Global leaders gathered in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt for the 27th Conference of Parties (COP 27) summit will discuss the energy transition agenda this week. African feminists, climate justice advocates, and civil society are demanding a just energy transition strategy for Africa.
Central to these negotiations is how countries must reduce carbon emissions and shift to sustainable economies. The concept of energy transition within the Global North and parts of Asia is firmly rooted in reducing carbon emissions as the main objective. Meanwhile, in the Global South, particularly Africa, energy transition is less about lowering what currently exists in limited access and more about how to build an energy sector that is anti-capitalist, de-colonial, and sustainable. It is about ensuring increased access to affordable and sustainable energy resources. Therefore, the assumption that this shift must be a shared responsibility across the globe, and that its benefits will be distributed relatively is erroneous.
As the world grapples with extreme weather patterns, compounded by economic shocks that are affecting household food and income sources, at COP 27, we are reiterating how climate change is further affecting the lives of marginalised people like African women and girls, sexual minorities, Indigenous Peoples, people living with disabilities, and people living with HIV/AIDS. We are calling for the centering of their needs to guarantee that the energy transition agenda does not leave Africa energy poorer than we already are.
Currently, more than 600 million people in Africa don’t have access to electricity. Almost 60% of medical clinics on the continent do not have a regular flow of power, while roughly four out of every five primary and secondary schools in Africa lack access to electricity. In West Africa, only about 42% of the total population and 8% of rural residents have access to electricity.
Moreover, women and girls face the brunt of this energy poverty. They are responsible for collecting cooking fuels and ensuring that children have lighting to learn. Women also significantly bear the burden when health care centres are not adequately supplied with power as they are the ones often responsible for providing unpaid care to sick people. Without sufficient lighting, women face the risk of gender-based violence and general insecurity. This consequently deprives them of their ability to pursue economic and other personal development activities.
To address this requires that we challenge all assumptions that what may be appropriate in the Global North and developed economies, in terms of a just energy transition, can also be applied in our context. Challenging this requires acknowledging that this inequality, as unpacked by Walter Rodney (1972) and other Pan-African scholars, is steeped in the Global North’s historical and ongoing injustices against Africa. These injustices, as facilitated by systems and structures such as slave trade, colonialism, patriarchy, white supremacy, and imperialism, currently exist but have metamorphosed into complex structures that must be understood.
Surprisingly, while the Global North and parts of Asia are disproportionately responsible for 92% of excess global carbon emissions, their current capital spending on renewable energy is still far from sufficient to tackle the energy and climate crises. Moreover, renewable energy resources like solar and wind energy are largely affordable, particularly in the long run. Both solar and wind energy sources cost significantly less than fossil fuel alternatives and continue to become more affordable over the years.
Despite this, these countries continue to promote an energy investment ecosystem comprising outdated investment protection standards with provisions that have allowed foreign investors in fossil fuels to challenge a wide range of public policy measures. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change (IPCC) report, highlighted that some trade and investment treaties risk blocking the phase-out of fossil fuels. The report explicitly highlights the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), which many fossil fuel corporations use. It is estimated that within the European Union, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, the treaty protects fossil investments of at least €344.6 billion within the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.
As the Global North seeks to expand its renewable energy markets and tap into existing energy resources on the African continent, especially in countries with oil and gas, African countries must become more conscious to avoid being pushed to join this treaty. The challenge with this framework is that it allows investors to freely decide on which kind of energy they should invest in, even when their decision undermines the public interest. It also risks undermining governments’ influence over decisions such as what kind of energy resources a potential investor should research or innovate around.
At last year’s COP in Glasgow, world leaders were challenged to become more proactive rather than reactive in their responses to keeping global warming below 1.5° Celsius. Many of us called for ending fossil fuel expansion and rapidly investing in accelerating a just and inclusive energy transition. We also called for prioritizing rolling back on the privatisation of renewable and regenerative energy resources and their supply to ensure enhanced affordability, accessibility, availability and adaptability. This means decentralising and democratizing ownership of these energy alternatives; and investing in community-owned solar and wind, public green utilities and nationalized renewable energy industries.
African states must safeguard their policy space, especially amidst current and emerging neoliberal capitalist policy frameworks such as the ECT, that have the potential to limit the pursuance of their climate and development interests. As the process of shaping the energy transition agenda advances, African governments must adopt an intersectional lens in their analysis and negotiations in order to advance the needs and interests of those at the margins of their societies. The Global North and part of Asia must step up and show more commitment to capping their emissions at home and abroad by immediately halting all new investments in fossil fuels and nuclear energy.
As African women and girls have put in their COP 27 demands, world leaders must come up with a clear, targeted, and urgent agenda to shift from fossil fuel-based economies to inclusive, sustainable, and ecologically just economies that focus on uplifting the most minoritized people and the planet.
Feature photo: wind-farm facility at Klipheuwel in the Western Cape, South Africa by warrensk
Faith Lumonya, Economic Justice and Climate Action Lead, Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA)