A Mortgage on our Future

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Global climate is changing, and that’s quite a given. The future hazards we face in the medium term are every day clearer in their severity, while on the long term we are basically jumping into the dark. Yet, despite being climate change a global phenomenon, it is in the least responsible continent that the effects will be unleashed with the uttermost vehemence: Africa.

If all over the world the challenge is to keep the temperature growth within 2 °C, in the African continent this raise could reach (and overcome) 3 °C, with dramatic consequences on the economic, environmental and human level. Africa is consistently exposed to negative macro-phenomena caused by the climate change: mass migrations, extreme meteorological events, major economic shocks and serious threats to food security. Among the human activities that contribute the most to the climate degeneration, energy is at the bottom of the rank: since 2015, its CO2 emissions peaked a record digit of 33,1 billion tons, 77% of which produced by fossil fuels. In the African continent this percentage reaches the 80% of the total emissions, and there are no current omens of a future decrease. As a matter of fact, fossil fuels experienced a raise in investments: from $1,06 to $3.7 billion between 2019 and 2021. The foundations for the future of the continent are everything but reassuring. 

And yet, a solution to this empasse exists: renewable energy represents the master path to fight the climate change, harmonically matching environmental sustainability, economic growth and social development. Clean energy solutions are quick to deploy, easy to modulate, with a minimum impact on the environment and easily accessible even in the most remote areas. In a continent like Africa, an authentic natural paradise for renewables, numerous countries could have the opportunity to endow all their citizens with a steady and safe provision of energy while protecting them from climate change consequences relying exclusively on solar, wind and hydro energy produced in their own territories. Nevertheless, only 2% of the worldwide investments in renewable energy has been deployed in Africa in the last ten years, condemning the population not only to energy scarcity, but also to be subject to the consequences that the continuous use of fossil fuels entails.

At this point, a question spontaneously arises: how to kickstart a green transition for a continent with all the potential requirements, in addition to a huge necessity for it? The first step takes the shape of a constant and well-planned work of advocacy and institutional dialogue, in order to promote policies able to encourage private investments in the field of renewables. It will also be necessary to build a rock-solid human and social capital, stimulating capacity building and fostering local innovation. A further catalyst for energy transition would consist in building energy plants characterised by high efficiency and a strong degree of digitalisation, able to minimise energy waste, environmental impact and to guarantee provisions even to areas located far away from national grids. The last piece of the puzzle consists in creating policy and regulatory tools (subsidies, warranties, etc.) with the aim of minimising the investment risk, ensuring their sustainability and therefore quality and reliability in the energy provision.

The road ahead is still long, twisted and perilous, especially for Africa and for its population. This time we are not given the luxury of looking the other way: refraining from mobilising effort and resources, also European, for Africa’s green transition would implicitly mean to surrender, giving mankind up to the catastrophic effects of climate change.
As someone used to say: there’s no other time than now and no other place than here.

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Roberto Vigotti

Roberto Vigotti

Roberto Vigotti is the Secretary General of RES4Africa Foundation, which gathers more than 30 stakeholders to accelerate the renewable energy transformation in Africa, with Africa and for Africa. In his 30+ year-long career he has covered various positions at Enel, University of Pisa, IEA and IRENA. When it was still considered an unlikely option, he was already convinced that deploying renewable energy in Africa would result in a positive socioeconomic impact for its population. In 2012, he therefore embarked on the RES4Africa adventure, to support a wider participation of private players in delivering investments in Africa. He also coordinates renewAfrica, an industry-backed Initiative that advocates the creation of a European comprehensive Programme for RE investments in Africa, to be promoted and owned by EU institutions

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