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Aligning climate and development objectives in Africa’s energy transition

November 9, 2022 Work Area: Energy Access

For many African nations, mitigating the threat of climate change while pursuing socio-economic development and broad-based prosperity for citizens will involve complex tradeoffs. The continent has a large and youthful population, generally unemployed or underemployed, that will require sustained economic growth to achieve development objectives—growth that will need to occur simultaneously with climate adaptation and mitigation. Though these two efforts are inextricably linked, they are rarely analyzed concurrently in academic research. 

This week at COP27, CATF’s African Energy and Climate Innovation team convened leaders in the field at the Zero-Carbon Future pavilion to address these gaps in African energy modeling scholarship. The panel discussion included leaders from prominent think tanks, universities, and governments, such as the World Bank, IPCC, Africa Policy Research Institute, and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 

“The issue is we have two urgencies that are often analyzed separately: Development and Climate Change,” said Moussa Blimpo, CATF Senior Fellow. “Unless you bring them under the same roof, there will be inherent contradictions.” 

The CATF team outlined five major findings from a systematic review of model- and scenario-based peer-reviewed papers on African energy transition modeling: 

1. African energy transition modeling is a recent but growing phenomenon, with geographical disparities: 60% of research has been completed in the past three years, with over a third of this research focusing on Africa’s two largest economics, South Africa and Nigeria. Over half of African countries received no attention in this scholarship. 

2. Models are often oversimplified: Despite the complexities involved, only a handful of scenarios are typically presented, largely focused on the horizons 2030 or 2050, with little to no considerations of social and political considerations that may hinder implementation of climate solutions. For more on effective energy transition modeling, read this piece from CATF’s Director of Energy System Analyses. 

3. Economic development is rarely at the forefront: Only 7% of papers considered development as a central outcome alongside energy and climate goals. 

4. Critical climate technologies are underrepresented: Technologies such as carbon capture, nuclear, or hydrogen, that stand to play a key role toward a low or zero-carbon future, are among the least considered.  

5. Research about the African continent is being done from afar: Nearly two-thirds of research was produced without an author based on the African continent. 

Panelists at the event went on to discuss what a path towards a more productive, development-centric climate approach in Africa might look like, highlighting the need to support energy transition modeling efforts in Africa; promote analysis of a more comprehensive range of energy transition and development scenarios; develop and support local research capacity; and pursue a research framework that meaningfully integrates both climate and economic objectives. 

“Any future research that looks at climate and energy transition and the actions that Africans need to take will have to think of that in the context of the broader development challenge that Africa faces,” said Dr. Andrew Dabalen, Chief Economist for Africa, World Bank. 

See below for a full video from the event. 

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