Africa poised to lead way in global green revolution, says report

Jillian Ambrose
Photograph: Sfm Gm World/Alamy Stock Photo

Africa is poised to lead the world’s cleanest economic revolution by using renewable energy sources to power a massive spread of urbanisation, says an IEA report.

The IEA, or International Energy Agency, predicts that solar energy will play a big role in supporting the continent’s growing population and industrialisation over the next 20 years.

Africa has less than half the solar power installations seen in the UK, despite the sunnier conditions, but the IEA is predicting a solar boom in countries across the continent, which could give hundreds of millions of homes electricity for the first time.

The report forecasts that Africa’s appetite for energy will grow at double the rate of the global average in the coming decades as the continent overtakes China and India as the most populated region in the world.

Africa’s population is expected to grow to more than 2 billion people by 2040, a rise of 800 million from today or the population equivalent of the US and Europe combined, says the report. People are expected to turn to cities and towns at a rate never seen before, where the demand for new houses and infrastructure will ignite an energy-hungry industrial revolution.

Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, said Africa had a “unique opportunity” to leapfrog the fossil fuel dependency of other industrialised regions and host the first economic transformation that did not contribute to the climate crisis.

Fatih Birol, of the IEA, says Africa can power an industrial revolution largely on renewable energy. Photograph: Adam Berry/EPA

“I am optimistic about Africa’s energy future – it will surprise pessimists,” Birol said. “I have great expectations for the energy industry in the years to come, both in terms of bringing energy access to Africa’s people but also driving economic growth.”

He urged Africa’s leaders to take advantage of the natural resources available through solar power generation, and the mining of raw minerals needed to make electric and hydrogen batteries, which are in high demand across the world.

He said some fossil fuels, such as natural gas, would be needed to support Africa’s heavy industries as they built the towns and cities needed to house the continent’s growing population. But the increase would be insignificant in the wider global climate effort, according to the IEA.

Birol said: “Africa’s total contribution to cumulative global emissions from energy over the last 100 years is only 2%, which is half the emissions of Germany today. If everyone in Africa had access to energy this 2% will rise to just 3% – it’s still nothing. It’s peanuts compared to other countries in the world which are using fossil fuels such as coal for energy.

“But while Africa does not contribute to climate change the continent is on the frontline of its potential effects, including droughts. Africa is perhaps the most innocent continent in terms of its contributions to climate change, but they will be the victims.”