Rising powers, lowering emissions?

Rising powers, lowering emissions?

The importance of ensuring that African countries can meet their rising energy needs in a low-carbon way that also benefits the poor, is widely accepted. The so-called ‘rising powers’, such as China, Brazil and India are already investing in energy infrastructure in Africa, and these countries could support transitions to low-carbon development since they are currently some of the world’s largest investors in solar, wind, hydropower and biofuels.

Yet, critically, the energy needs of poorer groups are not currently shaping policy and investment decisions and so energy access considerations are not being adequately addressed where low-carbon energy transitions are emerging. Northern donors have a role to play both as knowledge and financial brokers between rising powers and African countries, and in targeting investment towards small-scale and community-managed renewable energy systems, which would directly help the poor majority that are off-grid.

Policy recommendations:

The need for a rounded view of technology development and diffusion: 
  • the research suggests the need to shift away from a narrow focus on the transfer of technology hardware from Northern to Southern countries towards a more rounded view of technology development and diffusion if access, capacity and innovation are to be more meaningfully nurtured. This means learning lessons from transitions in practice and the role of a multiplicity of actors and ecosystems of finance in bringing them about. Assumptions about the role of the state, technology transfer, finance and the potential of market mechanisms often fail to take into account local realities and need to be revisited
Combine renewable energy investment with a strategic, inclusive approach for off-grid populations:
  • there is clearly much to do in ensuring that inclusive priority-setting processes help to respond to the energy and technology needs of the vast swathes of the population that are currently off-grid. Donors can add substantial value by targeting those social groups, regions, projects and technologies that governments and the private sector are not interested in. For example, the UK could focus investment on small-scale and community-managed renewable energy systems that would directly help the poor majority that are off-grid in places like Mozambique to achieve a degree of energy access and security. This would ensure that investments, jobs and training stay in those communities and that technologies and projects are appropriate to local needs and settings. Mobilising investment for renewable energy is a worthy goal, but it needs to be combined with a strategic approach to meeting the energy needs of all groups in society
Northern donors have a vital role as knowledge and financial brokers between African countries and rising powers:
  • given shifting geo-politics, while Northern donors are often not the primary actors, they can also seek to play a role as knowledge and financial brokers between rising powers such as China and African countries, seeking to steer aid and investment towards lower-carbon and more pro-poor interventions, and through the conditions they attach to the money they provide to multilateral institutions they can indirectly shape energy trajectories towards just transitions in the global South
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