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‘Transition to renewable energy critical to addressing Africa’s power gap’

By Geoff Iyatse
15 February 2021   |   4:17 am
Sustainability is especially a priority issue at this time for many reasons. For one thing, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore the extent of our vulnerability to environmental factors...


The second edition of the Africa Investment Roundtable (AiR, an economic think-tank forum, holds today with internationally-renowned experts scheduled to discuss ‘Sustainability En Route to COP26’ and other salient issues on climate change. Ahead of the event organised with The Guardian as media partner, AiR co-founders, Arunma Oteh and Toyin Sanni, in a chat with GEOFF IYATSE, spoke on relevance of a workable climate change agenda in the context of COVID-19.

Why is sustainability a priority issue for Africa Investment Roundtable in a depressed time like this?
Sustainability is especially a priority issue at this time for many reasons. For one thing, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore the extent of our vulnerability to environmental factors and the importance of a clean and sustainable environment. And we must remember that the current economic recession in key parts of Africa is associated with both the pandemic and overdependence on commodities like fossil fuel.

Secondly, this roundtable will highlight significant investment and financing opportunities in the sustainability space that can partly alleviate our financial and economic difficulties. Also, the discussion of Africa’s sustainability agenda is particularly relevant ahead of the forthcoming 26th conference of the parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change billed to hold in November this year.

What difference is the deliberation going to make, considering the trajectory of climate change discourse across the world and the hesitation?
This is a germane concern on the premise that the climate change discussion and commitment seem to have dragged over the years and sometimes suffered setbacks from key parties.

Arunma Oteh. Photographer: Akio Kon/ Bloomberg

However, we at AiR believe that the time is ripe for the world to take the discourse forward in definitive ways and for Africa, in particular, to embrace the concepts, imperatives and opportunities of sustainability. In Africa, an energy transition, driven by the widespread adoption of renewable sources of power, is critical to solving the huge power deficit across the continent.

Industrial growth is an increasing function of environmental quality. Meanwhile, Africa desperately needs industrial growth. Is there a sort of dilemma here?
You are correct; that Africa needs strong industrial growth to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of development. AiR supports industrial growth for Africa. We, however, believe that this growth can be achieved while setting and adhering to acceptable standards of environmental safety.

We embrace the concept of just transition that seeks to balance the importance of climate protection with the need to continue to create jobs, secure workers’ rights and pursue manufacturing and infrastructure development.

Can Africa create an enforceable regional roadmap on climate change? Or do you think a regional template is not necessary?
We believe that Africa can and indeed should learn from and adopt best practices from across the world in terms of roadmaps and templates for combatting and addressing climate change while promoting sustainability and green growth, subject to necessary modifications to suit our regional position. The ongoing process towards regional integration, including the take-off of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement, will possibly put us in a better position than before to consider the adoption and ultimately enforcement of regional standards and conventions.

Nigeria declared 2020 ‘the year of gas’ as part of the sustainability transition plan. Is that not a mere campaign?
We are impressed by this forward-looking approach by the government of Nigeria, particularly in the light of the county’s strategic importance within the region, underscored by its geographical size, population and gross domestic product (GDP). We believe that this should not be a mere campaign. It is a wise response to an ongoing global shift underscored by developments.

In rural areas, people still engage in bush burning, deforestation despite and unhealthy cooking methods despite global warming. How do we make the rural communities on the climate change campaign?
A wide range of thoughtful solutions will be required for our rural areas across Sub-Saharan Africa knowing that dwellers are also dealing with pervasive poverty, illiteracy and underemployment amongst other threats to their livelihoods.

As with every major global reform initiative, a combination of mass enlightenment and education (driven by technology supported by infrastructure) as well as funding support to aid the transition, including free and subsidized gas cookers and cylinders, grants, training and other support are required. This will also include initiatives to help rural dwellers develop alternative (sustainable) means of livelihoods. Ultimately, enforcement of laws prohibiting bush burning and disforestation will be required.

Can we achieve sustainable growth without addressing widespread poverty first?
At AiR, we believe that both problems of poverty and climate change must be addressed concurrently and holistically. It is important to note that a great deal of poverty in our continent is not alleviated by but rather actually caused and /or increased by the unrelenting degradation of our environment.

There are also indications that global warming and climate change are likely to trigger increased migration of livestock, indiscriminate destruction of agricultural vegetation for grazing, which does not only causes more poverty but, unfortunately, also fuels community hostilities.

We also believe that investment opportunities exist in the sustainability agenda that can help to combat poverty.

How does AIR intend to communicate the outcome of the deliberations to policymakers?
AiR believes in ongoing engagement with all stakeholders in both the public and private spheres and will be communicating the outcome of this roundtable.

What are the options for making the discourse a sustainable engagement?
For this discourse to be sustainable and effective, we will be advocating significant commitments from key policymakers across the region, the financial, energy and agricultural sectors. Rural and urban development regulators and practitioners as well as global development finance institutions are also important participants. We are pleased to have the Vice President and Treasurer of the World Bank, Jingdong Hua; the Vice President Energy, Power, Climate Change and Green Growth at the African Development Bank, Dr. Kevin Kariuki; the CEO of FMDQ Group and Chairman, Financial City 4 Sustainability, Lagos, Bola Onadele, will join us at the event.