Does Africa Need Fossil Fuels to End Poverty?

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — The Power Africa Initiative is a project to provide millions of Africans with electricity in the future. Companies like Citi and General Electric pledged billions, while the World Bank Group and even the Swedish government offered monetary support.

Leaders from the private sector and the public sector overwhelmingly understand the need for providing electricity and energy to massive numbers of individuals across Africa. Across the continent, roughly 600 million citizens lack access to basic energy services, and the lack of energy infrastructure costs Africa billions of dollars annually.

African leaders want to connect their citizens to new forms of power, but they understand the costs associated are high. According to the International Energy Agency, $400 billion is needed to provide power to Africans that live without access to energy.

Ending energy poverty—the state of being without access to energy—requires significant capital and energy resources, but environmentalists wonder if the continent needs to resort to fossil fuels to provide energy to all Africans.

Ghanaian president John Dramani Mahama, for example, thinks African nations should steer clear of using fossil fuels for their energy needs. “Climate change is real, and Africa stands to suffer the most,” Mahama said. “We can’t take the same paradigm that America did or Europe did or even China did.”

Africa’s lack of infrastructure inhibits the practicality of renewable energy sources like wind and solar technology. Investing in renewable energy sources is significantly more costly than extracting oil, gas and coal, and many African leaders want to cut costs on energy production to fuel economic growth.

Tanzania’s minister of power, Sospeter Muhongo, and Nigeria’s minister of power, Chinedu Ositandinma Nebo, believe African countries should use their own energy resources—like coal, oil and natural gas—to develop internally. Tanzania has 50.5 trillion feet of natural gas, and vast reserves of oil and natural gas have been found in Eastern African nations like Kenya, Uganda and Mozambique.

“I think it is important that we let Africa be and let Africa use our resources,” Nebo said. “Why shouldn’t we use coal when there are other countries where their CO2 per capita is so high?”

African leaders will prioritize reducing energy poverty over renewable investments, as the costs associated are cheaper and the supplies ubiquitous. While ending energy poverty in Africa can be achieved with current technologies in wind, solar and hydroelectric power, leaders are much more inclined to use available resources at lower prices to reduce energy poverty faster. The goal, then, is to convince African leaders of the importance of renewable energies in the near future, as any factors that exacerbate already significant changes in climate will put future generations and infrastructure in danger of natural disasters.

Joseph McAdams

Sources: Foreign Affairs, The Energy Collective, Scientific American, U.S. Department of State
Photo: Bloomberg

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About Author

Joseph McAdams

Joseph is from Colorado Springs, CO, but he's lived in Germany, Singapore, California, Hawaii, Texas and Alabama. He studies International Affairs at Marquette University with a concentration in International Economic Relations and is pursuing a minor in Software Development. After hearing about what The Borgen Project does, he knew it was a fantastic opportunity to explore what reducing global poverty looks like. He once waived to a polar bear in the zoo and it totally waved back (he swears).

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