SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: Which direction will take Africa after the Rio+20 Summit?

The Rio +20 Summit on Sustainable Development would be held in Brazil from 20 to 22 June 2012. Will it help to push the renewable energy agenda in Africa? Or will it once again  be one of those moments of pure statements of intent?

1. Green economy and poverty reduction

“The green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication” is the first theme of the UN conference in Rio.

When you get to talk to some European or other Westerners about Africa, most seems not only stunned but also often exasperated. “What’s wrong with Africa?“   From the perspective of many of them, it is the continent of all contradictions and confusion par excellence, and for good reason.

Probably understandable! More than 50 years after independence, few are those who came to extricate their country from poverty despite $ 500 billion injected by donors in development assistance. Indeed a recent study by UNDP shows that nearly 218 million Africans, or more than one in four, remain undernourished and more than 55 million children under 5 years, or over 40% suffer malnutrition. A percentage, which is found nowhere else in the world. This situation is somewhat paradoxical for most of a continent with vast resources, but continues to face hunger and malnutrition.

2. Africa, too low energy use

Many studies demonstrated that: Economic growth and energy consumption are related: the economic rise of a country is directly correlated to the possibilities of access to energy in this country. Therefore, it becomes difficult to understand why despite the enormous energy potential in the continent at both fossil and renewable (solar, wind…), Africa remains a continent of energy fracture, unfavorable to its development.

Notice that with 14% of the world population, Africa consumes only 3% of the energy used worldwide. Over 60% of the African population has no access to commercial energy and had to settle for firewood. Eventually, the expected increase of the population and improving living standards will lead to increased energy needs. The city of Los Angeles alone, consumes the same amount of energy as the entire African continent.

This is not a coincidence. The root cause, we know is related  to governance. There is probably no fatality of underdevelopment and we may recall that in the 1960 Senegal had the same level of wealth (gross national product (GNP) per capita) and Taiwan, the Ivory Coast had the same level as South Korea. Good public governance includes making effective management of the energy sector, significant investments, and the establishment of a regulatory compliance. Western governments have understood that.

President Barack Obama, when taking office in 2008, declared that it is the country which will win the energy battle would lead the world. Since China became the largest technology provider in the solar and wind, undermining Western industries in this sector. She intends to position itself as a world leader in the field. Germany through ambitious political reforms, expects 100% renewable by 2050.

What does Africa? In terms of solar energy and according to experts, Africa has the world’s largest potential, but that has yet to be valued. Studies have shown that solar power in Africa has potential quantity which would cover the bulk of energy requirements. However, solar needs to be supported by the governments, for example by removing taxes on solar equipment, and encouraging its use. Unfortunately, however, African governments have so far shown little willingness to promote this sector. For example, Togo in 2010, invested U.S. $ 209 million in a Thermal Power Plant that, authorities there exhibited as the solution to the energy crisis in this country. However, the cost of gas or heavy fuel oil to operate the plant becomes exorbitant overcharges as unjustified. The same amount would have been enough to build a solar power plant with greater capacity. There are alternatives that have not been discussed with civil society and the Togolese Diaspora.

3. Renewable Energy and Job Creation

However, some African countries are beginning to understand the importance of the issue. The last visit of the Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, in Germany goes in this direction. The President of the African giant oil producer was, among other things, looking for partnerships and technology transfer in the renewable energy sector. The Rwandan government for its part has come far and will accelerate the process in his country.

Beyond all this, the green energy sector is also a formidable job creation industry. Indeed, this sector is expected to create 60 million jobs by 2030. Already there have been record investments in renewable energy globally.

In 2011, 257 billion U.S. dollars has been invested in this sector, an increase of 17% compared to 2010 according to a report of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) “The potential for job creation remains a key factor policies that promote an increase in the share of renewable in the energy mix “ said Mohamed El-Ashry, Chair of the network for renewables of the 21 th century.

The message is clear. To meet the challenges of the 21 th century, African leaders must redefine the priorities of the continent. Rio +20 will hopefully contribute to that. This will lead to:

  • Reduction of CO2 emission thanks to the substitution of charcoal by renewable energy;
  • protecting the environment against deforestation and overexploitation of natural resources;
  • energy supply, environmentally neutral, reliable and affordable;
  • the installation of  water supply  and waste management;
  • the emergence of new business models based on solar energy especially in areas not connected to the grid;
  • creating decent and sustainable jobs;
  • electrification of rural areas;
  • decentralized energy supply with its positive effects on health, education, gender equality, integration, the rule of law, in short, the political and economic stability.


4. Beyond Rio +20

On a continent where too many leaders are much more likely to seek help from outside instead of looking for appropriate and endogenous solutions to reduce poverty through the creation of added value, it is difficult to believe that everything will be resolved in Brazil. One hoped nonetheless that Rio +20 will create an alternative vision of development that takes into account the preservation of the environment, reduced waste and create progress toward access to renewable energy for all.

Klutsé Clement, MBA

Renewable Energy Expert


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