The energy transition is an essential part of the effort to build a decarbonised world: as a matter of fact, the power sector accounts for 73% of global emissions. Nevertheless, its transformation should not be viewed solely as an environmental phenomenon.
It is widely established how the switch to green energy systems is linked to an improvement of socioeconomic factors, which are critical for a prosperous and sustainable future. This is particularly true and significant in areas of the world, such as Africa, where major issues concerning the job market, social equality, and economic growth are already existent.
All these dimensions can greatly benefit from interventions boosting Africa's energy transition, and doing so by investing in its energy market. Let's focus, for instance, on the local employment. According to RES4Africa's Flagship Publication Towards a Prosperous and Sustainable Africa, under a 1.5°C scenario, the growth of Africa's energy sector could result, by 2050, in the creation of 28 million job positions, of which 22 million (nearly 80% of the total) are directly related to the energy transition. If we focus just on the renewable sector, the data are equally encouraging: from 320,000 direct jobs in 2020, the African market is expected to offer 8 million of them in the same timespan, considering the speedy growth of the working-age population, and provided that the sector will be able to channel increasing investments and institutional attention.
A greater availability of sustainable energy is also associated with an improvement in the delivery of basic services: according to SEforALL, 90% of African school buildings and 60% of health facilities lack access to energy, or must rely on untrustworthy and polluting solutions, such as diesel generators. This state of affairs has a significant impact on Africa's average quality of life, educational opportunities, gender equality, and so on.
The investments and projects making up the energy transition must therefore be modelled around the aforementioned socioeconomic dimensions, and should be nurtured with inputs and partnerships that cannot overlook the participation of the private sector. Numerous energy stakeholders have already started down this road: an increasing number of businesses have adjusted their operational approach, executing capacity building and employment programmes addressed to the local human capital, and including socio-environmental balances in their project reports.
However, there is still more work to be done before these best practices become the norm. According to RES4Africa's Flagship Publication Towards a Prosperous and Sustainable Africa: Maximizing the Socioeconomic Gains of Africa's Sustainable Energy Transition, African states should establish three preconditions. The first is a broad package of institutional actions: it is preferable that authorities integrate inclusiveness, economic sustainability, and social justice into long-term energy programs, creating multi-stakeholder platforms dedicated to partnerships, and aligning energy infrastructure construction to national socioeconomic development indicators. Equally relevant are actions relating to the renewable energy business landscape, which should strive to maximise its socioeconomic externalities: the establishment of African supply chains and regional production poles, as well as increased expenditures in research, innovation, and capacity building, should be the starting point. Finally, it is important to encourage the growth of private initiatives with a high socioeconomic added value, through the creation and implementation of welcoming and safe business environments (incentives, subsidies, tax credits, de-risking mechanisms, etc).
Our considerations represented a foray into a complex topic. Renewable energy is an effective resource for combating climate change, but its potential extends far beyond the environmental sector: it represents a springboard to a more prosperous and sustainable Africa, based on employment, social equality, access to quality services, and new opportunities for its inhabitants.