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Energy For Africa Week: Sustainability = Sustaining Poverty


Western governments are denying the world’s poorest people what populations elsewhere take for granted.

At the Millennium Summit of 2000, the United Nations agreed eight goals that the world should achieve by 2015. One of these goals was environmental sustainability. 

It was not until 15 years later that the UN decided that universal access to energy should be a development goal – but only if it is “sustainable”. 

In Sub-Saharan Africa, less than half of the population have access to electricity.

By stressing the need for ‘sustainable’ energy supply, development agencies risk forcing African countries to find a path to industrialisation that no developed economy has achieved.

African countries added just 8.4 gigawatts of new coal-fired generating capacity between 2006 and 2019. 

Meanwhile, EU28 countries added 23 GW over the same period — despite having less than half of the population of Africa. 

Germany, with a population a twelfth the size of sub Saharan Africa but with twice the GDP added nearly 10 GW of coal-fired generating capacity. 

If the world’s wealthiest, most advanced economies cannot dismantle their own energy infrastructure, to replace it with renewables, how can the least wealthy economies start from scratch?

The problem is not simply that without access to electricity, people lack cooking, heating and lighting in their homes. It is that without reliable and cheap energy, factories, hospitals, schools, businesses and transport cannot function, and economies cannot develop. 

In South Africa, which has the highest GDP in the region, 60% of total electricity produced was consumed by manufacturing and mining, enabling the country’s industrial sectors to participate in global markets.

Unreliable power supply, caused by underinvestment and preoccupation with sustainability is dangerous to industries, economy and people. Without vital energy infrastructure, new enterprises can not begin, much less thrive.

The sustainability agenda, which not even wealthy countries seem able to adopt, is toxic to emerging economies. 

It is denying the world’s poorest people what populations elsewhere take for granted.