Africa’s Energy Future: Navigating the path to sustainability at the Africa Climate Summit


Next week, African officials and policy leaders will convene in Nairobi for the highly anticipated Africa Climate Summit. This event arrives at a crucial moment as the world confronts the urgent need for sustainable solutions to combat climate change.

With Africa already grappling with the devastating impacts of global warming on its people, ecosystems and economies, the 2023 Africa Climate Summit could set the stage for a brighter and greener future for Africa. Now is the moment for the region’s leaders to address the critical intersection of environmental preservation and economic growth, and the need for a just energy transition in Africa.

Summit host President William Ruto of Kenya has called the meeting an opportunity to “define and refine [Africa’s] fresh and distinctive position” on climate action, for which renewed multilateral governance is needed. He has also called for equitable funding to address the climate emergency, and is marshalling support for a Nairobi Declaration on Green Growth and Climate Finance.

Africa boasts a significant share of the world’s natural resource reserves, with 30 percent of mineral reserves, eight percent of gas reserves and 12 percent of oil reserves. It holds substantial reserves of gold, chromium, platinum, diamonds, and also transition minerals like cobalt and copper. The continent’s heavy dependence on the production of fossil fuels makes it vulnerable to economic shocks when demand for these fuels drastically decline. Nigeria’s government budget, for instance, relied on oil exports for 31 percent of its revenue generation in 2022, underlining the need for a diversified economic strategy and energy mix. Similarly, oil and gas contributed 12.5 percent of Ghana’s total revenue for the 2022 fiscal year.

Nonetheless, African nations are making earnest strides toward a fossil fuel phase-out, as Nigeria’s energy transition plan and Ghana’s energy transition framework demonstrate. Nigeria’s energy transition demands an estimated investment of USD 1.9 trillion, while Ghana’s framework is projected to require around USD 561.8 billion for full realization. The announcement of a EUR 2.5 billion just energy transition partnership (JETP) for Senegal signals a commitment by Senegal’s government and its international partners to advance toward resilient, universal energy access and low-carbon systems.

In terms of mining, Africa’s mineral wealth is crucial for the global shift toward renewable energy systems. The continent holds significant reserves of minerals critical to the energy transition, including 19 percent of the minerals needed for battery-powered electric vehicles.

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The amount of financing needed for Africa’s energy transition and climate adaptation—including sustainably developing transition minerals, building reliable energy systems and developing viable alternatives to fiscal systems dependent on fossil fuel exports—is staggering, and current resources are vastly insufficient. The continent will require huge financial and technological investments to exploit transition mineral deposits meaningfully and profitably.

The financial support promised by wealthier nations to aid in this transition has fallen short. These countries have not fulfilled their 2009 promise to provide $100 billion annually to aid developing countries in climate response, and their emissions reduction efforts remain inadequate to prevent warming beyond critical thresholds. Meanwhile the COP27 climate conference yielded new commitments, including a fund for loss and damage, a commitment to the 1.5-degree target and increased financial support for developing countries.

In June, French President Emmanuel Macron launched the New Global Financing Pact, recognizing the urgency to overhaul multilateral institutions, and emphasized the need for enhanced financial support for developing countries to confront challenges like climate change and future pandemics.

Also in June, at the Bonn Climate Change Conference, Emirati minister state oil chief and COP28 president-designate Sultan Al Jaber underscored the role of renewable energy and support to developing countries in phasing out fossil fuels and noted that the transition should not only meet the 1.5°C target but also be just and inclusive, accommodating all nations and regions. This phase-out of fossil fuels is inevitable, its pace determined by the swiftness of the transition to zero-carbon alternatives that prioritize energy security, accessibility and affordability.

Africa’s abundant resources hold the key to global decarbonization, making the upcoming summit a pivotal moment for leaders to drive actionable change before COP28.

At NRGI, we work with African government officials, civil society actors and communities, and they increasingly express an urgent need for policies and strategies that reduce fossil fuel dependence, mitigate economic shocks and foster prosperity.

In advance of the Africa Climate Summit, we offer five potentially transformative policy recommendations developed from our work across the continent:

  1. Improve mining governance

Africa will not attract transition mineral investments at scale or ensure shared benefits without a concerted focus on good governance. As they plan future mineral developments, government officials should work to minimize harms to communities and the environment. The international community should enhance international standards on company responsibility and provide financial support to bolster government oversight capacity.

  1. Foster regional collaboration

Economic cooperation and coordination across countries have been a longstanding goal of many African governments, which have taken important steps forward in recent years. Enhanced regional collaboration can help to unlock potential for African countries to move up transition mineral value and supply chains: generating additional revenues and jobs, enhancing energy security and access, and in some cases, supporting the restructuring of economies that are highly dependent on exports of fossil fuels. African governments should redouble investments in cross-border planning, both bilateral and multilateral, and implement existing strategies and policies such as the Africa Mining Vision and ECOWAS Model Mining and Minerals Development Act. The African Union with the Green Minerals Partners should also fast-track the development of the Africa green mineral strategy.

  1. Promote equitable, people-centered dialogue on energy transitions

In both petroleum- and mineral-rich communities, energy transition has the potential to help unlock new pathways to sustainable development to benefit citizens. But this is far from guaranteed, and many people fear that the transition will exacerbate inequality and deprive the vulnerable of opportunities. African governments must establish mechanisms that ensure that civil society organizations and local communities have a say in how decisions are made and implemented, and how their interests should be protected. This can include establishing mechanisms for participation, consultation and consent. Bilateral donors and partners, international development banks, and international NGOs should support non-governmental efforts to ensure that the most vulnerable are not left behind.

  1. Combat corruption

To attract responsible mining investment and foster sustainable growth, governments in producing countries should strengthen anticorruption laws and institutions and implement best practice transparency standards. All governments must do more to enforce anticorruption measures, prosecute corrupt officials and companies, and compensate potential victims of corruption. Recent setbacks in the fight for accountability are especially concerning as the boom in demand for transition minerals heightens corruption risks. Multistakeholder initiatives can play an important role in shaping the actions of countries and companies across the supply chain but require stronger anticorruption provisions and robust implementation.

  1. Enable access to finance and innovative funding mechanisms

All of these recommendations require financing to become a reality. The Bretton Woods institutions and the wealthiest (and highest-emitting) countries, through international climate finance and innovative funding mechanisms, can support the deployment of clean energy projects at scale, propelling the transition. African leaders should work collaboratively to attract investments, align financial incentives, and de-risk projects to accelerate the transition.

The summit marks an opportunity to forge a new path for Africa, where leaders develop, agree and commit to concrete agendas and actions for Africa’s sustainable energy journey and shape a future that is cleaner, safer and more prosperous. Achieving this requires bold action, unwavering commitment, and collaborative efforts from all stakeholders.

About the author

Nafi Chinery is the Africa Director of the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI)

Note: This article/commentary was initially published by the Natural Resource Governance Institute.

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