MOMBASA, Kenya (AP) — In Kenya’s semi-arid Makueni County, 50-year-old Purity Kinyili spent most of her time traveling for water and firewood to support her family and her farmland.
But then the government created an initiative to install solar power in rural towns, so they got their hands on the easy-to-install panels, set them up, and sunk a solar-powered borehole. Now her once dry land has become a lush green and she has enough energy left to power her home.
Access to more and cleaner energy while continuing to grow economically will be a top priority for African nations at the upcoming United Nations climate conference in November, top officials and climate experts on the continent said.
As part of Africa’s goal of what it calls a “just transition” — ensuring that clean energy generation is fair and inclusive — the African Union wants to boost access to electricity and clean cooking resources for hundreds of millions of people. An estimated 600 million of the continent’s 1.4 billion people live without electricity, while 900 million lack access to cleaner cooking fuels.
But some experts argue that improving living standards mean Africa will have to, at least temporarily, increase fossil fuel production.
Africa needs longer timelines and more financial resources to move toward clean energy if it is still to meet its social and economic development goals, Harsen Nyambe, director of the African Union’s sustainable environment and blue economy division, told The Associated Press. .
He said while a just transition is “good”, he urged the need to be “realistic” about expectations for African nations as the continent also struggles to develop infrastructure with fewer resources while already dealing with the effects of a warming climate.
Africa is particularly vulnerable to climate change, with few resources to adapt to warmer and drier temperatures in some areas and extreme rainfall in others. The Horn of Africa and eastern Africa are suffering from an ongoing and devastating drought that has left populations with little food and water, while southern nations are being hit by deadly cyclones with increasing frequency.
“We have different capacities and responsibilities,” Nyambe said, adding that Africa could, for example, take up to 100 years to move away from dirty fuels.
Many nations, particularly developed countries such as the US and Europe that account for a greater share of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, are seeking to achieve “net zero” emissions by 2050. China hopes to achieve net zero by 2060 and India by 2070.
Africa already emits far less carbon dioxide than other continents or individual nations, accounting for just 3% to 4% of emissions, despite being home to nearly 17% of the world’s population, said James Murombedzi, head of the Center for Climate Policy Africa.
To achieve net zero, countries will have to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, offsetting the balance with projects that absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Tree-planting projects have sprung up across the continent, such as in Nigeria’s Lufasi Park or Mozambique’s mangrove restoration projects, mostly by private investors trying to offset their own polluting activities.
But experts say local governments are not yet in a position to invest the required funding for such large carbon sequestration projects.
“There is pressure for net zero by 2050. I think as Africa we must not give in to the pressure given our circumstances,” Nyambe said, referring to Africa’s lack of funding and growing infrastructure needs.
He said any emissions targets “should be accompanied by resources. Because how do you transform without capacity, funding and technology?’
Nyambe added that getting the right financial support at the UN climate conference, known as COP27, can help kick-start Africa’s transition to cleaner energy.
The African Union has flagged natural gas as a “transition fuel” for Africa’s energy needs, alongside renewables, hydrogen and nuclear power, although some experts question whether natural gas should be used in a move towards cleaner sources. Although natural gas emits less carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels, building gas infrastructure can slow efforts to transition to renewable energy, they say.
“Africa is embracing a clean energy future, but it will do so based on its needs and circumstances,” said Linus Mofor, senior adviser for environmental affairs at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. “The use of natural gas, which is abundant on the continent, is critical.”
Algeria, Egypt and Nigeria lead Africa in gas production with countries such as Senegal, Mozambique, Tanzania and Angola expected to become gas production hubs.
Mofor added that “the transition to renewable energy will require significant capital investment. By 2030, Africa will need $2 trillion to address its energy transformation.”
Some of the continent’s largest economies have already invested heavily in renewable energy, with major projects including Morocco’s Ourzazate Solar Plant, Egypt’s Kom Ombo Solar Plant, Kenya’s Menengai Geothermal Plant and the Lake Turkana Wind Farm and the Jasper solar plant in South Africa. .
Smaller projects, such as off-grid solar panels to bring electricity to rural areas or rooftop solar panels, are also being installed across the continent, with Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria leading the way.
But a “strong commitment from developed nations” to help cut emissions and help Africa’s energy transition means even more clean energy projects can emerge, said Muhammadu Baba Sila, a meteorologist and lead author of the latest climate assessment by UN.
The Associated Press’s climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. AP is solely responsible for all content.