A shocking 500 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to electricity. This ‘energy poverty’ drags down healthcare and educational opportunities, as well as stunting overall economic growth on the continent. In addition, most people rely on coal, peat or wood for cooking, which is often unsustainably sourced and a major cause of respiratory disease.
The International Energy Agency found that current plans to expand energy access across Africa would not reduce poverty levels nor sufficiently support climate-friendly development. However African businesses and governments have clearly and consistently communicated the need for a coordinated effort to address the continent’s energy deficit. Indeed, nearly 70% of surveyed African businesses cite unreliable and expensive power supplies as a major constraint to economic growth and job creation.
There is an immediate need to improve access to safe, reliable and affordable sources of energy to alleviate poverty, stimulate economic growth and achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Fortunately there is a solution which will solve both Africa’s energy poverty and bring wider sustainability benefits.
Africa has the advantage of not being locked into inefficient energy infrastructure systems that use a lot of carbon. The continent has huge potential for getting more of its energy from renewable sources. Only 0.6% of its geothermal energy, less than 2% of its wind energy, and only 7% of its hydropower potential have been exploited.
From 29th November to the 9th December, Durban in South Africa will host the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) 17th annual Conference of the Parties (COP17). This is the first COP to be held in Africa – the continent least responsible for the changing climate, but one of the most affected by it.
The international community must seize this opportunity to come up with concrete policy and financing commitments that improve access to reliable, efficient, electricity supplies in Africa. This includes the creation of a dedicated funding window similar to the Green Climate Fundto support energy provision in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as requiring that the UNFCCC’s Technology Executive Committee prioritises Africa in its work. Once these steps have been taken, momentum should be maintained through the 2012 International Year of Sustainable Energy For All if Africa’s energy poverty is to be addressed.
ONE will be working hard in Durban, and throughout the 2012, to make sure countries not only recognise Africa’s energy poverty challenge but seize the opportunities available to help address it. If Africa reduces its energy poverty it will have taken a major step towards tackling wider poverty, achieving the MDGs and supporting further economic growth.
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