Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to be with you today. I want to thank Minister Shapps and the Government of the United Kingdom for inviting me to the launch of the Energy Africa Campaign. This is a campaign I unequivocally support.
It addresses one of the great injustices of the 21st Century – an injustice that robs millions of our fellow citizens of the dignity, opportunity and freedom that comes with access to modern energy. The Africa Progress Panel, which I chair, addressed this injustice in our report, “Power, People, Planet: Seizing Africa’s Energy and Climate Opportunities”. And I’m delighted to see many of our recommendations reflected in the Energy Africa Campaign.
Africa’s leaders have no choice about tackling the region’s chronic deficits in power generation and energy access.
Left unaddressed, these deficits will undermine prospects for inclusive growth, jobs creation, and poverty reduction. Where Africa’s leaders, the investment community, and international partners do have a choice is in deciding how to tackle the region’s energy crisis.
Africa does not have to follow the carbon-intensive pathway and energy practices of rich countries and emerging economies that have brought the world to the brink of catastrophe. Africa is rich in untapped energy potential – including renewable resources.
These resources – sun, wind, hydro and geothermal – have two distinctive advantages: speed and scope for decentralization. They can be deployed far more rapidly than coal-fired power plants, and they can operate both on-grid and off-grid. The belief that Africa has to choose between economic growth and low carbon development is based on anachronistic thinking.
In South Africa and many other countries around the world, renewable energy is increasingly cost-competitive at scale, even before taking into account environmental costs. Low-carbon development has the potential to act as an engine of growth.
Yet we have to be honest and recognize that current international efforts fall distressingly short of what is needed. 621 million Africans live without access to electricity – a figure that includes 95 million people in Nigeria, the region’s energy export powerhouse.
We estimate that over 300 million will still lack access on current trends by 2040 – ten years after the target date under the new development goals for universal energy access. This is intolerable, avoidable and profoundly unfair.
It leaves the world’s poorest people to pay the world’s highest power prices. A woman in a rural village in northern Nigeria spends 60 to 80 times more per unit of energy than a resident of London or New York.
This is not just an injustice. It is a market failure of epic proportion. Households are losing out as a result of higher prices, investors are losing out on market opportunities, and countries are losing out from a failure to harness productive technologies.
Furthermore, almost four in five people rely for cooking on solid biomass, mainly fuelwood and charcoal. As a result, 600,000 people in the region die each year from household air pollution. Almost half are children under 5. This is an exciting time to rapidly scale-up Africa’s energy access.
The new President of the Africa Development Bank, Akin Adesina, has declared that energy access in Africa is his number one priority and recently launched a New Deal for Energy Access in Africa. Other governments are joining the UK in signing-up the low carbon transition and energy access agenda. Climate change negotiations are adding to the momentum.
Across the African continent too, energy entrepreneurs are demonstrating showing Africa’s potential to leapfrog to a low carbon economy. There is a new momentum behind efforts to reach off-grid populations. For example, the Overseas Development Institute is working to bring together governments and investors behind an exciting new ‘Triple 5ca initiative aimed at bringing off-grid solar energy to five million people in five countries over a five year period.
This approach, which supports the UK’s vision for the Energy Africa Campaign, combines what I see as the three essential ingredients for success: speed, scale and equity. It also offers a ‘one-stop shop’ model for delivery. Too often, governments and investors are held back in their ambition by the slow pace of negotiations involving multiple aid donors, development finance institutions and multilateral agencies.
An enabling environment must now be created to allow this growing pool of energy investors to deliver clean energy “off grid” in a way that is simple for both investors and consumers to understand.
This generation of African leaders has a unique opportunity to deliver on the promise of energy for all.
For too long, governments have been content to oversee highly centralized energy systems designed to benefit the rich and bypass the poor. Power utilities have been centres of corruption, inefficiency and vested interest.
This picture is starting to change, but far too slowly. That is why I have called for every African government to set out a timetable and strategy for achieving universal energy access. Ultimately, Africa’s leaders are accountable to their citizens for the decisions they take.
Yet we must not downplay the importance of international cooperation. The UN Climate Change Conference in Paris must draw a line in the sand. Major emitting countries should seize the opportunity to put in place credible carbon pricing and taxation systems, and to stop wasting billions on fossil-fuel subsidies.
Old North-South divisions must give way to a new politics that recognizes the need for shared solutions to common challenges. We must now come together to break the deadly interaction between poverty and unstainable energy systems. There is surely no better starting point than universal access to affordable low-carbon energy. Minister, I congratulate you for taking up a cause for our generation – and I look forward to working with you all to light up Africa.