Climate Change: Africa’s Absence in the Energy Transition Framework

By

Kola Ibrahim

kmarx4life@gmail.com

 

The current global approach to fighting climate change and systematically transitioning to clean energy will leave Africa in the cold. While Africa’s participation in the research and development of climate adaptation is very negligible, its role in the climate mitigation technology and development is also controlled by external forces. Despite Africa having significant natural resources necessary for mitigation technology, the continent plays no fundamental role in mitigation development. For instance, Africa has some of the important natural resources for renewable energy, yet most of the renewable energy investments and technologies are not in Africa, neither is Africa playing any role in important aspects of the renewable energy technology value addition.

 

For instance, over 70% of Cobalt mining is from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); 65.2% of Manganese mining is in South Africa, Gabon, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire; 21.3% of Graphite resources is in Mozambique and Madagascar; 89% of Iridium resources is in South Africa; 73.6% of Platinum is in South Africa, and 13.5% of Copper in DRC and Zambia (IRENA, 2023)[i]. This is based on current information. There is possibility that more deposits of these and other minerals may be discovered, both within and outside Africa. Moreover, new technology may expose new natural resources useful for renewable technology. An instance is the discovery of phosphate, titanium and vanadium deposit in Norway, which quantity, according to Norge Mining Company, could provide 50 years of global supply (IRENA, 2023). In fact, more than half of African countries have at least one critical mineral needed for renewable energy development (AfDB, 2023)[ii].

 

Aside the mineral resources are other natural capital, including wind power, solar potential, water bodies, rainforests, mangrove and water bodies. According to a brief by International Finance Corporation (Whittaker, 2020)[iii], Africa’s wind energy technical potential is more than 250 times its current electricity generation. IRENA (2022)[iv] also estimated Africa’s solar energy technical potential at 7,900 Gigawatt. Yet, if the 93 Gigawatt of wind power added globally in 2022 was installed in Africa, it will provide electricity for 737 million people in Africa, who lack access to electricity. This means that Africa has all the wind and solar resources to provide universal electricity access not only for the current population, but also for powering its development and industrialisation on an environmentally sustainable basis. Africa has the second largest river (Nile) and longest river (Congo), aside several rivers across Africa that provide opportunity for hydro renewable energy generation (AfDB, 2023).

 

Another example of Africa’s natural capital is the Congo basin rainforest, the second biggest rainforests in the world, spanning six central African countries (DRC, Congo Brazzaville, Gabon, Cameroon, Central African Republic and  Equatorial Guinea). These forests, spanning 3.3 million square kilometers, provide natural mitigation services for the world, with annual net carbon dioxide sequestration put at 600 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, while the forests reportedly store an estimated 25 to 30 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent (Creeze et al, 2022)[v]. This is aside other rainforests (e.g. West Africa rainforests) across the continent.

 

In spite of these huge natural capital that can facilitate Africa’s sustainable clean and sustainable energy sufficiency and provide leadership in climate mitigation development globally, the continent is far behind in development of renewable and clean energy technology. This is not unconnected with the lack of serious investment in research and development and funding for climate change technology (both mitigation and adaptation). This is coupled with gross underdevelopment of the continent, which means it has little fund for research and development, that often require huge financial resources. Worse still, global climate change and green technology, research and inventions have been patented and controlled by the developed capitalist countries and big multinational corporations. Consequently, the continent’s built renewable energy capacity, aside being very little, is also controlled by global finance capital outside of Africa. Currently, global renewable energy market, especially wind and solar PV and battery technology and market are dominated by China, Europe and the US.

 

Africa, at 194 TWh, has only a tiny share (2.5%) of global renewable electricity generation. Africa came third after Oceania and the Caribbean regions, which are smaller regions in terms of landmass, population, economic size and resources (IRENA and AfDB, 2023). Moreover, majority of Africa’s renewable electricity generation comes from hydro-power generation. Out of the 54GW of renewable energy generation capacity, hydropower contribute at least 38GW (63%) in 2021, with 60 percent of this installed hydropower being more than 20 years old (IHA, 2022)[vi]. Solar and wind energy contribute 10.4GW and 6.5GW respectively (IRENA and AfDB, 2023).

 

With renewable sources constituting only 20.7% of Africa’s current electricity generation (hydro, 17.4%; solar, 1.5%; wind, 1.2%, and geothermal, 0.6%), and Africa’s electricity shortfall at 160GW, it means Africa’s renewable energy generation will be overwhelmingly dominated in the coming period by external sources. Currently, China, North America, Europe, Asia Pacific and India control 91% of global solar energy manufacturing market with Africa having only 1.65%. Also, in the wind energy market, Africa only has 1.1% of the market share, while China, US and Europe control 82% of the market. The wind farms in Africa are controlled by foreign businesses.

 

Interestingly, most of the investments in Africa are from external sources. For instance, in the hydropower energy sub-sector, China accounts for 60% of all investment in Africa between 2009 and 2018. China also account for 55% of solar PV module supply, and 19% of solar product EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) in Africa (SEforAll, 2023)[vii]. In terms of renewable research and development (R&D), Africa is far behind. Of the $3.14 billion spent on renewable energy R&D globally in 2022, Africa’s contribution is very negligible (IEA, 2023)[viii]. Furthermore, Africa does not appear in major patents ownership in the renewable, clean energy and low-carbon energy technology, which is dominated by Japan, United States, China, Germany and Korea (IEA, 2021)[ix].

