Energy, CO2s and Water on the African Continent
Jan-Erik Lane Fellow at the Public Policy Institute, Belgrade
Received date: April 03, 2018; Accepted date: April 25, 2018; Published date:
April 30, 2018
*Corresponding author: Jan-Erik Lane, Fellow at the Public Policy Institute,
Belgrade, 10 Charles Humbert, 1205 Geneva; 559 A, 3rd Floor, Thuya Street, 9th
Quarter, Yangon. Myanmar. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
African nations share a common situation in that they pollute little in terms of CO2s globally speaking, but at the same time global warming will likely
have terrible consequences for the continent, set to face a sharp population increase. They have now access to few energy resources, which is
conducive to their poverty. New renewables belong to the future (solar, wind, geo-thermal), whereas old renewables – wood, coal – are a thing of
the past. The coal or oil and gas dependent giants must start energy transformation, as must the many countries relying upon traditional biomass, or
charcoal. The use of wood coal is simply too large for the survival of the African forests. Africa need lots of energy to handle the coming crisis of potable
water, as lakes and rivers are shrinking and degraded by pollution, dams and overfishing.
Keywords: African energy and CO2 emissions; Fresh and Clean water; Lakes and Rivers; New and Old renewables; Coal or Oil and Gas dependency;Super Fund;
In the climate change process, the African countries suffer badly from
the biggest externality in human history (Stern, 2007, 2015). They are not
among the big emitters of greenhouse gases or CO2: s. But they have to
adapt their societies and economies to temperature rise that will most
probably go over + 2 degrees, and maybe even + 3 degrees. How to cope?
If temperature raises goes even further towards + 4-6 degrees, life will be
threatened. How can people work under too hot circumstances? Water?
Yet, African governments have promised to contribute towards the
COP21 objectives of decarbonisation by transforming their energy
systems. How to pay? Even if African nations carry out their responsibilities
under the UN Treaty, there is no guarantee that the big emitters of CO2:s
will not renege (Conka, 2015; Vogler, 2016). And then we have the danger
of the new methane emissions.
There is a basic catch-22: The African continent uses less energy per
capita than the other global continents, which entails that total emissions
of CO2s are lower than in Asia, America and Europe. Yet, Africa badly
needs more energy, as it is the capacity to do work that result in income
and wealth (Sachs, 2015). If Africa could increase its energy share globally,
it could reduce poverty and first and foremost secure its water supplies.
Energy on the Continent
The countries on the African continent do not belong to the great
polluters of CO2s in the world. Only a few of them have large CO2s like
Egypt, Algeria, South Africa and Nigeria, but they do not rank among the
really large 29 polluters in the world. This basic fact reflects their level of
affluence, as energy and GDP are closely related. Consider Figure 1 with
the global energy scene.
Figure 1: Global energy
It is small wonder that the African continent is the poorest, given its
low share of global energy consumption. The population of Africa is
increasing fast, meaning that much more energy is needed for economic
and social development, but the COP21 decarbonisation project must be
African countries are unique in the sense that they do not contribute
much to climate change, but they could stand to suffer enormously
from global warming – the external effects of climate change. They
range from excessive heat, constant need of air-conditioning (also
augmenting emissions), droughts, ocean acidification, food shortages,
and insupportable working conditions for peasants, etc. Yet, African
governments can argue that they need much support for energy
transformation, given the low share of global emissions for the continent
– see Figure 2.
Economic development in poor countries as well as economic growth
in advanced countries tends to trump environmentalism. This sets up the
energy-emissions conundrum for mankind in this century: Affluence
requires energy, as energy is the capacity to do work that renders income –
see global Figure 3; but as energy consumption augments, so do emissions
of GHG:s or CO2:s (Appendix 1). How to fundamentally transform global
What is at stake for most people who understand the risks with climate
change is not the desirability of decarbonisation in some form or another.
Figure 2: Global emissions of CO2
Figure 3: GDP against energy per person (all countries)
They crux of the matter is feasibility: How to promote decarbonisation so
that real life outcomes come about? The COP21 framework, and its three
a) Halting the increase in carbon emission up to 2020 (Goal I),
b) Reducing CO2:s up until 2030 with 40 per cent (Goal II),
c) Achieve more less total decarbonisation until 2075 (Goal III),
Will prove too demanding for most countries, I dare suggest - also for
African nations in dire need of the promised Super Fund.
