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Link Between Energy, Poverty and Climate Change in Africa

Hospitals and clinics in Africa cannot count on consistent power to operate equipment and businesses cannot access tools for communications and market development.

It is very hard to do anything once the daylight is gone. In economics, the efficiency of electricity and electrification links technological progress and universal access to modern energy services is a major barrier to eradicating poverty.

The African continent is gifted with fossil fuels and renewable energy resources, however; nearly 662 million Africans lack access to electricity and a life without electricity is a life with limited opportunities. 

Energy services must be of sufficient megawatts generated to meet people’s needs. It must be accessible so children can study after dark and hospitals and clinics can store medicines.

Working in a health clinic without electricity in Ghana
Working in a health clinic without electricity in Ghana

Economic growth and climate change have intensified pressure on Africa’s timeworn energy infrastructure highlighting the links between poverty and lack of access to safe affordable electricity.

Fast Facts

▘ Over 600,000 Africans are killed every year by air pollution caused by the use of burning wood, and other organic matter for cooking.

▘ Two in every three people, around 621 million in total, have no access to electricity in Africa below the Sahara desert.

▘ In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Malawi and Sierra Leone, fewer than one in 10 people have access to electricity.

▘ In Nigeria, a global oil-exporting superpower, 93 million people lack electricity.

▘ Emerging countries such as Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda each have over 30 million people without electricity.

In September 2011, the UN Secretary-General launched the Sustainable Energy for All initiative with the aim of achieving three goals by 2030: Ensuring universal access to modern energy services; doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency, and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global mix.

Africa is far from being on track to achieve this goal. While there are marked variations across countries, the overall region has an energy crisis that demands urgent political attention. According to the International Energy Agency, 645 million Africans could still lack access to electricity in 2030.

Nowhere are the threads connecting energy, climate, and development more evident than in Africa. No region has made a smaller contribution to climate change. Yet Africa will pay the highest price for failure to avert a global climate catastrophe.

Meanwhile, the region’s energy systems are underpowered, inefficient and unequal. Energy deficits act as a brake on economic growth, job creation, and poverty reduction, and they reinforce inequalities linked to wealth, gender and the rural-urban divide.

One-fifth of global emissions associated with land-use changes originate in Africa and cutting these emissions is vital to international efforts aimed at avoiding dangerous climate change. Energy is the link connecting the global poverty agenda and climate change.

The carbon-intensive energy systems now driving economic growth are locked into a collision course with the ecological systems that define our planetary boundaries. Averting that collision – while eradicating poverty, building more inclusive societies and meeting the energy needs of the world’s poorest countries and people – is the defining international cooperation challenge of the 21st century.

Three views on energy, poverty and climate change in Africa from Desmond Tutu, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete and Kofi A. Annan.

Desmond Tutu, Human Rights activist and Nobel Prize winner

“We can no longer tinker about the edges. We can no longer continue feeding our addiction to fossil fuels as if there were no tomorrow. For there will be no tomorrow. As a matter of urgency, we must begin a global transition to a new safe energy economy. This requires fundamentally rethinking our economic systems, to put them on a sustainable and more equitable footing.”

H.E. Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, President of the United Republic of Tanzania

“Africa, too, has no choice other than joining hands to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change. However, Africa can make a choice on how it can adapt and mitigate and when it can do so in terms of timeframe and pace. For Africa, this is both a challenge and an opportunity. If Africa focuses on smart choices, it can win investments in the next few decades in climate-resilient and low emission development pathways.”

The late Kofi A. Annan Chair of the Africa Progress Panel

"Future generations will surely judge this generation of leaders not by principles they set out in communiqués but by what they actually do to eradicate poverty, build shared prosperity and protect our children and their children from climate disaster."

Carrying water home for the family in Nigeria Africa
Carrying home water for the family in Nigeria Africa

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