Electric vehicles key in Africa's fight against climate change

An electric bus en route along Kenyatta Avenue, Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

As the continent convenes in Nairobi from September 4th to 6th to consolidate its voice ahead of COP28, we must interrogate what energy transition portends for our people.

The core objective of the meeting of state parties in Dubai in November is to prioritise efforts to accelerate emissions reduction through a pragmatic energy transition, reforming land use and transforming food systems. We must interrogate the nexus between the unsustainably rising food prices, energy transition and the breakdown in food systems.

Energy transition is the abandoning of fossil based energy systems to renewable energy sources. This transition is part of the global agenda post-2015; The Paris agreement to tamp down greenhouse gases emission into the atmosphere. Part of the raging accusations and counter-accusations in the climate action circles has been; it’s the global North that brought the globe into this mess. Others argue that climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the West to slow down industrialisation in the Global South.

The saving grace is that no one can deny the effects of climate change. Rains have become shorter and droughts more severe. This has had real negative impact on the food systems in the Global South as the systems collapse and more families become vulnerable to famine. This breakdown in food systems has wrecked massive humanitarian crisis. Nutritional standards have been on the decline, particularly in women and children.

It is against this backdrop that Africa and Global South generally, must make the necessary investment in energy transition so that they may expedite the decarbonisation agenda in this part of the hemisphere. To date, our industries are few, far apart and insignificant in comparison to industries in the Global North. This then shifts our focus to our transportation system which is, I believe, the single largest contributor of C02 in Africa.

Africa must prioritise mass introduction of electric transportation infrastructure and energy storage, coupled with greater usage of technologies to improve energy efficiency. Increasing transition to electric vehicles and the recent pledge by the President to fast-track introduction of electric motorbikes are some of the positive indicators in this regard. Investment in energy storage is another area that we must deliberately confront. For a long time, it was seen as the missing link between intermittent renewable power and constant reliability.

As a continent, the abundant supply of solar, wind and geothermal is a low hanging fruit that we need to harness. With Kenya’s competitive advantage in the area of manufacturing in the region, if we invest in production of lithium–ion batteries, which have cured the storage problem in energy transition, then we will not only create jobs, we will also help Africa achieve much lower Nationally Determined Contributions by 2030 which will effectively place us in a better stead to do and achieve our fair share by 2050 in line with UNFCCC; The net zero-carbon emissions.

The elephant in the room, however, remains how we ensure rapid climate action by transitioning energy systems while recognising it as a deeply socio-ethical process. For example, what are the structural and systemic inequalities that are embedded in energy transition? We must carefully examine, identify and avoid the all too obvious gendered patterns of exclusion and discrimination. Embarking on energy transition without careful thought and intentional anchored participation, I am afraid, may reproduce the same old inequalities.

Due to heavy capital investment required and, ours being an open market, these two as structures and conditions for social and economic order, may reinforce the discriminatory conditions that capitalism and the legacy of neocolonialism have worked to entrench in our society.

-Mr Kidi is the convenor, Inter Parties Youth Forum. [email protected]