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Let African leaders be shrewd on costs of energy transition

KEN OPALO
By Ken Opalo | November 6th 2021

President Uhuru Kenyatta among other world leaders who attended the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland.

This week, world leaders gathered in Glasgow, Scotland for the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) to plot the fight against climate Armageddon.

This year’s conference exposed the tensions that make global cooperation to avert catastrophic climate change, elusive. Rich countries, who are principally responsible for current levels of greenhouse gas emissions, demanded that poor countries commit to carbon neutrality.

Given the importance of energy to development, the implied ask was a reduction in the rate of economic growth for the sake of the planet. The same wealthy countries promised to pay for the transition needed to achieve carbon neutrality (whether they will pay is another matter).

Climate change is real and must be addressed urgently. However, the cost of doing so should not fall on low-income countries. Many of these countries remain energy poor and register modest emission levels compared to rich countries.

To escape poverty, they need rapid growth and broad-based development – goals that will necessarily require increasing energy consumption. Given the standards of living in poor countries, it would be unconscionable to demand delay in their development for the sake of the planet. Instead, wealthy countries should pay – through investments in sharable green technology and direct cash outlays to ensure the transition process does not slow down economic development.

Yet if history is any indicator, this will not happen. What happened when a pandemic threatened the world economy? Rich countries hoarded vaccines and the know-how to make them. The same will happen when it comes to climate. Rich countries are likely to demand steep sacrifices from aid-dependent poor countries, while their populations continue to prioritise convenience over the global climate emergency.

Given this reality, it is incumbent upon leaders from poor countries to be shrewd in their negotiations. The energy transition must be gradual and make sense in context. And most importantly, countries that have polluted the air for centuries should pay for the transition. Full stop.

 The writer is an assistant professor at Georgetown University

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