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Rapid action needed if African countries are to meet SDG7

12th July 2023

By: Darren Parker

Creamer Media Contributing Editor Online

     

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For Africa to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) target of ensuring everyone can access affordable, dependable, sustainable and modern energy, there needs to be rapid implementation of comprehensive policies and the creation of a supportive environment in which United Nations (UN) member States can make the most of their constrained public resources over the next three years, UN Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca) economic affairs officer Anthony Monganeli Mehlwana has said.

In a webinar on July 11 focused on finding ways to accelerate private sector investment in Africa to meet SDG7 and energy transition goals, he emphasised the importance of mobilising private sector investment at the same time to allow African countries to make the most of their domestic resources.  

In addition, he noted that member States should also take advantage of rapidly declining technology costs for renewable energy.  

“Efforts to achieve the SDG targets should be seen in the light of several factors. These include the changing climate, which costs African economies an average of 5% of their gross domestic product annually. Some countries, however, are losing three times that amount,” he pointed out.   

Simultaneously, a "massive" energy access deficit in Africa needed to be closed urgently and on a large scale if the SDGs were to be met, Mehlwana explained.  

“The continent has an abundance of energy resources, both renewable and fossil, yet public resources are highly constrained. At the same time, there are low levels of private sector investment in Africa’s energy transformation and limited support for recovery from financial hardship,” he said.  

Mehlwana said the UN and other multinational organisations should assist African countries in implementing a more comprehensive framework that would enable international and domestic private sector institutions to lead the way in terms of bringing investments into the continent’s energy transition and transformation. This would help with the implementation of nationally determined contributions (NDCs).  

He stated that the UN and its development partners should provide member States with bankable actions that promote SDG7 targets as they develop their energy transition plans and implement their NDCs more effectively. 

Mehlwana went on to say that Uneca, other UN entities, and development partners should help member countries with knowledge and technology transfers to ensure the deployment and long-term operation of new energy systems. 

Further, development partners should assist member countries in moving forward with power sector reform. These reforms should aim to accelerate African power utilities’ progress towards creditworthiness to ensure the sustainability and financial viability of the sector.  

This would increase utility-based provision and encourage private-sector investment in energy infrastructure. 

Mehlwana went on to say that development partners should also help member countries develop human capital in the electricity sector. Support for developing national skills and technical assistance for capacity building in specific areas should be included in this. These areas should consist of renewable energy and transmission and distribution infrastructure.  

The global energy crisis has recently exacerbated the constraints on African economies and communities that are the result of the continent's persistent energy access deficit. The Covid-19 pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the increasing impact of climate change have all played a role.  

“If Africa is to achieve the development goals outlined in the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the larger African Union Agenda 2063, the continent needs a radical shift in how it views energy. It also needs urgent action to address its long-standing energy access issues,” Mehlwana said. 

He added that many African countries were not on track to achieve the SDG7 target of ensuring everyone can access affordable, dependable, sustainable and modern energy.  

“Access to reasonably priced and reliable modern energy services is also a crucial prerequisite for progress in many other development goals,” he said.  

Mehlwana urged member States to prioritise investments in grid strengthening for greater efficiency and increased penetration of variable renewable energy. This should include encouraging utility-scale battery storage and cross-border interconnections to speed up access to electricity through investment in Africa's power pools.  

In addition, member countries should step up efforts to capitalise on low-hanging fruit in energy efficiency.  

“This should occur in all sectors and capitalise on quick wins in cities, industries, buildings and transportation, recognising that energy efficiency gains are the most cost-efficient way to increase available generation capacity and enhance energy access,” he explained.  

Moreover, member States and development partners should promote sharing good practices and experiences with grid and off-grid systems. This should include regulatory frameworks, business models and instruments to attract private sector investment.  

Mehlwana also stated that development partners should assist member countries in leveraging the energy transition as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and local value creation.  

“This should be done through industrial policies, including developing and implementing local content enhancement throughout the renewable energy value chain,” he said.  

Regional trade cooperation, skills and educational policies to create the workforce of the future, and labour market policies to support decent, well-paying jobs are all examples of such policies.  

According to the International Energy Agency's ‘Africa Energy Outlook 2022’ report, Africa has made strides towards universal energy access in recent years. Between 2010 and 2023, electricity coverage increased from 44% to 56% of the continent's population.  

However, nearly 600-million Africans – about 43% of the continent’s total population – lacked access to electricity in 2021. Most of these people were from rural areas. Despite numerous national initiatives, rural electrification remains a significant challenge for many African countries.  

This means that there is still a significant urban-rural divide in electricity access, with urban electrification averaging 82% overall and 78% in sub-Saharan Africa, and rural electrification averaging 37% overall and 28% in sub-Saharan African countries.  

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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