The sudden jolt in global oil prices is raising fresh concerns about African decarbonization efforts. As Western countries have embraced net-zero carbon targets through investments in renewable energy infrastructure and other initiatives, Africa has lagged in setting similar goals. While the continent is blessed with many forms of renewable energy, there isn’t the capital, infrastructure, or even political will in many places to kickstart a shift away from fossil fuels. Will record high oil and gas prices be the spark that ignites a transformation?
The short answer is no. A viable renewable energy transformation is unthinkable for many of the continent’s largest countries because of the exorbitant cost of shifting to renewables and the government barriers that keep costs high. Even with record prices, it’s still cheaper for African leaders to continue relying on fossil fuels than to switch to renewables.
South Africa, the continent’s most industrialized country, is a perfect example of the decarbonization challenges. More than 90 percent of South Africa’s energy comes from non-renewable sources, with coal making up the lion’s share. Countries in North Africa also derive more than 90 percent of their energy from fossil fuels, while those in Central Africa get more than 80 percent of their energy from renewables. South Africa’s ailing fleet of coal-burning power plants desperately need repairs, but there isn’t enough money to make them — thanks to a decade of corruption and government mismanagement.
The result has been crippling rolling blackouts that are forecast to get worse in the coming years. The situation is more remarkable considering the abundant sunshine and wind power that typifies South Africa’s climate. Despite this profusion, the South African government has been reluctant to grant new tenders out of fear that the revenue for the national electric utility will simply dry up. It’s an unnecessarily complex situation that speaks to a deeper issue affecting several African countries.
In a published response to a recent Financial Times article on the barriers to net-zero targets in Africa, Fadhel Kaboub, president of the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity, and Mohamed Adow, founder and director of Power Shift Africa, noted that Africa…