Cape Town — Africa can boost its capacity to generate power - and, as a result, economic growth and jobs - without precipitating catastrophic climate change, argues Kofi Annan.
Introducing the annual report of the Africa Progress Panel, which he heads, the former United Nations Secretary General said: "We categorically reject the idea that Africa has to choose between growth and low-carbon development."
In his foreword to the report, he added: "African nations do not have to lock into developing high-carbon old technologies; we can expand our power generation and achieve universal access to energy by leapfrogging into new technologies that are transforming energy systems across the world."
The panel is an an advocacy group which lobbies for sustainable development in Africa and which was originally established to monitor whether the world's leaders were meeting their commitments to Africa. Its report was launched at the World Economic Forum for Africa on Friday by panel members Graça Machel, the Mozambican activist, Botswana's central banker, Linah Kelebogile Mohohlo, and the former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Michel Camdessus.
Speaking at the launch, Machel said she was shocked by the report's finding that at the current rate it would take until 2080 to bring electricity to all Africans. The report calls for a ten‐fold boost to power generation to give all access to electricity by 2030, at a cost of U.S. $55 billion a year.
More than 600 million of Africa's one billion people do not have access to modern energy: the report says the whole of Africa south of the Sahara and north of South Africa generates less electricity than Spain, and the average American uses more in a month than a Tanzanian uses in eight years.
Generating low-carbon power will not be easy, warned Annan: "It will require decisive action on the part of Africa's leaders, not least in reforming inefficient, inequitable and often corrupt utilities that have failed to develop flexible energy systems to provide firms with a reliable power supply and people with access to electricity..."
But, he added: "Africa has enormous potential for cleaner energy - natural gas and hydro, solar, wind and geothermal power - and should seek ways to move past the damaging energy systems that have brought the world to the brink of catastrophe...
"African leaders have every reason to support international efforts to minimize greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, they urgently need more power... Their challenge is to embrace a judicious, dynamic energy mix in which renewable sources will gradually replace fossil fuels."
Responding to the report during the launch, outgoing African Development Bank chief Donald Kaberuka strongly advocated hydro-electric power. But he warned that overcoming the lobbies working against its adoption would be a challenge.
Camdessus underlined Annan's argument, saying "climate and development are no longer on a collision course." He said three summits this year - in Addis Ababa, on financing development, in New York on new goals for sustainable development, and in Paris on climate change - offered an "unprecedented crossroad of opportunities" to bring about change. "We have now the power to make a decisive difference... [on] climate and poverty."
This report has been amended since first published to include coverage of the event during which the report was launched.