Why is COP27 a milestone to ramp up clean energy in Africa and all around the world?

17 October, 2022

Posted by: Njango Njung'e

Why is COP27 a milestone to ramp up clean energy in Africa and all around the world?

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COP27 sets the stage to accelerate renewables and sustainable development together

Egypt’s COP27 summit this year could unlock the rise of renewable energy in Africa and worldwide – if leaders are able to strengthen their commitment to phase out fossil fuels and begin to act on that promise.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres earlier this year called renewable energy the “lifeline” in a rising climate crisis, and the energy transformation the “low-hanging fruit” in the race to stem human-induced climate change.

Guterres set out five critical actions needed worldwide to jumpstart the energy transition: treat renewable energy like an essential public good; secure, scale up and diversify the supply components and raw materials for renewable energy technologies; build frameworks and reform fossil fuel bureaucracies; shift subsidies away from fossil fuels; and triple public and private investments in renewables.

Countries meet again for the first time since Guterres set out the five actions at November’s COP27 summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, from November 6-18. This marks an opportunity to build on a commitment made last year to phase down fossil fuels by kicking the transition into action.

The Egyptian COP27 presidency’s focus on connecting climate action to wider sustainable development for developing countries, including across Africa, also creates a space in which to look at how renewable energy can boost economies, create jobs and improve health.

Here’s what you need to know about the role of renewables in this year’s COP27. 

 

How can COP27 send a global signal to accelerate the shift to clean energy? 

The Egyptian presidency intends to make COP27 a catalyst for implementation of climate action commitments made over the years, and to ensure that climate action becomes an accelerant for wider sustainable development within the 2020s.

A speedy transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy lies at the heart of both those efforts. 

Leaders committed at last year’s COP26 to phase down the use of unabated coal-fired power and inefficient fossil fuels subsidies. Yet, most countries have failed to act on that promise in the year since – with many even approving new fossil fuel projects such as the Jackdaw gas field and plans to approve fracking in the UK, the Bay du Nord oil field in Canada, and the expansion of the Mount Pleasant coal mine in Australia.  

Key to shifting UN climate talks from promises to implementation will be the COP27 summit’s ability to not only spur action on existing commitments – such as the Glasgow Pact – but also ramp them up in line with the science. 

Energy decarbonisation is a crucial step towards reaching net zero emissions by 2050. This requires the immediate and massive deployment of affordable, renewable energy , along with a global push to accelerate innovation, the International Energy Agency said in 2021. Net zero by 2050 calls for a boost in solar photovoltaic to 630 gigawatts, and in wind to 390 GW, by 2030. That’s four times the record level set in 2020. 

Renewable energy is also a crucial part of achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. It can provide affordable, reliable energy access to the roughly 800 million people who still lack it, especially in rural areas with no power transmission lines. Energy access can support livelihoods, health and education – for example providing refrigeration and lighting. It can also create jobs in the communities and significantly reduce the health impacts of air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels. 

 

How does oil and gas reliance threaten sustainable development around the world? 

The rising cost of living, energy and food worldwide this year makes clear the dangers of relying on volatile international commodity prices – especially for the most vulnerable countries. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sent food, energy and other commodity prices soaring and increased the strains on African economies already struggling to recover from COVID-19, according to the IEA. This is reversing the improvement in access to modern energy, with the number of people living without electricity in Africa rising by 25 million between 2022 and before the pandemic. In Asia, the rising cost of energy has led to power outages and business closures – and a shortage of cooling during extreme heat waves.

Rising fossil fuel prices have also helped to drive the food crisis, pushing up the price and tightening the supply of fertilisers. This was a key driver in Sri Lanka’s political crisis earlier this year, as the government sought to quell the pressure of soaring costs for basic goods by imposing an immediate ban on chemical pesticides and fertilisers. 

Overall, oil, gas and coal production and emissions are a primary threat to water, health and biodiversity, to the ability to provide economic and energy security, and to the world’s ability to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, according to a report published by the Fossil Fuel Non Proliferation Treaty in June.

By fuelling the climate crisis and air pollution, oil, gas and coal production are worsening human health, disrupting economies, increasing inequality and hunger, driving mass migrations, pushing ecosystems to a point of no return, and making parts of the world uninhabitable, the report found. 

 

How can renewable energy accelerate sustainable development, and why is COP27 a moment for Africa to secure energy independence?

Africa holds some of the greatest potential worldwide for solar power generation, around 7,900 gigawatts, along with huge potential for hydropower and wind energy, geothermal and modern biomass, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and African Development Bank

With the right policies, a shift from fossil fuels to renewables in Africa could boost GDP by 6.4% between 2020 and 2050, and create 3.5% more economy-wide jobs and raise the welfare index by 25.4%. 

In particular, renewable energy supports energy independence in countries that are heavily reliant on fossil fuel imports and therefore vulnerable to shocks – such as the impacts of Russia’s war in Ukraine, IRENA found. The investment in new technologies also creates up to three times as many jobs as fossil fuels per million dollars spent. The addition of new jobs will outweigh those lost in the transition away from fossil fuels, including in countries that produce them.

By strengthening and implementing global commitments to accelerate the phase down and out of fossil fuels – and to mobilise more climate finance – COP27 offers a moment in which public and private financiers can begin to deliver on planned projects in the region.

 

What do African countries need to wean themselves off fossil fuels and shift to renewables? 

The unlocking of finance for renewable energy projects in Africa is key to driving the transition and taking advantage of the continent’s resources. 

So far, however, energy investments in Africa have often faced higher financing costs than comparable projects in developed markets, according to the IEA. As a result, only 2% of global clean energy investments over the last two decades have flowed into Africa, IRENA found

As of 2019, the IEA estimated that the continent needs US$2 trillion of investments in reliable, sustainable and affordable power supply over two decades. The African group of climate negotiators said last year that the continent needs US$1.3 trillion per year in total climate finance from 2025, in order to help countries both meet the Paris Agreement’s commitments to limit global warming and adapt to the impacts they are experiencing. 

The COP27 presidency has this year hosted a series of regional investor roadshows designed to showcase shovel-ready projects in each region and bring public and private investors, businesses, policymakers and others together to unlock the necessary finance. The African forum, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, presented 19 projects that could deliver on both development and emission reductions, including a hydroelectricity facility that would become Nigeria’s biggest power plant. 

The Egyptian government plans to spotlight the projects presented at these regional forums during COP27, drawing attention to both the opportunity and need for investors to crowd in. 

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