Virtual AUW highlights: Adopting new behaviours to influence emissions


The African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa virtual event featured a session on adopting new strategies to drive down carbon emissions on the continent on 11 May 2020.

Moderator: Claire Volkwyn

Anthony Nyong, Director of Climate Change and Green Growth at African Development Bank
Egmont Otterman, Director, Resilient Circular
Hiten Parmar, Director, uYilo e-Mobility Programme

New projections for economic growth in 2020 are in flux, but there is a suggestion emerging that the impact of COVID-19 lockdown situations around the world could significantly curb global carbon emission. The effect is likely to be less pronounced than during the global financial crises of 2008-9. Emission declines in response to past economic crises also suggest a rapid recovery of emissions when the pandemic is over. 

But prudent spending of economic stimulus measures and permanent adoption of new work behaviours could influence how emissions evolve in the future. What are the scenarios for Africa?

Africa’s first focus should be empowerment and economic growth. This is not to undermine the urgent efforts undertaken globally, but because the continent isn’t the cause of the climate emergency. However, the lowest contributor to harmful emissions is also the most threatened if climate change goals aren’t met.

Those were the sentiments from Anthony Nyong, Director of Climate Change and Green Growth at African Development Bank, during the second session of the inaugural African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa 2020 virtual event.

Those sentiments were echoed by the other panelists in attendance. “Africa’s 54 countries contribute just about 4% of total greenhouse gas emissions, it appears disproportionately burdened by the adverse impacts of climate change”, Nyong stated. “This is where we have more than 50% of the population of about 600 million without access to electricity in our cities, and about 70% has no access to clean cooking – again, many of these living in our cities.”

“We are committed to growth from high energy density across all sectors. Africa’s emissions are projected to just rise by 0.3%. From 4% to now two to 4.3% by 2040. At the same time demand is expected to grow by 50% between 2012 and 2040, according to the International Energy Agency’s outlook”, said Nyong.

“We have to revisit fuel subsidies”, he noted. “African countries spend about 22 times (more) on fuel subsidies than it does on actual energy, this behaviour in our governments has to change”.

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Egmont Otterman, director of energy and industrial ecology developer at Resilient Circular, noted that Africa’s focus must remain on building climate resilience, and in a manner that addresses the continent’s specific circumstances. “That means the continuation of electrification efforts on the continent at “as low a cost as possible”.

“This crisis has brought out things that we are conveniently forgetting. And that is not necessarily that we all have to reduce our carbon emissions”, noted Ottermann. “What we have to address is our ability to withstand what’s coming. And that’s the resilience of African cities to climate change.”

Otterman: “One of the things that bring more people out of poverty than anything else is electrification. It changes lives.”

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Hiten Parmar, director of uYilo, a South African government-backed e-mobility initiative noted that whilst mass urbanisation is a factor in the continent’s decarbonisation “what certainly is needed is electrification across the value chain” extending to the transport sector in a move towards electrification and away from fossil fuel-powered transport.

“We need to combat emissions from the transport sector. Africa is experiencing mass urbanization. Alongside that, we’ve seen a greater increase in traffic and the counter-effect of that is air pollution”, Parmar said.

“Recently, the Department of Transport launched a green transport strategy for South Africa, which highlights that 91.2% of emissions come directly from the road transport sector, primarily from the combustion of petrol and diesel.”

So how can we tie in Africa’s need for development with the need for managing emissions? “It’s a matter of a transition”, said Otterman. “It all starts with the design. So, focusing on more distributed generation that does not need massive grids will make us more resilient.”

“I think the opportunity for Africa is to learn from developed markets. We need to embrace the technology that’s available right now”, Parmar added. “Africa needs to move forward and embrace the technology that is available today for the benefit of a better future. This way, we don’t suffer the consequences of what developed countries and mature markets are doing in that in that context.”

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