 

The implication of these facts is that Africa will be an insignificant player in the global energy transition. Beyond this, it will mean Africa’s economy, which is in dire need of power, will be more tightly controlled under the green economy than - or as much as - under the current fossil fuel (black) economy. While Africa will be severely impacted by climate change and global warming, caused by historical and current emissions from major industrialised economies, the pro-market solutions being proposed through the green economy, energy transition and climate adaptation by global multilateral institutions will further put Africa’s economy and society under the dictates of global finance capital, as Africa is currently playing an insignificant role in technology, investment and knowledge acquisition.

 

In summary, Africa will have no say in, or input to policies and actions on climate change that directly affect its people. It is not accidental that most of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and action plans on climate change by African countries are horridly put up with no serious scientific input. Most of the data used in arriving at major plans and actions are premised on assumptions, since there are no serious localised research and knowledge of climate change impact, especially loss and damage.

 

No doubt, some minimal clean energy and green technology investments have been made in some African countries. Most of these projects were funded through foreign loans (either concessional or business). Moreover, the infrastructure to harness the major benefits of the projects are not available. For instance, the Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam, which is expected to add six gigawatt, needs transmission and distribution infrastructure, which is currently not available. Secondly, the project is financed by Chinese financial institutions, with most of the technologies imported (Lema, 2021)[x]. Also, Morocco’s solar and wind projects have the capacity to provide electricity for parts of Africa, but on the basis of capitalist market arrangement, this cannot made be possible because the projects, aside being funded through loans, are aimed at making profits, not lighting up Africa. It is therefore not accidental that Morocco’s solar electricity is being exported to Europe[xi], which already has overcapacity for electricity, rather than being used within Africa, where there is huge shortfall of electricity generation and supply.

 

In summary, the current state of Africa in terms of technology acquisition and ownership, as well as participation in climate solution production is very negligible and will therefore subject the continent to further economic slavery. Africa, aside being terribly impacted by global warming and climate change caused historically and in the contemporary period, by major industrialised economies, will also bear the cost of adapting to impacts of climate change and global transition to clean energy, not with its own technology, but through opening up its economy to exploitation of its natural capital, human resources and wealth. Yet, the biggest challenge is that most African countries are stuck with fossil economy, either as fossil fuel producer or major consumer, whose economies and infrastructures are dependent on fossil fuel.  Therefore, African governments, and especially its people demand for serious restructuring of the global climate change governance system, if they are to come out of climate change stronger, economically and socially.

 

Kola Ibrahim, an author and scholar-activist, is a public intellectual and climate justice researcher and campaigner. He can be reached at: kmarx4life@gmail.com, or contacted through: +234 *059399178. This essay is an edited excerpt from his new book, Climate Imperialism in Africa: Critical Commentary on the Political Economy of Global Climate Change Regime.

 


 

[i] IRENA (2023), Geopolitics of the energy transition: Critical materials, International Renewable

Energy Agency, Abu Dhabi. Available at: https://www.irena.org/Publications/2023/Jul/Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transition-Critical-Materials

[ii] AfDB (2023). Africa Economic Outlook (AEO) 2023, Chapter 3: Natural capital for climate finance and green growth in Africa. African Development Bank (AfDB), Abdijan, Cote d’Ivorie. Available at: https://www.afdb.org/sites/default/files/aeo_2023-chap3-en.pdf

[iii] Whittaker, S. (2020). Exploring Africa’s Untapped Wind Potential. International Finance Corporation (IFC). Available at: https://gwec.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/IFC-Africa-Wind-Technical-Potential-Oct-2020-1.pdf

[iv] IRENA and AfDB (2022), Renewable Energy Market Analysis: Africa and Its Regions, International Renewable Energy Agency and African Development Bank, Abu Dhabi and Abidjan. https://www.irena.org/-/media/Files/IRENA/Agency/Publication/2022/Jan/IRENA_Market_Africa_2022.pdf?rev=bb73e285a0974bc996a1f942635ca556

[v] Crezee, B., Dargie, G.C., Ewango, C.E.N. et al. (2022). Mapping peat thickness and carbon stocks of the central Congo Basin using field data. Nature Geoscience. Vol. 15, pp. 639–644. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-022-00966-7

[vi] IHA (2022). 2022 Hydropower Status Report: Sector trends and insights. International Hydropower Association (IHA). Available at: https://assets-global.website-files.com/5f749e4b9399c80b5e421384/62d95e9c1d2120ce0b891efc_IHA%20Hydropower%20Status%20Report%202022.pdf

[vii] SEforAll. (2023). Africa Renewable Energy Manufacturing: Opportunity and advancement. Available at: https://www.seforall.org/system/files/2023-01/%5BFINAL%5D%2020220115_ZOD_SEForAll_AfricanManufacturingReport.pdf

[viii] IEA (2023). Energy technology R, D and D budget  data explorer. Available at: https://www.iea.org/data-and-statistics/data-tools/energy-technology-rdd-budgets-data-explorer

[ix]  IEA (2021). Patents and the energy transition: Global trends in clean energy technology innovation

[x] Lema, R., Bhamidipati, P.L., Gregersen, C., Hansen, U.E. and Kircherr, J. (2021). China’s investments in renewable energy in Africa: Creating co-benefits or just cashing-in? World Development, Vol. 141 (2021), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2020.105365

[xi] Pearce, F. (2023). In Scramble for Clean Energy, Europe Is Turning to North Africa. YaleEnvironment360. Available at: https://e360.yale.edu/features/africa-europe-solar-wind-power