Africa needs country-specific narratives for a clean energy future

October 25, 2022

An international team of researchers from 50 institutions is calling politicians, funders, and researchers to shift how they think about the clean energy transition in the African continent, as a new study highlights radically different energy needs across countries.

Published Tuesday in Nature Energy, the findings show prior assumptions about the continent’s energy needs and net zero paths were incorrect. Rather than addressing the continent as a homogenous collective, an analysis of all 54 African countries found that each nation faces different starting points, solutions, and uncertainties for using renewables or fossil fuels to meet development objectives.

The research was carried out by a team of 40 African researchers and co-authors from the University of California Berkeley, University College London, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the University of Oxford, and others.

“Today’s global debate is characterized by unhelpful generalizations,” says Youba Sokona, vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and one of the study’s authors. “Our research highlights that to achieve development and climate objectives in Africa the international community needs to embrace and support nuance and country-specific analysis. Pathways to get to clean energy systems depend a lot on how feasible they are in each African country.”

Published ahead of next month’s COP27 conference in Egypt, the paper coincides with a period of intense debate around fossil fuel versus renewable use by African countries. Leading African institutes and scholars have described pressure by Western leaders on African countries not to use their fossil fuel reserves as ‘hypocrisy.’ Meanwhile, moves by Western countries like the United Kingdom to open up remaining fossil fuel resources in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have sent mixed messages about their net zero commitments. 

“COP27 is Africa’s COP,” says Dan Kammen, a professor in the Energy and Resources Group and Senior Advisor for Energy Innovation at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). “It is vital for us to listen and learn from African energy innovators and to then prioritize energy access, justice, and investment in on- and off-grid energy devices to reach the SDGs and economic development goals. We hope this research will accelerate that process.”

Read the full release at the University of Oxford.