Access to energy and the fight against climate change

Published on : 22 May 20204 min reading time

Overcoming energy scarcity is an essential condition for socio-economic and human development. Beyond significant regional disparities (between countries, between urban and rural areas), 70% of the inhabitants of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) are deprived of access to electricity and their numbers are constantly increasing, as electrification efforts continue to lag behind the population growth rate (IEA, 2014). Moreover, responsible for a minimal share of global greenhouse gas emissions (1.8% between 1990-2012 excluding South Africa) (Ibid.), SSA is already one of the regions of the world most affected by the growing risks of climate change (droughts, floods) with serious consequences on poverty (UNISDR, 2015). In 2015, the international agenda directly addressed these fundamental challenges for Africa.

Indeed, in September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly in New York adopted the Sustainable

Development Goals (SDGs) which follow on from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs aimed to better coordinate official development assistance (ODA) and to set priorities to combat different dimensions of poverty with measurable targets. The MDGs merge the development and sustainable development agendas. They are universal, i.e. they concern all countries and address private as well as public actors and civil society.

Among the SDOs, Goal Seven, “Ensuring access to reliable, sustainable and modern energy services for all at an affordable cost” is a major challenge for Africa.

This is true both in terms of food production and economic activity, employment, income and thus the fight against poverty. This objective is closely linked to objective 13, which aims to control global warming.

The 21st Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP21), which was held in Paris at the end of 2015, was a new stage in tackling this challenge. COP21 turned its back on the Kyoto Protocol based on binding international commitments and the separation between developed and developing countries, the latter being exempt from obligations to reduce their greenhouse gases. Following the logic of the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”, the new climate agreement is based solely on national policies based on the establishment of voluntary contributions (and not commitments) determined at the national level (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, INDC), including for developing countries (Chin-Yee, 2016; Damian et al., 2015). For the SSA countries, which have all established their INDCs, with the objectives and actions envisaged for the post-2020 period, this new agreement constitutes an important orientation for closely coupling development policy and climate policy on energy transition. Climate financing concerns them both from the point of view of “adaptation” (they are already experiencing the effects of global warming) and “mitigation”.

Indeed, SSA’s minimal contribution to CO2 emissions is linked to its low level of industrialisation, but its energy needs are growing very rapidly. In its case, it is less a question of financing the “energy transition” as understood for developed or emerging countries, i.e. changing the energy mix, than of avoiding going through a phase of energy-intensive and polluting growth, as was the case for industrialized countries. Financing for “mitigation” should support the development of the energy sector while taking into account the challenges of global warming. The challenge rests largely on the “sustainable” exploitation of the resources (both fossil and renewable) available to Africa.

Reconciling the objectives of improving universal access to energy, while stressing the pioneering role that it would be desirable to see SSA play in environmental matters through a strategy of technological leapfrogging, can be a source of tension in view of the financial, economic, social, political, institutional and cultural obstacles that need to be overcome (Murphy, 2001).

In this context, after reviewing the various available estimates of the financing needs related to this dual objective in the first part, we will address some of the issues of the new financing modalities needed to change the scale of needs in the second part. Renewable energies should logically play an increasingly important role in the energy mix. The challenge of diversifying energy sources consists, in particular, in finding ways of coordinating centralised and decentralised access to energy. The question of the critical role of financing mechanisms and the importance of institutional and political innovations and new economic models to accompany and support the energy transition is raised, as we will see in section 3. After this overview, Part 4 presents the contributions of this thematic dossier.

Energy and climate change and the Paris agreement

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