Finding the Balance Between Sustainability and Growth in Africa, as Electricity Supply Raise Emissions
Africa's electricity supply will inevitably rise as its economy grows. Can the continent control the subsequent uptick in carbon emissions?
The African Development Bank (AfDB) forecasts that the continent’s economic growth, as reflected by real gross domestic product (GDP), will rise by an average of 4% in 2023 and 2024. After the significant shocks of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine War saw economic growth in the continent retract from 2021’s 4.8% to 2022’s 3.8%, all indicators predict a return to growth. Accordingly, it is expected that the energy and electricity demand of a growing country or region will rise.
Electricity demand in Africa has risen in conjunction with rising economic activity for years. After the twin shocks of the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia-Ukraine war caused a decline in economic growth, electricity demand also declined between 2020 and 2021. This decline was due to high inflation rates and increased energy prices, which gives an idea of the leading source of electricity for Africa’s largest economies.
The war in Eastern Europe led to economic sanctions placed on Russia, which is one of the world’s leading exporters of natural gas. The removal of Russia’s natural gas from the global market led to price hikes which affected Africa disproportionately because as Mustard Insights discussed in a previous article, natural gas is the leading source of electricity generation on the African continent. As of 2022, natural gas accounts for 42% of all electricity generated on the African continent.
The International Energy Administration (IEA) expects natural gas to remain the continent’s largest source of electricity through 2025, rising by around 30 terawatt-hours (TWh) to close to 400 TWh. The domination of natural gas in Africa’s electricity generation is one of the factors that will see Africa’s CO2 emissions rise in the coming years, despite the expansion of renewable energy’s generation share.
The compound annual growth rate of renewable energy’s contribution to the electricity supply sector is forecast to be the highest among all other generating sources between 2023 and 2025 at 9.5%. Some of Africa’s largest economies are ramping up renewable supply, with some high-profile projects slated to be completed in the coming years.
Countries such as Nigeria, Angola, Ethiopia, and Mozambique will complete mega-hydroelectricity projects in the coming years. Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Ethiopia, and Senegal are bringing thousands of wind-powered megawatts into the generation mix, and solar power is the driving force behind numerous mini-grids around the continent.
The result of all this renewable generation is that the fossil-fuelled share of electricity generation will decline and that will bring with it a decline in the CO2 intensity of the electricity sector. CO2 intensity is not to be confused with CO2 emissions: the former describes the amount of CO2 emissions per kilowatt-hour (KWh) of electricity generated. The IEA forecasts Africa’s CO2 intensity to decrease from 540 g CO2/kWh in 2021 to around 500 g CO2/kWh in 2025. In the same period, electricity generation CO2 emissions would increase slightly by 18 megatons of CO2 to almost 490 megatons of CO2.
The growth in CO2 emissions might not only be due to the prevalence of fossil fuels in electricity generation. After all, the IEA’s estimations only record the CO2 emissions from that sector. This author expects other exogenous circumstances to contribute to Africa’s emissions increase, the most crucial of which is deforestation.
Africa is presently losing vast forest resources to both human and natural factors. The continent is particularly prone to the effects of climate change, which have brought droughts and the drying of water bodies. Forests are also being felled daily for the purposes of commercial timber, industrialized agriculture, and illegal mining. Mustard Insights covered the issues with deforestation in a previous article, in which we reported the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization’s findings that the continent had lost up to 3.9 million hectares of forests in the last decade.
Forests absorb massive amounts of carbon, and their disappearance means this carbon is released into the atmosphere, subsequently raising emissions. Despite all of these, Africa remains by far the lowest emitting region in the world. However, the continent has the opportunity to control and structure growth in an environmentally sustainable manner.
One might state that the continent’s meagre emissions figures – Africa is responsible for less than 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions – excuse it from worrying about environmental sustainability. However, fewer regions in the world feel the effects of climate change more keenly, so it might behove African governments to factor in sustainability solutions such afforestation into the growth process.