Africa — Leapfrogging to the future?

Christian Aid, with the help of some friends (full disclosure: EcoEquity is among them) has just released an excellent report entitled Low-carbon Africa: Leapfrogging to a green future.  The report is interesting on two levels.

First, it makes the case that..

“Africa is able to deliver clean and sustainable energy to millions of energy-poor people across the continent without increasing greenhouse gas emissions” …  It has the “renewable power potential to drive a green economic expansion across the region.”  To wit “an abundance of resources and its sustainable development ambitions give Africa a real advantage when it comes to renewable energy.”  And that, “with access to a ‘leapfrog fund’ from global mitigation finance, this could lay the ground for a low-carbon future.”

Second, it raises the question of a “leapfrog fund.”  Which comes to this — given the pressing need for energy services in Africa, and given the importance of providing these energy services on the basis of renewables, does Africa not have a claim against the global climate finance system, whatever it turns out to be, for the technical and financial support that will be needed to ensure rapid, low-carbon development?  And, if so, who should foot the bill?

The “problem” here is that we’re not talking simple mitigation.  We’re also talking about new energy services.  We might even be talking a right to energy services.  Moreover, we’re not talking about dirt-low levels of energy services like those implied by, say, the Millennium Development Goals.   The goal here is rather to hit the MDG milestones (which doesn’t actually look like it’s going to happen anytime soon) and to keep on going, to a standard that is “actually designed to meet Africa’s need to develop.”

This standard is still very, very low by wealthy-world standards — “the target level of electricity is enough to provide a rural household with enough electricity to power a floor fan, two compact fluorescent light bulbs and a radio for about five hours a day.”  And “the amount of cooking fuel (22kg of LPG) allotted per person for one year … is about the energy equivalent of a half-full tank of petrol in a typical US passenger car.”  What would this cost for, say, sub-Saharan Africa?  Well, on the electricity side, it comes to a cumulative investment of US $390 billion between 2010 and 2030.  And the clean cooking fuels side adds another $US 1.1 billion a year, or $US 22 billion by 2030.  The grand total is $US 412 billion, by 2030.

Now here’s the question — should this $412 billion be understood as a mitigation cost?  If so, it would just go into the (more or less non-existent) mitigation funding queue, where it would compete with all the other unfunded high-priority mitigation projects on the planet.  Or should we look, instead, to some other sort of financing stream, which the “leapfrogging fund” (once it exists) can draw on to meet the needs of Africa, and the needs of Asia, and all the many other up-from-the-bottom needs of people around the world?

The answers aren’t in this report, but at least the questions are.