With the wind at their backs, civic and private institutions around the world are taking steps to build a clean energy future. The Africa Renewable Energy Initiative is a collaborative project that aims to install 10,000 MW of clean power across the continent by 2020. For perspective, that is enough energy to power 2.4 million homes in the United States. This project represents an ambitious and necessary goal for a continent in which the population will double to 2.5 billion people by 2050 and 600 million people still lack access to electricity.
The Africa Renewable Energy Initiative was founded by representatives from the African Union, the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, the African Development Bank and other groups to organize an effective response to the interlinked challenges of climate change and poverty. At the COP21 climate conference in Paris, the Initiative received over $10 billion in funding, primarily from the European Union, Sweden and Canada. “Leadership from Africa, and the financial backing from the international community… provides fresh hope that we can tackle the twin challenges of sustainable development and climate change,” says United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner.
The infusion of international funds provides a valuable boost to Africa’s efforts to grow a green economy. “Africa is tired of being in the dark,” says African Development Bank (AfDB) President Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina. “Through the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative, we can sustain fast economic growth in Africa and on a low carbon development pathway.” The public health benefits of a shift to clean energy would also be considerable. Many without electricity burn wood or other biomass as fuel, which results in indoor air pollution that kills hundreds of thousands of Africans each year.
After the 2020 goal is met, the Initiative will pursue a renewable energy strategy across the continent with the goal of 300 GW of renewable energy capacity installed by 2030. After achieving such a critical mass, a near-universal adoption of clean energy in Africa may be inevitable. As Africa grows and changes over the next century, it may provide important lessons as the world adapts to a changed climate.