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Africa’s Green Energy Opportunity

In the past, providing electricity to the 1.3 billion people without access to it today would have required emitting more greenhouse gases, thus aggravating the consequences of climate change. Fortunately, it is now possible to expand access to energy in developing countries while also limiting emissions.

ABUJA – Climate change confronts developing countries with a dilemma. On one hand, they are particularly vulnerable to its effects, giving them a strong interest in the global reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions. On the other hand, they are in desperate need of energy, with some 1.3 billion people around the world – and two out of three Africans – currently lacking access to electricity.

In the past, the solutions to these imperatives would have been at odds with each other. Providing more people with access to electricity would have necessitated emitting more greenhouse gases, aggravating the consequences of climate change. Fortunately, the economics of energy has shifted significantly in recent years. It is now possible to expand access to energy in developing countries while also limiting emissions – if investments are channeled into clean energy.

In 2013, roughly $1.6 trillion was invested in energy infrastructure worldwide, with about 70% going to systems that depend on burning fossil fuels and the rest going to clean energy. Fortunately, these percentages are starting to change; with the right policies, they could be reversed. If investment in clean energy can be raised to at least $1 trillion per year by 2030, it will be possible to provide energy access to those most in need while cutting annual carbon-dioxide emissions by 5.5-7.5 gigatons – roughly what the United States emits in a year today.

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