Mankind’s need for energy being at the root of climate change, it has always been a protagonist in research and discussions on its origins, consequences and mitigation. The link with adaptation to climate change, by contrast, has, with a few exceptions, not been made explicit. However, there is a range of resources, concepts and discussions on energy which are relevant to climate change adaptation in Africa without necessarily considering the mere concept of it: Under the broad category of renewable energies, researchers, policy makers and NGOs have been juggling with a variety of alternative, renewable and therefore sustainable energy sources with the potential to both limit greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the poverty of the most vulnerable at the same time.
Access to Energy
A suitable introduction for setting the developmental scene – one of the few papers explicitly putting renewable energies and climate change adaptation into relation – is the South Centre’s Analytical Note on the “Role of Decentralised Renewable Energy Technologies in Adaptation” which describes energy poverty as one of the fundamental drivers of vulnerability of the poor and therefore highlights the importance of access to – renewable – energies. Stressing both the importance of energy access and of low-carbon development to enhance the adaptive capacity of the affected populations, this approach provides a further area – besides forestry – that could be fertile ground for integrating mitigation and adaptation. The potentials of renewable and efficient energy resources to support poverty reduction has been explored by APFREPREN with a focus on the African continent [http://www.afrepren.org/Pubs/WorkingPapers/wpp355_sum.htm], the Horn of Africa [http://www.afrepren.org/Pubs/WorkingPapers/wpp348_sum.htm] and Ethiopia [http://www.afrepren.org/Pubs/WorkingPapers/wpp356_sum.htm]. Gender issues [ ENERGIA] also form part of the debate. The low energy consumption of Sub-Saharan Africa and questions as to possible improvements in access to energy are further dealt with in issues of the Francophone Journals EchoGeo and Liaison Energie-Francophonie [E_1.15], as well as a paper by the European Energy Initiative and the German Gesellschaft fuer Technische Zusammenarbeit GTZ [GTZ_enaccesafri] and the Kenya-based organization AFREPEN [http://www.afrepren.org/Pubs/WorkingPapers/wpp343_sum.htm]
Biomass: Technological and Social Debates
Another burning issue is that of the question as to which alternative, renewable sources of energy are appropriate and have no records or prognoses of causing any further harm. As biomass is the main energy source of sub-Saharan Africans, it dominates the discourse around renewable, clean forms of energy. Diverse forms of biomass, in particular firewood, are intensely debated.
Forests – as long as they are sustainably managed – , are generally seen as major talents in efforts to mitigate to climate change and ensure energy supply at the same time: The Institut de l’Energie et de l’Environnement de la Francophonie dedicates a large proportion of articles of its journal’s issue on Biodiversity, Energy and Climate Change [IEPF_biodivenergie] to forestry. A FAO Working Paper on Forests and Energy [FAO_foren] may provide guidance. The number two issue in renewable energies are diverse forms of biofuels. The Africa Biodiversity Network highlights that, according to case studies from Benin, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia [ABN_agrofuels], the push for agrofuels is yet another ‘solution’ imposed by the North, leaving very limited space for the quest for sustainable, local solutions that serve primarily the African interest and not that of Northern industrialized countries in need of more energy after peak oil. IFPRI [IFRPI_biofuels; IFRPRI_bioenergy] raises critical voices, too, emphasizing the consequences an expansion of biofuel production may have in terms of food security. FAO [FAO_biofuel], by contrast, is much more positive about agrofuel production for poverty alleviation and energy supply.
The quest for the super-crop
The challenges and dangers inflicted by an increase in biofuel production, which competes with food security needs and biodiversity, are commonly acknowledged. The conclusions, however, are diverse. Some organizations still see a lot of potential in agrofuels such as bio-ethanol, whereas others criticize them more vehemently and call for alternatives. These include the mysterious ‘new’ invention ‘yatropha’, celebrated as the solution for Africa’s, in particular Africa’s women’s, rural povery, lack in energy access and need for climate-hazard resistant crops. The November 2007 French edition of ‘Seedling’ critically discusses palm oil, sugar cane, soya and – yatropha. Cotton oil [CA_CIRAD_ener], showing similar results to vegetable oil but not necessarily endangering food security, has also raised some attention. The commune of Ougadougou in Burkina Faso has been experimenting with water hyacinths [Vertigo_biogaz], a plant endangering the regions biodiversity, finding that the application of a certain set of techniques in wetlands not only solves the problem with the water hyacinth’s reproduction, but also provides new means of energy production. Adding a non-biomass component to the showroom, another, South African paper [ERC_ZAen1], compares the advantages and drawbacks of solar water heaters versus biodiesel, raising socio-economic concerns with may be of relevance beyond these two particular energy sources.