African governments must now start energy-emissions policy-making
within the framework of the UN Convention on Climate Change.
Positively, they can argue that energy consumption is far too low on the
African continent. The population is rapidly growing and needs massive
electricity supply. Simple global energy-emissions fairness requires this.
Negatively, African nations are much dependent upon coal – wood
coal except South Africa that uses stone coal – and oil and gas in the oil
producing countries and Egypt. Most African countries employ wood coal
and its derivatives, which maintain the continent in poverty. The COP21
project should be used by African governments for rapid electrification by
means of NEW renewable, like e.g solar power.
The energy-emissions conundrum applies also to the African continent,
as CO2:sis rising, driven by economic development. The situation in 1990
for 13 major African countries was as depicted in Figure 4.
Figure 4: GDP-CO2 link in 1990: y = 1,34x; R² = 0,87
20 years later, emissions have increased following economic
development. Surely, the UN would be interested in seeing CO2:s low in
Africa, but then it must help with a fundamental energy transition from
solids and fossil fuels to NEW renewables (Figure 5).
Figure 5: GDP-CO2 link 2014: y = 1,47x; R² = 0,93
Water supply in Africa
Environmental policy-making and implementation is inherently about
politics, from its start to the finish, if it exists. Governments, national,
regional and local have the responsibility for the environments and it may
find partners – communities, civil society and business – in the policy
cycle relating to ecology issues. Coordination failure is often occurring
due to myopia, opportunism and conflicts between states or governments
in a country.
Environmental degradation is to be found for most lakes and rivers
around the globe. But the extent of damage varies tremendously. What are
often harmful for lakes and rivers are the construction dams for electricity
The key question in relation to the degradation of lakes and rivers is:
Will they shrink dramatically? Global warming and human exploitation
work together to diminish lakes and rivers around the world, in several
spectacular cases also on the African continent.
The most spectacular case of lake shrinking or disappearing today is
Lake Chad in the centre of Sahara. It is now 1/5th of its size in 1970, when
a public investigation and control mechanism was launched by the five
neighboring countries, to no avail. The lake is now only 7 meters deep and
will disappear soon. The reason: human overuse for drinkable water and
irrigation. Outcome: Population movements, or environmental refugees
in politically instable countries.
The River Nile is loosening water due to the construction of several
dams in Ethiopia and Sudan. Egypt has expressed concern for its water
supply in the near future, but there is no formal intergovernmental
regulation of this water conflict. The mighty Nile will soon no longer be so
powerful, as the water flow from both the White and Blue Nile diminishes
due to dams as well as the Mediterranean Sea eats into its delta with
inflowing salt water. Outcome: increased water scarcity in Egypt with food
shortages; severe political conflict between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan;
more electricity for Ethiopia and Sudan.
In Africa, one may also wish to mention the river Niger and the Lake
Victoria, when speaking of ecological disasters in the future. Both are
deteriorating, Niger River due to dams and Lake Victoria due to human
exploitation and global warming.
The situation is hardly much better in other parts of Africa: lakes
are under deterioration because of human activities on the one hand –
overfishing, waste and sewage disposal, and take out of water for various
purposes – as well as global warming on the other hand; rivers increasingly
come under pressure from dam construction, sewage and waste, as well as
water take outs. This negative evaluation holds for among others the large
lakes of Lake Malawi and Lake Tanganyika as well as for great rivers like
The Congo, The Chobe, the Zambezi, etc. The River Congo has to cope
with logging in addition to human pollution. Thus, legal or illegal harvest
of the rain forest in the huge Congo Basin opens up roads that may be
used for further exploitation.
Given the predicament of rivers and lakes in Africa, one may predict a
shortage of fresh, clean, drinkable water soon with negative repercussions
It cannot be more strongly underlined that energy patterns of
consumption vary enormously on the African continent, which has clear
policy implications. What has not been recognized is the several countries
rely upon old renewables, which pollute. Below I make a short overview of
the energy-emission situation in a few major African countries, drawing
upon official statistics and refraining from speaking about all the hopes
and plan, yet to be fulfilled.
