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Achieving Sustainable Industrialisation In Africa

23/11/2016 13:25

Africa Industrialisation Day is an excellent opportunity to reflect on industrialisation's critical role in achieving sustainable development on the continent. According to the United Nations Economic Commission of Africa (UNECA), industrialisation can help African countries diversify their economies, realise strong and inclusive economic growth, and reduce their vulnerability to external shocks. As UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon points out, not only are manufacturing and industry important job creators, they also have a positive multiplier effect. Every job in manufacturing is estimated to create at least two more jobs in other sectors. Given that 11 million young Africans are expected to enter the job market every year for a decade, this is an especially important consideration.

Yet the continent's efforts to establish a competitive industrial sector have been hampered by its deficient infrastructure, which is pushing up transaction and production costs. To my mind, Africa's paltry access to energy is particularly concerning. Only 24% of people in sub-Saharan Africa have access to electricity, and the continent's energy generation capacity is a mere 28 Gigawatts, equivalent to that of Argentina. What's more, many local and international firms operating on the continent use their own power generators to compensate for the problems of energy access and supply. As a result, according to McKinsey, these businesses have much higher energy expenses compared to their peers in other countries.

If we are to ensure the future competitiveness of sub-Saharan Africa and its sustainable development, we must take decisive action on this issue. I agree with UNECA'S contention that accelerating investment in renewable energy will help the continent achieve much-needed structural economic transformation, as well as safeguard its natural assets. As a recognised enabler of development, private sector companies are well positioned to help African countries expand low-carbon energy and achieve environmentally sustainable industrialisation.

Many commentators have highlighted Africa's incredible renewable energy resources, as it can source an additional 10 terawatts of solar energy, 1,300 gigawatts of wind power, and 15GW of geothermal potential. Given their scale and clout, private sector companies can ramp up investment in renewable energy to power industrial development on the continent. Morocco, which is increasingly a leader in renewables as well as the host of the recent COP22, is a great example of this. In March this year, a consortium of companies including Enel Green Power, Nareva and Siemens won a bid to develop five new wind farms across the country. Investments such as these will help Morocco sustain domestic industrialisation, generate clean power, and achieve its ambitious goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 52% by 2030. Companies also benefit, as they are helping to build the infrastructure to ensure that they can operate successfully on the continent. As the OECD also points out, these investments help grow the market for further adoption of renewable energy and make further investment more attractive in this area.

Private finance is another way to bridge Africa's energy financing gap, or the extra investment needed to comprehensive access to power, which stands at $55 billion per year until 2030. Green bonds have the potential to be an impactful way of mobilising the capital needed to expand access to low-carbon and resilient energy on the continent. For example, The World Bank's Green Bonds raise money from fixed-income investors to support the institution's lending for projects that seek to mitigate climate change or help affected people adapt to it. This includes renewable energy installations, energy efficiency projects, as well as new technologies in waste management and agriculture. In this way, this type of financing will greatly assist African countries create the conditions to stimulate industrial production along sustainable lines.

Ultimately, bold expansion of renewable energy can go a long way to fostering sustainable and inclusive industrialisation in Africa. I call on private sector companies to join hands with African governments, universities and the broader civil society to address this challenge.

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