Sub-Saharan Africa has massive potential to generate clean energy that could help lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty without exacerbating climate change, a new Christian Aid report says today .
At present, sub-Saharan Africa countries (719 million people) have severely limited access to energy, consuming between them (if South Africa is discounted) less electricity than New York State (19.5 million people).
Lack of power has hampered Africa’s efforts to meet the UN-agreed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and contributes to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children under five every year through respiratory ailments caused by smoke fumes from open cooking fires.
With the provision of energy a cornerstone of poverty eradication, progress through modernisation elsewhere in the world has until now entailed massive increases in carbon emissions through the use of fossil fuels.
The new report, ‘Low-Carbon Africa: leapfrogging to a green future‘ , published by Christian Aid to mark the United Nations climate summit which opens this month in Durban, South Africa, says this need not be template for the future.
Taking examples from six sub-Saharan countries, it highlights the sustainable energy sources at hand that would enable Africa to develop in a low-carbon fashion.
The report’s launch comes as a ‘Caravan of Hope’  sets off today from Burundi across 10 African countries bound for the opening of the UN summit in Durban later this month to highlight how climate change is already affecting poor people’s lives on the African continent.
Organised by Christian Aid partner organisation the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance, the Caravan comprises of scores of African farmers, pastoralists and campaigners who are demanding that the UN talks help produce a just solution to the mounting crisis.
The new report’s lead author, Dr Alison Doig, Christian Aid’s senior adviser on climate change and sustainable development, said that without significantly expanding energy provision, African countries will fail to meet the MDGs.
"A lack of access to modern energy services impedes poverty alleviation, education, gender equality and healthcare, and limits employment and livelihood options," she said. "It is now widely recognised that without access to modern energy services, it is highly unlikely that the MDGs will be met.
"In Africa, the need is urgent. Nearly half a billion people– almost 70 per cent of the population – have no access to electricity.
"Until now, those used to a carbon-intensive way of doing business have said the choice is plain, policy makers can either lift people out of poverty, or they can tackle climate change - they can’t do both. Clean air and progress have been seen as mutually exclusive.
"That ‘choice’ is fundamentally false. An enormous opportunity exists for developing countries in Africa to leapfrog ahead in the journey to sustainable development if the right strategies are used.
"There is a huge potential for renewable energy across the continent, which is largely untapped. Our report demonstrates that geothermal, small-scale hydro, solar, wind, tidal and biomass fuels, including agricultural wastes, all offer significant potential for delivering both basic needs and for unlocking economic growth."
Dr Doig warned, however, that African countries, some of which are already experiencing the impact of climate change, a problem not of their causing, through depletion of water resources and soil erosion, as well as reduced crop yields, need help to realise their huge energy potential.
"The funding must be reliable and substantial," she said. "It is estimated that about US$20 billion per year is needed to deliver basic energy to all by 2030, and US $30-35 billion a year to deliver a higher level of low-carbon development."
Dedicated funding to help Africa achieve low-carbon development should be met from the Green Climate Fund which is expected to be set up at the UN summit, she said.
Dr Doig added that African countries needed to plan ahead for a low-carbon future, and rich country assistance should also take the form of technology transfer, bilateral and multilateral investment and participatory market approaches.
Existing sustainable energy projects in Africa described in the report include:
· Electricity from sugar production waste in Kenya
· The use of biogas rather than wood fuel in Rwanda
· A network of small hydroelectric power stations in Nigeria
· Provision of solar energy to households in Ethiopia
· The use of sustainable charcoal cook stoves in Ghana
· Household solar water heaters in South Africa