Research Article

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:

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? The wildlife?

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 respected!

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 energy consumption?

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 objectives, namely:
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 generation.

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 for food.

African Energy

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 GDP-energy link.

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 Angola.

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 16).

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 electricity generation.


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 desertification.

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 different renewables:
• 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

Kongo Kinshasa

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 have.


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 and peacefully.

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

Source: aspx.

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. envirocenter.yale.

IEA Statistics © OECD/IEA 2014

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. envirocenter.yale.

IEA Statistics © OECD/IEA 2014

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. envirocenter.yale.

IEA Statistics © OECD/IEA 2014

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.

GDP sources:
  • World Bank national accounts data.
  • OECD National Accounts data files.

    GHG and energy sources:
  • World Resources Institute CAIT Climate Data Explorer.
  • EU Joint Research Centre Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research.
  • UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
  • International Energy Agency. Paris.
  • Energy Information Administration. Washington, DC.
  • BP Energy Outlook 2016.
  • EU Emissions Database for Global Research EDGAR.
  • World Bank Data Indicators.
  • British Petroleum Statistical Review of World Energy 2016.
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