The pressing need for investment in Africa’s energy infrastructure dominated proceedings during the second day of the African Development Bank’s annual meetings in Lusaka, where the subject of the continent’s energy sources was at the centre of debate surrounding the short-term benefits and availability of fossil fuels and the long-term sustainability of renewable energy sources.
“While consideration for clean energy remains important, one should not forget that Africa’s problem is not that of switching from carbon-oriented to clean energy, but that of access to power,” said Edgar Lungu, President of the Republic of Zambia. “This raises policy issues: should our priorities be on increasing access to energy using whatever resources we have, such as coal, which is cheaper, or should we concentrate our efforts on deepening our reliance on solar, which is very expensive?”
President Lungu’s remarks, which included a reference to the fact that international donors are starting to refuse to finance energy sources that are deemed unclean, were echoed by several senior state leaders, including Idriss Déby, President of the Republic of Chad.
“We know that Africa has resources, we have gas, we have oil, we have the sun and wind, so there are a range of possibilities that need to be harnessed,” said President Déby. “We need to make sure that energy is clean, but first and foremost we need to have access to energy.”
Speaking in French and addressing a round table on energy and climate change, President Déby joined President Lungu, the vice-president of Nigeria, and the prime ministers of Mozambique and Tanzania in fielding questions from Mary Robinson, one of two newly appointed UN special envoys for El Niño and Climate Change.
The participants also spoke about the duality of Africa’s current and future energy needs, touching on existing efforts to develop clean coal technologies and other processes that can reduce carbon emissions.
This theme continued into the afternoon via a session on Africa’s pathway to universal access to energy by 2025. The meeting was broadcast to 48 African countries and Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank, hosted Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in what proved to be a lively exchange.
“Africa cannot move forward without electricity,” said Adesina. “You need electricity in schools, in hospitals. Industries don’t run on air, they run on power, and that is why the African Development Bank has prioritised a new deal on energy for Africa.”
The bank’s New Deal on Energy, as a vehicle through which the African Development Bank is investing US$12 billion in delivering electricity for all Africans by 2025, was endorsed by both Presidents during the session.