By Carlos Lopes, Professor at the University of Cape Town and former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA)
Africa’s most important priority is energy. Clean energy transitions will affect the African continent differently from industrialised regions, such as Europe. Diversifying the energy mix should not trump the need to reduce energy poverty. Energy transitions must meet socio-economic and affordability criteria as embodied in the ethos of the SDGs. But, what is less discussed is the potential for Africa to be a significant contributor to the global clean energy revolution. Beyond its interest to shift from low value extraction towards higher value beneficiation and industrial development, it is positioned to also enrich existing value chains with its abundant renewable resources.
Africa’s Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) -which came into effect on the 1st of January 2021– could be used as the propeller for the establishment of sustainable technologies and sustainable infrastructure, whilst lowering the burden of negative trade balances and climate-related asset stranding.
Africa’s ability to access green technology will be critical. Currently, little R&D in green technologies takes place on the continent. In the last 20 years, only 4 African countries (Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and South Africa) have filed renewable energy technologies patents. A total of 5031 patents comparing poorly to the top-3 leaders in the field: China (240,065), the United States of America (106,171) and Japan (84,316). Africa also lags behind other developing regions such as South America (15,840). Connecting the R&D agenda with green technology development will be key for accelerating low-carbon industrialisation.
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