By Ireen Twongirwe
Since independence, African countries have spent decades and billions of dollars investing in fossil-fuel-based energy systems that have failed to provide modern energy access to over 600 million people, about half of the continent’s population.
It’s important to note that Africa still faces major challenges including low generation capacity and efficiency, high costs, unreliable energy supplies, and low access rates. More than 600 million people lack access to electricity while more than 80% of people in Sub-Saharan Africa lack access to clean cooking technologies and this has increased on climate change impacts.
We need to understand that there is an urgent need to transition from fossil fuels to protect and conserve our environment from climate change catastrophes.
What is energy transition? A shift from fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas and coal to cleaner, affordable, flexible and cheap energy (Renewable energy) like wind, solar and hydropower. More so, is energy in full development to fulfil our current desire to conserve the environment and deal with the non-renewable fuel crisis?
Why transiting from Fossil fuels? The reason behind the push for an energy transition is the negative impacts fossil fuels have on the climate and environment. The transition towards renewable energies such as solar, wind and/or hydro, are important in order to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement and reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that affect the environment.
It is clear that Clean energy access in the country still remains low with grid and off-grid access standing at 19% and 38% respectively as of June 2020. The low clean energy access levels cannot support electric mobility, halt deforestation and reduce the socio-economic burdens faced by especially women and youth due to lack of access to clean energy.
Furthermore, clean energy production allows us to generate the energy we need without the greenhouse gas emissions and negative environmental effects that come with fossil fuels, in turn helping to reduce climate change. Noteworthy, there are many benefits of clean energy, but the top two are environmental and financial. From an environmental standpoint, the process of producing clean energy emits fewer pollutants than the process of generating fossil fuel-based energy. Reducing these harmful emissions is a vital step in combating climate change. From a financial perspective, as the clean energy industry continues to grow, it can help create new job opportunities and stimulate the economy.
Last week, the floods were at the centre of Kampala city, and a lot of destruction (Loss and Damage) took place such as crops, infrastructures, houses, and cars among others. This is an indication that there is an urgency to transit from fossil fuels to clean energy to increase climate adaptation and mitigation. Since Uganda is among the countries that are most vulnerable to climate change, they continue to invest less in clean energy.
According to the 2023/2024 budget proposals that were approved by parliament in February, you find that a lot of emphasis is being placed on grid electrification. The generation and transmission votes account for over 90% of the allocations made under the sustainable energy programme. Despite trillions of shillings being invested in grid electrification, women’s energy needs remain unmet. Women continue to suffer while looking for firewood and buying expensive charcoal and this has increased energy poverty in Uganda.
Why clean energy is important? Clean energy will limit greenhouse gas emissions. This improves air quality and reduces environmental harm. More so, clean energy will create new jobs hence reducing the level of unemployment. As production plants are built, it could bring an increase in jobs and benefit the economy. In addition, it reduces dependence on other types of energy sources. There is an abundance of clean energy resources such as wind and solar. Utilizing these may help reduce reliance on other types of fuel sources, such as coal. Lastly, clean energy will provide universal energy access which is necessary to end poverty, empower women and generate opportunities across Africa.
What needs to be done? There is a need to increase budget allocations to the renewable energy vote under the sustainable energy programme. The budget allocations should go towards funding women’s access to off-grid solar energy and clean cooking solutions among others. More so, there is a need to provide funding to the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development to ensure that the ministry undertakes stakeholder consultations including consultations with women to put in place Renewable Energy and Energy policies that meet the needs of women.
In addition, the government should support public awareness programmes on Renewable energy to rural poor communities. More so, the government should deliberately undertake gender and equity policies in solar energy access and stop any activities that are driving deforestation and loss of biodiversity.
Least but not least, there is a need to promote fair pricing for solar energy technology so that even people in rural communities can be able to purchase it since hydroelectricity is too expensive for them.
In a nutshell, as Ugandans, there is an urgent need for us to transition from fossil fuels to clean energy to reduce carbon gas emissions. We, therefore, call upon our Government leaders and financial institutions to invest in green economic alternatives that are sustainable and stop financing fossil fuels, especially Oil and gas that have led to violations of human and environmental rights hence causing climate catastrophes.
Twongirwe Ireen is the Executive Director, of Women for Green Economy Movement Uganda. (WoGEM Uganda)