About FEC 2024

THEME

Harnessing Africa’s Resource Wealth: Fueling Innovation for Equitable Energy Access

The Energy Transition is vital for meeting the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature rise to below 1.5°C. Over 130 countries have since committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050[1], with the European Union targeting climate neutrality by the same year. Additionally, more than 3,000 companies and financial institutions, including major oil firms such as BP, Shell, Chevron, Total, Eni, and Exxon are committed to investing in renewables to diversify their portfolios and stay future-ready. National Oil Companies (NOCs) are also realigning their strategies, with PetroChina and EcoPetrol aiming for near-zero emissions by 2050, alongside African NOCs like NNPC, Sonatrach, and SNPC, which are embracing decarbonization through initiatives like renewable integration and carbon capture and storage[2]. Accordingly, all 54 African countries have ratified the Paris Agreement.

As nations grapple with the imperative of mitigating climate change and achieving the ambitious targets set forth by the Paris Agreement, Africa stands at a pivotal crossroads. Blessed with abundant natural resources, the continent holds the potential to shape the trajectory of the global energy landscape while confronting a myriad of challenges and seizing unprecedented opportunities. The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that, a rapid energy transition in scenarios aligned with the Paris Agreement is projected to increase demand for critical minerals by almost four folds by 2040. Central to Africa’s energy narrative is this exponential growth in demand for critical minerals, a cornerstone of renewable energy technologies. Accordingly, this ushers in a new geopolitical competition for securing critical mineral supply chains among global economies. For instance, the EU has recently enacted the Critical Raw Materials Act. The act thus aims to ensure secured and resilient supply chains, mitigate supply risks, and promote environmental protection and circularity in the context of the energy transition[3]. With Africa hosting 30% of proven global mineral reserves[4], the continent finds itself at the epicenter of this unfolding geopolitical contest, tasked with harnessing its mineral wealth to drive sustainable development while ensuring equitable distribution and environmental stewardship.

Amidst these global imperatives, the pursuit of sustainable energy pathways is fraught with complexities and trade-offs. Despite significant progress in expanding energy access, about 600 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa still lack access to reliable electricity and at least 1 billion people reliant on traditional wood-based fuels to meet their domestic heating and cooking needs, perpetuating cycles of poverty and inequality. With the continent hosting nearly 9% of the world’s gas reserves and about 6% of global natural gas production[5], amidst a long-term outlook of a decline in their usage, there is a window of opportunity for African countries to optimize their existing resources to close the energy access gap. However, there are concerns on how fossil-based development can be pursued in consonance with the continent’s commitment to the Paris Agreement and the imperative of climate action.

Share of the population with access to electricity, 2020. Data compiled from multiple sources by World Bank
Climate Action Tracker (2022). Natural gas in Africa: Why fossil fuels cannot sustainably meet the continent’s growing energy demand.

Against this backdrop, the discourse on a just transition the African way assumes paramount importance, ensuring that no one is left behind in the shift towards cleaner energy sources. The potential disruption to livelihoods in traditional energy sectors including those in the local biomass energy value chain underscores the need for equitable and inclusive transition strategies that prioritize the welfare of vulnerable communities and individuals. For instance, an estimated 120,000 jobs are at risk of being lost in South Africa’s coal heartland of Mpumalanga by 2030 due to the energy transition[6]. Considering that nearly one in three young people is expected to reside in Africa by 2050, harnessing the potential of Africa’s youth, women, and businesses is essential for driving innovation and building resilience in the face of evolving energy landscapes. That is, despite the estimated job losses, the energy transition is projected to provide enormous economic opportunities for both labor and businesses. With the operationalization of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement, the energy transition can be a panacea to Africa’s industrialization agenda, alleviate energy poverty, and drive economic transformation.

In this nuanced context, the Africa Centre for Energy Policy (ACEP), in collaboration with its partners, organizes the Future of Energy Conference 2024 to critically examine alternative strategic approaches Africa can adopt to harness the inherent opportunities of energy transition on the thrust of its existing resources.  

A young mine worker who could lose his job in South Africa’s coal heartland of Mpumalanga.