africa. In addition, the African middle-class will grow in the long-term, most likely resulting in an increase in energy needs on the continent.
In order for African countries to break the cycle of poverty and improve energy access without increasing carbon emissions, they need to find a pathway to develop in harmony with nature while improving the living standards of their citizens. The continent can leapfrog old technology and ways of thinking while simultaneously prioritizing options that use less resources in order to reduce carbon emissions.

“Africa can leapfrog to renewable energy,
i.e. climate-smart, people-centered and distributed energy systems
of the future.”  The African Union

This is called ‘decarbonised development’: economies  based on low carbon or carbon neutral power sources that have a minimal output of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into the biosphere, specifically referring to reducing the net emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) to zero. Decarbonised development is about increasing human development levels within countries while having a carbon neural impact on the environment.

Decarbonising Africa’s development pathways will require delinking economic growth from resource use and environmental impacts, also referred to as ‘decoupling’. Human well-being and its improvement is based upon the availability of natural resources such as energy, materials, water and land. While economic development and population growth have led to a substantial increase in the use of natural resources, many of these are becoming less abundant and may even become critically scarce in the future. Put simply, it means we are unlikely to have sufficient natural resources to allow for all Africans to improve their lives if we keep using them at the same rate we have been using them. The dilemma of expanding economic activities while reducing the rate of resource use and reducing the environmental impact of any such use poses a serious challenge to society.

African countries need to find ways to reduce to the amount of resources such as material (including fossil fuels), energy, water and land used to produce economic growth while decreasing environmental deterioration (less groundwater pollution, wastes and greenhouse gas emissions).

Read here the ACRP’s position on Africa’s decarbonised development.

Time for action!

Ending fossil fuel subsidies

Year in year out, governments worldwide hand nearly hundreds of billions of US dollars in public subsidies to the coal, gas, and oil industries. The International Energy Agency reports that fossil fuel subsidies in 2014 amounted to $490 billions while the renewable energy sector received only $140 billions.

Ending these subsidies could actually take a giant step towards solving the climate crisis, saving gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions and helping make clean energy cheaper than fossil fuels.

The fossil fuel industry is lobbying hard to maintain its privileges. This is why we need to ramp up the pressure around the world to end these subsidies.

Divesting from fossil fuels

Fossil fuel investments are a risk for investors and for the planet. Investing in fossil fuels means perpetuating the climate catastrophe and making it worse for future generations.

In the recent years, civil society actors have pushed for a number of institutions such as univestities, churches but also companies and even countries to divest from fossil fuels, get rid of all investment assets including stocks, bonds, and investment funds from companies involved in extracting fossil fuels.

The fossil fuel divestment movement calls on institutions worldwide to cut ties with the fossil fuel industry. On 5-13 May, people around the world will join in the Global Divestment Mobilisation to take divestment actions aimed at moving our money in the right direction.

In Africa, the movement is slowly gaining momentum, with a particularly strong base in South Africa. The Fossil Free South Africa campaign started in 2013 with a call on the University of Cape Town (UCT) to divest. Now UCT is on track to become the first African University to formally commit to divesting from fossil fuels. The Fossil Free campaign coordinated by 350 Africa is also targeting South African banks whose investments play a crucial role in financing Africa’s growing addiction to fossil fuels, the biggest emitters of CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions that drive global climate change. And in September 2016, the Anglican Churches of Southern Africa voted to divest from fossil fuels.

Leapfrogging to renewable energy

African countries that lag behind in terms of electricity infrastructure experience less path dependency to ‘conventional’ technologies. It is therefore easier for them to adopt directly new, clean energy sources, especially as these technologies have already achieved a stage where they are at least as cost-effective as other energy sources – if not already cheaper. Besides the cost incentive, the set-up and operational flexibility of renewable energy technologies such as wind or solar make them best suited to improve access to electricity in both urban and rural areas on the African continent.