Empowering Africa: UNDP's Clean Energy Commitment Sparks Urgent Action

In a pivotal moment for Africa's energy future, the UNDP's commitment to provide clean and affordable energy access to 500 million Africans has ignited a fervent call for immediate action and innovation.

September 11, 2023
Photo: UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa

Despite efforts over the last decade, the transition to sustainable energy on the African continent has made little progress due to various challenges, including poverty. Africa's just energy transformation is no longer a choice; it's an urgent necessity. To accelerate this transition, African governments and their development partners must step up and provide appropriate incentives within a supportive regulatory ecosystem.

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has pledged to cooperate with governments and local communities to enhance access to clean and affordable energy for 500 million Africans under its Climate Promise. There is also an urgent need to raise collective ambitions and commit to addressing Africa's energy insecurity much faster to ensure a fair and just transition to clean energy, thereby improving the quality of life for residents across the continent.

During the summer in Tokyo, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) held a Brown Bag Lunch session, focusing on the theme of "Just Energy Transition." Dr. Raymond Gilpin, Chief Economist and Head of the Strategy, Analysis, and Research Team at the UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa, along with JICA officials from various overseas offices and departments, discussed future pathways to achieve greater innovation and investment for a just energy transition in Africa.

"There are two phases of energy transition: moving from having no energy to having some and transitioning from high-polluting to less-polluting energy sources. The critical issue is that many Africans still lack access to energy, underlining the need to prioritize providing basic access to all, aligning with the goal of 'leaving no one behind,' " said Gilpin.

Achieving a just energy transition with a particular focus on the stark disparity in institutional capacity and the heavy reliance on hydrocarbon revenues among African nations. Using an illuminating matrix, Gilpin underscored the necessity for compensatory mechanisms, especially for countries deeply reliant on hydrocarbon resources. He added, 'Without such safeguards, these nations risk being left stranded and struggling in the relentless tide of the energy transition.'

Regarding the financial hardships confronting African countries, the UNDP's latest report, "Lowering the Cost of Borrowing in Africa," unveiled the stark reality that African nations grappled with when securing reliable sources of financing. Existing investments fell woefully short, their short-term nature mismatched the demands for long-term financial solutions.

The subsequent discussion delved deeper into the energy efficiency and investment, particularly about the sources of financing and UNDP's strategies to navigate the intricate lending process, and exploring possible collaborations with JICA to incentivize policy regulations in this domain. 

"It is imperative to urge renewed efforts in recapitalizing African banks and maximizing the potential of these resources," Gilpin emphasized. He also underscored the urgency of addressing Africa's rapid population growth by swiftly expanding power distribution and enhancing energy efficiency.

The potential of hydropower within Africa's clean energy landscape also found its place in the discourse. Gilpin acknowledged both the advantages and challenges associated with hydropower, emphasizing the pivotal role of private sector investment in driving the adoption of this transformative technology.

Concerns were raised regarding the institutional capabilities and strategies to address challenges when partnering with African organizations for the execution of green energy initiatives. "We have acknowledged the existing flaws in the system but these challenges should not serve as excuses for delays. In the era of the Anthropocene, where human impacts on the environment held monumental significance, there was no time to act but the present. Flexibility and innovative approaches were paramount," stressed Gilpin. 

While finance and institution-building remained pressing issues demanding swift resolution, the UNDP's two-phased plan and JICA's commitment to cooperation illuminated the path toward a brighter future for the continent.