- Céline Zahno
Learning from the EU’s mistakes
Updated: May 6, 2021
Pan-Africanism and sustainable strategies to provide electricity for all
In 2013, the African Union introduced Agenda 2063, its masterplan to transform Africa into a prosperous force in the international arena. Agenda 2063 puts an ambitious trajectory for the future of Africa on the table that is based on a pan-African strategy to achieve growth, development and progress in the next 50 years. Energy policy represents a major part of the development trajectory and amongst its various goals, Agenda 2063 names increasing electricity access by 50% compared to 2013.
Meanwhile, the state of Africa’s electricity access is looking grim: over 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, which is around half of Africa’s population, are experiencing electricity shortages or do not have access at all. When not even hospitals can rely on steady electricity supply, the services fulfilling the basic needs of the population are in a dire state. In a time when energy demand is constantly rising and economies are heavily dependent on stable electricity access, the ambitious progress forecasted by the Agenda 2063 is moving bitterly slow. Since 2013, only 15 million out of the 600 million people without electricity have been provided with stable access to power. The electricity crisis calls for urgent action and seems to leave little room for concerns about sustainable energy production and emission targets that are to be met by the standards of the UN. Yet, the first impression is deceptive as challenges rarely come without opportunities. To be able to grab these chances, the African Union as a pan-African strategy could take some inspiration of what to do and not to do from its geographical and integrated-policy-model neighbor: the European Union.
While it appears to be far-fetched to compare such wholly different regions, it might prove to be a big advantage for the African Union’s policy choices. Europe is already further ahead in its regional integration process and a common energy policy has been long in the making. Possible policy developments have been proposed in an EU report in 2006 for the first time and since then, the European strategy has been gradually evolving. Glancing at the course of action of the European Union and avoiding mistakes that have been made there might turn out to steer Africa out of its electricity problem.
The process of the EU’s integration of its energy policies has been far from smooth. Cooperation has been hampered by differing interests of the member states and the changing climate around the energy market. The European member states all rely on different energy mixes, dependent on factors such as availability of resources, national preferences of infrastructural reasons. Cooperation towards common energy production strategies has been hindered by the member states clinging to their own interests, fearing disadvantage or energy insecurity. For example, Poland is still highly reliant on coal-based energy and has adopted a brakeman position concerning common emission targets, given the national challenges they would pose.
Yet, integrated energy policies on an EU level and more reliance on sustainable energy production would be the way to go for Europe. Resources are declining while the demand is steadily rising, putting the EU in a position of high import dependency which increases energy insecurity for the whole region. If the EU would be able to present itself as a unified actor concerning its energy interests and production, it would possess much more political clout, resulting in economic advantages. A strategic transformation to more sustainable energy practices that is oriented towards available natural resources and opportunities rather than state borders would be much more efficient to reach the emission goals set by the UNFCCC. Regardless of these clear-cut advantages, the EU has missed out on cooperation in the earlier periods of European integration, making it harder to successfully pursue common policies nowadays.
Clearly, the EU is not the role model to be mirrored. But a negative example of energy integration can be important for the pan-African strategy that Agenda 2063 proposes. What becomes clear from looking at the EU’s mistakes is that a path of integration must be followed from the beginning on and that it needs to strongly rely on sustainable practices. This impression deepens when looking at the opportunities for energy production on the African continent.
The African continent is abundant in resources that could be steered to the use of sustainable energy production. Its vast mineral deposits, cobalt and platinum reserves, the availability of natural gas and the huge potential for hydro, wind and solar energy are not only crucial to meet Africa’s own energy demand but might make it the critical actor of the world’s transition to green energy.
This abundance of untapped resources needs to be understood as an opportunity for increasing energy production that carries much wider implications. Pursuing sustainable options to solve the crisis that African countries are facing concerning electricity could be the missing element that spurs Africa’s economic development by creating massive amounts of jobs and, on top of that, might make the continent the pioneering force for green energy in the world.
Recognizing the potential of sustainable energy production from the beginning on would prevent the AU’s struggle of high import dependency. Since the resources for sustainable energy production are inherent to the African continent, there is a huge potential to increase energy security by untapping these resources.
Taking a closer look at where these natural resources can be found shows that an integrated trajectory that facilitates energy distribution beyond national borders is important to ensure high energy security for all countries. There are significant variations in climatic zones that spread the African continent and all the zones present different opportunities for sustainable energy production. What is mainly missing for the respective countries to tap into their resources are monetary funds. By pursuing a pan-African strategy, common investments can be strategically placed throughout the continent to ensure best possible energy provision for the largest number of countries. Once infrastructure that can access renewable energy is in place, such as dams, solar panels and pipelines into natural gas reserves, an integrated strategy will ensure that all countries can profit from all the available resources in the continent, guaranteeing energy security and limiting import dependency.
While the EU-member states have advanced their own energy pathways for years, making it harder to cooperate and negotiate for common interests nowadays, the African Union should recognize the opportunities of an integrated energy policy early on. The electricity problem needs to be solved; Africa might as well glance into the future with one eye when attempting to do so.
When the African Union looks to the EU to advance their Agenda 2063 and to address its electricity crisis, there is evidence at hand that these goals can be combined with major far-reaching advantages for Africa’s role in the worldwide landscape of green economies and its economic growth. Europe’s mistakes are not to be repeated and the African Union needs to pursue sustainability to rise to the potential that this crisis brings.
This article was written for the MD x EuroMUN Printed Edition.