Coal Dependency: RSA
The RSA has a modern economy running on mainly coal. In
transportation, it uses petroleum. This makes the RSA a major polluting
nation. It wants to spread electricity to all shanti-towns, but with what
energy source? Figure 6 substantiates the basic point that economic
development needs lots of energy all the time.
Figure 6: GDP and energy in RSA: y = 0,28x; R² = 0,86
As the RSA wishes to promote socio-economic development in the
coming decades, it must increase the access to energy. High rates of
economic growth are necessary for poverty reduction, which requires
more energy. But energy consumption patterns in urban and rural sited in
RSA are based on fossil fuels – see Figure 7.
The question is whether the present government with its weak economy
has the determination to turn to renewables or nuclear quickly. Figure 8
displays the standard picture of more economic output – more CO2:s.
Figure 7: Energy consumption in RSA
Figure 8: GDP and emissions 1990-2015: y = 0,35x; R² = 0,88
The RSA may not have the policy know how or preferences and
motivation to cut the coal consumption fast as well as radically and move
to solar energy, for instance? Or would the RSA renege on COP21 – the
always available option in collective action endeavours?! South Africa
needs the Super Fund and a major change in government policy priorities.
Oil Dependency: Algeria
Some African countries produce lots of oil and consume some of it
themselves. One country almost only relies upon oil and gas.
Algeria is a major exporter of natural gas and oil. Thus, we expect that
it relies exclusively on fossil fuels, like Mexico, Iran and the Gulf States.
Figure 9 verifies this expectation.
Although Algeria may have great trust in the availability of future
fossil fuels resources in the country, it still faces the demand for a 30-40%
reduction of its CO2 emissions from the COP21. Emissions have thus far
followed the economic progress very closely– see Figure 10.
Figure 9: Energy mix in Algeria
Figure 10: GDP-CO2 in Algeria: y = 0,81x; R² = 0,93
Figure 11: GDP and energy: y = 0,35x; R² = 0, 87
The truth is that Algeria pollutes heavily. It is of course the need for
energy that drives the augmentation in CO2:s. Figure 11 documents the
One would naturally suggest solar energy as a viable alternative to the
heavy dependence upon fossil fuels in Algeria, given its immense Saharan
territory. Yet, Algeria has been plagued by the attacks of terrorists or
looters. But solar energy from Sahara would be very interesting for the EU
Gas Dependency: Egypt
Egypt has a huge population with high unemployment and mass
poverty, besides a high level of political instability, resulting from religious
conflicts. But surely it has electricity from its giant Assuan dam and the
Nile? No, hydro does not count for much for Egypt, where most people live
in the Nile delta. CO2:s are on a sharp upward trend for Egypt, because it
relies mainly upon fossil fuels, like gas and petrol - see Figure 12.
Figure 12: Energy and GDP in Egypt: y = 0,4881x; R² = 0,9069
Egypt relies upon huge gas assets in the south, exporting a lot. But its
petroleum resources are dwindling. Egypt will have 100 million people,
crammed in the Nile delta. It needs much more energy to uplift its
population. CO2:s follow economic development in Egypt, as elsewhere
– see Figure 13.
Figure 13: GDP-CO2 for Egypt: y = 1,02x; R² = 0,99
It will be very difficult for Egypt to make the COP21 transformation,
at least without massive external support. But where to build huge solar
power plants in a country with terrorism, threat or actual? The share of
hydro power is stunning low for a country with one of the largest rivers
in the world. Actually, the water of the Nile is the source of interstate
confrontation between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, because the latter two
have started to exploit it recently on a large scale.
As Egypt relies almost completely upon fossil fuels, it has massive CO2
emissions (Figure 14).
Egypt has made progress with wind energy, but its economy is too
weak for the COP21 transformation, as the country is dependent upon
US support yearly.
Figure 14: Egypt’s energy mix
Dependency on Oil and Biomass
An enormous reliance upon traditional renewables is to be found also
in Africa, like in e.g. Angola and Nigeria, although both have access to
massive fossil fuels: oil and gas. Figure 15 describes the energy mix for
Figure 15: GDP and CO2: s for Angola: y = 0,16x; R² = 0, 75
This country has quite substantial CO2 emissions that follow economic
development, as usual – see Figure 15.
