With the COP26 Summit in Glasgow just around the corner, American lawmakers are trying desperately to deliver something on the climate in time for the summit. In particular, lawmakers want to encourage a switch to renewable energy, both domestically and abroad, without consideration for reliability and affordability issues. But earlier this week, the President of Uganda penned a piece for the Wall Street Journal where he pushes back against the energy plans laid out for his continent by many wealthy Western nations:
Africa can’t sacrifice its future prosperity for Western climate goals. The continent should balance its energy mix, not rush straight toward renewables—even though that will likely frustrate some of those gathering at next week’s global climate conference in Glasgow.
Knowing this, many developed nations are pushing an accelerated transition to renewables on Africa. The Western aid-industrial complex, composed of nongovernmental organizations and state development agencies, has poured money into wind and solar projects across the continent. This earns them praise in the U.S. and Europe but leaves many Africans with unreliable and expensive electricity that depends on diesel generators or batteries on overcast or still days. Generators and the mining of lithium for batteries are both highly polluting.
A better solution is for Africa to move slowly toward a variety of reliable green energy sources. Wildlife-friendly minihydro technologies should be a part of the continent’s energy mix. They allow for 24-hour-a-day energy production and can be installed along minor rivers without the need for backup energy. Coal-fired power stations can be converted to burning biomass, and carbon capture can help in the meantime. Nuclear power is also already being put to good use in South Africa, while Algeria, Ghana and Nigeria operate research reactors with the intent of building full-scale nuclear facilities.
President Museveni is advocating for an approach that Western nations would be wise to heed: a gradual transition to cleaner energy sources while fully utilizing the clean energy technology already available.
So often, Americans and other developed nations approach global issues like climate change from our privileged perspective of wealth and comfort, where the vast majority of us have clean water and electricity at our fingertips.
But that is not the case for many in the world and, as President Museveni warns, a push to unreliable renewable energy “stands to forestall Africa’s attempts to rise out of poverty, which require reliable energy.”
The Ugandan president ends with an important reminder for anyone working to improve the lives of others across the globe:
“Africans have a right to use reliable, cheap energy, and doing so doesn’t prevent the development of the continent’s renewables. Forcing Africa down one route will hinder our fight against poverty.”