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New CATF study finds energy scholarship on Africa misses key realities on the continent

June 6, 2023 Work Area: Energy Access

A new study from Clean Air Task Force (CATF) conducts a novel review of energy transition research focused on Africa and finds that it currently fails to consider the full spectrum of realities on the ground — identifying a clear need for increased funding for African-led energy and climate research that factors in the continent’s development imperatives. 

“In order to develop realistic energy pathways for Africa, we need substantive research and scholarship that considers the realities of African nations,” said Prudence Dato, Senior Energy Economist at CATF. “As the world navigates the impacts of global climate change, African nations do so within a unique context—grappling with several interrelated challenges like energy poverty, climate vulnerability, and rapid urbanization. Our new study finds much of the literature in this field fails to take the realities of life on the continent into account, considering its transition through a narrow lens that condemns it to long-term energy poverty.” 

The study, Climate Change and Economic Development in Africa: A Systematic Review of Energy Transition Research, analyzes 156 peer-reviewed energy transition research papers that focus on part or all of Africa, and are either model-based or scenario-based. The review found that: 

  • Most research fails to consider the region’s development goals; 
  • Most research limits African economies to a small subset of climate solutions—omitting several key technologies embraced by the Global North and recognized by the IPCC as playing a key role in reaching global net-zero emission; and  
  • Most research advances decarbonization scenarios that assume per capita electricity consumption will remain low across the continent. 

The study also found that most of the papers on Africa’s climate and energy future are exclusively authored by researchers based outside of Africa (63%), whereas 25% of the papers are produced by researchers based on the continent. Publications without Africa-based authors were also more likely to have been published in higher-impact factor journals, resulting in higher visibility than those written by their Africa-based peers. 

“Africa is not a monolith, and its diverse nations and people have a right to chart their own futures that best fit their needs.” said Lily Odarno, Director of Energy and Climate Innovation for Africa at CATF. “To do that, they must have access to research and policies informed by their everyday realities. This report’s findings speak to a greater a need to harmonize climate and energy scholarship with those realities.” 

To begin to address the current limitations in African climate and energy research, the report lays out several recommendations:  

  • African governments and international donors should commit to supporting local researchers and developing local capacity to inform and further enrich this space going forward. 
  • State, academic, and NGO stakeholders should prioritize long-term, program-based climate change research over individual projects. 
  • Academic researchers and NGOs working in the region should create frameworks to integrate Africa’s development goals into any discussion of Africa’s energy future. 

Read the report here for a detailed description of research methods and findings. For more on CATF’s work in this space, explore our homepage.

Press Contact

Steve Reyes, Communications Manager, [email protected], +1 562-916-6463

About Clean Air Task Force 

Clean Air Task Force (CATF) is a global nonprofit organization working to safeguard against the worst impacts of climate change by catalyzing the rapid development and deployment of low-carbon energy and other climate-protecting technologies. With 25 years of internationally recognized expertise on climate policy and a fierce commitment to exploring all potential solutions, CATF is a pragmatic, non-ideological advocacy group with the bold ideas needed to address climate change. CATF has offices in Boston, Washington D.C., and Brussels, with staff working virtually around the world. Visit and follow @cleanaircatf.

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