One would be inclined to surmise that the explanation of the upward
curve in Figure 15 is the consumption of oil. Angola has become a major
petrol exporter, to the benefit of the ruling family. However, the country
also employs wood coal in large quantities that are very polluting (Figure
Figure 16: Angola’s energy mix
Angola has suffered from long and terrible civil war. In the many poor
villages, energy comes from wood, charcoal and dung – all with negative
environmental consequences. Angola has immense fossil fuels – oil
and gas, but the political elite family with a Marxist background prefers
to export much of these resources instead of using them for internal
Surprisingly, Nigeria relies much upon traditional renewables,
reflecting the poverty of the country. Yet, also wood coal emits CO2:s.
This, Nigeria pollutes much totally, although not per capita. Figure 17
shows a somewhat erratic trend that is upwardGiant Nigeria has a resembling energy mix as Angola, with lots of
biomass – see Figure 18.
As a matter of fact, wood coal is as polluting as stone coal, and worse
than oil and gas. Nigeria is a country with deep environmental problems
and definitely in need of foreign assistance. Besides the oil spills, the risks
of global warming are tremendous, with droughts, etc.
Figure 17: Nigeria: GDP-CO2 link:y = 0,0032x; R² = 0,0018
Figure 18: Nigeria’s energy consumption
Another very telling example is Gabon, where Chinese exploitation
cuts down the precious forest, funding the buying streak of the ruling clan,
including property in France (Figure 19).
Despite its big oil and gas resources, much of the poor population relies
upon biomass, i.e. wood coal with its consequences for deforestation and
Figure 19: Energy consumption in Gabon
Oil and Coal Dependency
Despite the enormous success of its huge solar panel plant at
Quarzazate, Morocco remains much dependent upon imports of fossil
fuels - see Figure 20.
In order to reduce fossil fuel dependency in the century, Morocco
with a rapidly growing population will need more similar plants, which
presupposes that assistance will be forthcoming from the COP21 project.
Actually, the CO2:s are substantial in this nation. Its solar plant is a model
for the entire Sahara, but this huge desert area needs political stability,
lacking in several Saharan countries- see Figure 21.
Figure 20: Energy mix in Morocco
Figure 21: GDP and emissions in Morocco: y = 0,59x; R² = 0, 91
African countries have sometimes both a traditional and a modern
economy. Take the case of Botswana, a democracy with a market economy
and traditional chiefs! It has considerable CO2:s despite a rather small
population – see Figure 22.
Yet, Botswana relies mainly upon fossil fuels, oil and coal, to deliver its
economic output from mining and minerals (Figure 23).
Complying with the CO2 objectives, Botswana can use solar power
to diminish the scope of fossil fuels or that of traditional renewables.
Botswana has peace, which is extremely important for energy policymaking
Figure 22: Botswana: GDP-CO2:y = 0,51x; R² = 0,89
Figure 23: Energy consumption in Botswana
Wood Coal Dependency with some Hydro Power
In the climate change discussions and policy-making, it is often
stated that renewables should be preferred over non-renewables. Yet,
this statement must be strictly modified, as there are two fundamentally
• Traditional renewables: wood, charcoal and dung. They are not
carbon neutral. On the contrary, employing these renewables results in
severe pollution, not only outside but also inside household;
• New renewables: solar, wind, geo-thermal and wave energy that are
indeed carbon neutral, at least at the stage of functioning.
In the poor African countries with about half the population in
agriculture and small villages, traditional renewables constitute the major
source of energy
One understands the hefty use of wood coal in this giant country,
so plagued by political instability, anarchy, anomie and civil wars with
foreign involvement (Figure 24).
One notes how little of hydro power has been turned into electricity in
Kongo, but economic development and political instability, civil war and
anarchy do not go together normally. At the same, one may argue that an
extensive build-up of hydro power stations would pose a severe challenge
to the fragile environment in the centre of Africa. Kongo can now move
directly to modern renewables like solar power.
Figure 24: Dr Kongo’s energy mix
The energy consumption of Sudan reflects this situation – Figure 15.
The countries relying upon traditional renewables to an extent up to 50
per cent or higher will have to reflect upon how to bring these figures
down sharply with modern renewables. It is an entirely different task than
that of countries with too much fossil fuel dependency. Hydro power has
increased in Sudan, which is a positive. But the water of the Nile can last
only so long for three energy power hungry nations.
