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The African Union Commission (AUC) and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) say that the energy potential in Africa can turn the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity for the continent and its population.

AUC and IRENA recently held a virtual high-level dialogue to discuss Africa’s needs in responding to the COVID-19 crisis and the role of the energy transition in the post-pandemic recovery.

The dialogue brought together a number of ministers and high-level participants from Africa, Europe, the GCC and the European Union, as well as Vice Presidents of the World Bank and African Development Bank (AfDB), the UNDP Administrator, the Director-General of IRENA as well as representatives of the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI), and Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL).

During the two-hour virtual event led by H.E. Dr Amani Abou-Zeid, Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, African Union Commission, and IRENA Director-General, Francesco La Camera, participants agreed that the energy transition is critical to both the response to the crisis and to the post-pandemic recovery.

The meeting took place following an agreement between the two organisations to strengthen cooperation to combat the pandemic and pursue Africa’s development goals.

AU Commissioner Amani Abou-Zeid remarked that: “The energy sector cannot sit back and only react, it has to join in the fight as well while at the same time positioning itself to play a pivotal role in the recovery after the crisis. Through this forum, we hope to share the actions taken by various countries and organisations and the results they have had. This will provide lessons that will be instrumental in shaping the response and preparing for recovery.”

She highlighted the measures that the AU had taken including conducting wide consultations with regional and global stakeholders and developing an emergency, resilience and recovery action plan, which was adopted by the Bureau of African energy ministers on 12th May 2020. 

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IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera hailed the collaboration with the African Union noting that their commitment to work together in the wake of the pandemic was starting to yield results with the high-level dialogue as a milestone.

La Camera said: “Accelerating the energy transformation can help Africa respond to COVID-19 while allowing the continent to meet its medium and long-term objectives of a decarbonised, just and prosperous society. IRENA will continue to work closely with the African Union and partners to create pathways for accelerated renewable energy deployment in Africa, to bolster resilience in the face of the current pandemic while building a future of health, wealth and opportunity for millions of people across the continent.”

Emphasising the role of renewables, UNDP Administrator, Achim Steiner, said: “The impact of COVID-19 on African economies is a major setback. Rapid policy responses across the continent have helped to mitigate the health crisis but socio-economic impacts could erode development gains of recent years. Expanding access to electricity through a bold expansion of ‘on-grid’ and ‘off-grid’ renewable energy is a major opportunity in the context of national stimulus and recovery programmes. They are economic, fast, shovel ready options to address energy poverty and accelerate Africa’s transition towards a clean energy economy of the 21st century.”

IRENA further noted in a statement, that participants observed that the adverse impacts of the pandemic are stretching the African energy sector’s capabilities thin. Unless urgent measures are taken to preserve the sector and prepare it for the post-pandemic recovery, the energy situation could impede the continent’s ability to cope with the crisis and economic downturn, ministers noted. 

Speakers agreed that it is imperative that the COVID-19 pandemic does not dampen efforts to increase energy access and clean cooking solutions which remain a major challenge in Africa. Today, around 548 million people still live without access to electricity and 894 million people lack clean cooking solutions.

The immediate priority for the African continent is to save lives, bring the health emergency under control and alleviate associated economic hardship. However, the recovery measures adopted should also address long-term development and create resilient economies. 

Utilising the locally available renewable energy resources that Africa is richly endowed with can alleviate immediate energy challenges, while creating jobs, advancing industrial development and promoting human welfare. It is estimated that renewable energy deployment could create an additional 2 million green jobs in Africa.