Author:Songwe, Vera
Position:Interview - Interview

Vera Songwe

Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA)

Power projects in Africa are being held back by high funding costs. The problem requires innovative solutions, such as the proposed SDG7-Sustainability Bond, says Vera Songwe.

The development objectives of African countries, as embodied in various national development plans, the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union's Agenda 2063, cannot be attained without access to modern energy forms and services.

Without stepped-up action to close Africa's energy gap, by 2030 we will have close to 590m people without access to electricity--the same number of people without access at present. In fact, urban electrification rates range from 4% in South Sudan and the Central African Republic to 100% in Cabo Verde and Mauritius, while rural electrification rates range from 1% (Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Niger) to 71% in Ghana and Swaziland, 89% in Cabo Verde, 99% in the Seychelles and 100% in Mauritius (Figure x).

In terms of total installed electricity capacity, the situation is dire. For example, South Africa on its own has an installed capacity equivalent to the rest of Africa (excluding North African countries)--and similar in scale to the 53GW of solar photovoltaic capacity additions made by China in just one year (2017). Furthermore, the continent's limited energy mix is still dominated by thermal power (Figure 2a/ bw), despite its abundant renewable energy resources.

Energy access shortfalls in Africa are constraining both human development and economic growth. Lack of access to electricity prevents children from studying in the evening, which hinders educational advancement and the growth of human capital. Electricity is also crucial for the provision of health services, such as for the operation of medical equipment.

In terms of economic growth, electricity is crucial to the sustainable growth of the private sector. Unreliable and/or high-cost power supplies lower the competitiveness of Africa's tradeable goods industries, especially manufacturing and services, such as data processing. Power shortages also contribute to the lack of productive employment, which drives migration from the continent.

Yet Africa has huge and widely distributed renewable energy resources that remain largely underinvested owing to a...

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