Sudan is dismally poor with deep-seated internal conflicts ethnically.
How to move to large solar panel plats in a country with so much political
instability resulting huge numbers of death from domestic violence?
Figure 25 shows the energy mix before the split up of this huge country
Figure 25: Sudan’s energy mix
The reliance upon traditional renewables is so high in neighbouring
Ethiopia that electrification must be very difficult to accomplish over the
large land area. Figure 26 displays a unique predicament, although a few
hydro power stations have increased hydro power substantially since 2008.
Are there any advantages with such a skewed energy mix? No, because
even mainly rural Ethiopia delivers with lots of CO2: - see Figure 27.
The zest with which Ethiopia is pursuing its control over water resources
becomes fully understandable, when Figure 26 is consulted. What we
see is the same smooth linear function plotting CO2:s upon GDP, as is
obvious in countries based upon fossil fuels – see below. For Ethiopia, to
comply with COP21 goals is going to pose major challenges, especially
if economic development is not going to be reduced. The country needs
massive help, both financially and technologically.
Figure 26: Ethiopia’s energy mix
Figure 27: Ethiopia: GDP and CO2:y = 0,90x; R² = 0,88
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia and the Merowe
Dam in Sudan bring electricity to Africa. Hydro power could be much
more exploited in several African countries, but time is running out.
Global warming reduces rivers and enhances draughts. Solar power is the
future for all nations, whatever pattern of energy consumption they now
One of the promising nations in Africa is Ghana, housing both
democracy and positive economic development. Figure 28 shows its
GDP-CO2 picture for the last two decades, when things have gone well
There is a very strong connection between GDP and CO2 emissions in
Ghana. One would like to examine its energy mix in order to understand
this. Figure 29 presents the energy consumption pattern in Ghana.
The dominance for fossil fuels and wood coal is enormous in Ghana,
but they have hydro energy, which is very positive. Many African could
have done much more with hydro power, if they had had access to capital.
Now they must turn to new renewables: solar, wind and geo-thermal
power. The same observation applies to East Africa.
Figure 28: Ghana: GDP-CO2: y = 1,17x; R² = 0,94
The East African region of African continent has become more
economically dynamic recently with successful regional integration.
Yet, the reliance upon biomass is as Figure 30 shows typical of rural East
African countries. As some 50 per cent of the inhabitants live in rural
villages, this use of wood coal puts an enormous pressure on the forests.
Figure 29: Ghana’s energy mix
Figure 30: Energy mix in rural East Africa
People in the urban areas have an entirely different energy consumption
pattern. Positively, hydro power is important in these countries – see
Figure 31. Here we are talking about electricity consumption and not
overall energy mix.
Figure 31: Hydro power in East Africa
What these countries need to is to replace the wood coal with electricity
from hydro and geo-thermal resources.
The status of biomass or wood coal from the point of view of GHG:s
is contested. On the one hand, it is clear that wood coal in its various
forms is not carbon neutral when consumed, but on the other hand it is
claimed that wood products have already consumed lots of carbon when
growing. Whatever, the balance may be, the forests are being cut down,
contributing to deforestations and desertification.
In Figure 32, we see that CO2:s follow GDP in Kenya, a strongly
developing country in East Africa, relying upon the market. Thus, also
Kenya will face difficulties complying with the COP21 goals: Goal I, Goal
II and Goal III – see above.
The GDP-CO2 curve for Kenya is the same as for most African
countries, meaning upward sloping. Africa needs energy as well as basic
energy transformation – an enormous challenge.
Figure 32: GDP - emissions for Kenya: y = 0,42x; R² = 0, 95
Zambia, Mozambique and Senegal, Cameroon
The same picture of an energy mix dominated by wood cool is to be
found for several other African nations. Biomass counts for 50 per cent
of more of total energy consumption, complemented by not more than 10
per cent hydro power while the remaining comes from fossil fuels. This
puts too much pressure on African forests. And there will be massive CO2
emissions, because these wood resources are never replaced.
The road ahead is not more fossil fuels, but modern renewables like
solar, wind and geo-thermal power replacing wood coal and its derivatives.
We quote from the UN Convention to Combat Desertification:
Two-thirds of the African continent is desert or dry lands. This land is
vital for agriculture and food production, however nearly three-fourths of
it is estimated to be degraded to varying degrees. The region is affected
by frequent and severe droughts, which have been particularly severe in
recent years in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel. Poverty and difficult
socio-economic conditions are widespread, and as a result many people
are dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods. For many African
countries, fighting land degradation and desertification and mitigating
the effects of drought are prerequisites for economic growth and social
progress. Increasing sustainable land management and building resilience
to drought in Africa can have profound positive impacts that reach from
the local to the global level
Before desertification often comes deforestation. It is often stated that
land hunger drives deforestation. But equally relevant is the search for
energy. We quote from a study:
Forests in Zambia are important in supporting life especially in lowincome
communities both in urban and rural areas. A variety of wood
and non-wood forest products are utilised by industries, rural households
and urban households in various parts of the country. However, today
the forests in the country have been made vulnerable to both man and
natural induced disasters. The rate at which forest cover is being lost has
increasingly become high such that if this trend is left unchecked time
may trigger the complete loss of biodiversity embodied in the Zambian
forests. Perhaps the highest loss of forest cover was from 1990 to 2000
with a significant decline of 851,000 ha forest loss per year (FAO 2001).
Deforestation as a result of land use change towards agriculture, illegal
settlements and Current unsustainable levels of utilisation to mention
but a few have contributed to the loss of forest cover in Zambia and the
Southern Africa as a whole. The critical question seeking urgent redress is
why forests in Zambia are being destroyed more and more.
Energy Deficit and African Environment
African countries are poor because they have too little energy. Thus,
they have much less GHGs than Asia. Yet, they need the COP project of
the UNFCCC to renew their energy sources and move from fossil fuels
and traditional renewables to solar power. Hydro power depends upon
water availability that shrinks with global warming.
African energy deficit is conducive to a dire environment with
enormous damages and risks. Consider the following global Diagrams.
Figure 33 shows how low energy leads to environmental unsafety
Figure 33: Energy and environmental risk exposure
Source: Environmental Performance Index, Yale University, https://epi.
IEA Statistics © OECD/IEA 2014 http://www.iea.org/stats/inde
Low energy use leads to poverty, malnutrition, deceases, lack of potable
water, insufficient sanitation, etc.
Typical of many African nations is the lack of stable electricity, which
hampers everything and reduces environmental viability. Figure 34 has
the global picture.
Figure 34: Energy and electricity access
Source: Environmental Performance Index, Yale University, https://epi.
IEA Statistics © OECD/IEA 2014 http://www.iea.org/stats/inde
The access to safe and stable electricity is crucial for health, schools,
food, water, etc.
Figure 35 links energy with proper sanitation.
Figure 35: Sanitation and energy
Source: Environmental Performance Index, Yale University, https://epi.
IEA Statistics © OECD/IEA 2014 http://www.iea.org/stats/inde
Especially, the rapidly growing African mega-cities lack entirely sewage
plants. Thus, dirty water is put into the big rivers where other cities
downstream take their potable water.
Africa needs much more energy of a new kind.
African nations may rightfully claim a fair share of the energy
consumption in the word, meaning in proportion to its share of global
people. The catch-22 problematic is that African governments have signed
the decarbonisation Treaty of the UN and must now proceed to implement
it, but how to increase energy while decreasing CO2 emissions? Answer:
Use renewables like solar, wind and geo-thermal power! Nuclear power
is probably too expensive and difficult to master. Morocco has set up the
largest solar power plant in the world, serving some 2 million inhabitants
with electricity. Several hundred millions of Africans are without safe
and secure electricity, holding back socio-economic development. But
such gigantic investments are only feasible with massive support from the
promised Super Fund in the COP21 project.
Poverty and especially water shortage on the African continent reflects
the energy situation. Yet, as African nations increase energy, they must
at the same time reduce CO2: s. The COP project is a great opportunity
for African peoples, but the promise of support must be forthcoming.
New energy must be directed to secure water resources, construct sewage
plants, halt overfishing and safeguard access to potable water. The use of
wood coal in connection with deforestation is very bad.
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