One Size Does Not Fit All: Rose Mutiso on Smart Energy Policy in Africa

The world is on a shared trajectory toward a decarbonized future, said Rose Mutiso '08, TH'08 during a February talk sponsored by the Tuck Africa Club called "Climate Change in Africa: The Case for a Smart Energy Policy." How different nations and regions get there, however, must be dictated by on-the-ground realities. Some African countries, like Kenya, are already utilizing renewable energy like geothermal and solar. For the most part, though, Mutiso said, the short-term ramping up of fossil-based energy production and distribution in sub-Saharan Africa is necessary to meet the region's urgent economic growth and climate adaptation needs. 

Mutiso described what she had called, in a recent TED talk, 'energy apartheid' — a two-tiered system where rich nations continue to enjoy energy abundance while poor nations get 'tiny solar lamps.' Western nations, which have the capital to help African nations grow and prosper, are unwilling to invest in fossil fuel production or infrastructure in Africa because of a misguided, one-size fits-all approach to decarbonizing. Even as that is the most expedient way to boost local economies and create opportunities for nations that have been plagued by poverty.  It is true, said Mutiso, that richer, higher-emitting countries must deploy carbon mitigation strategies to help avert a climate catastrophe; however, in sub-Saharan Africa, "there's no mitigation to be had." In fact, sub-Saharan Africa could triple its current energy consumption and still only be responsible for 1 percent of global carbon emissions! To improve the health, productivity, and prosperity of Africans, as well as build the climate adaptation infrastructure necessary to survive warming global temperatures, African countries will need to massively increase energy production and consumption, and some of that will have to be, in the short term, fossil fuels. 

This talk, part of the Tuck Africa Club's "Made in Africa" series, was moderated by Irving Institute Director Elizabeth Wilson, was co-sponsored by the Irving Institute and the Revers Center for Energy at Tuck. A recording is available here. Rose Mutiso will also be a panelist at the Irving Institute's upcoming Investing in Our Energy Futures Conference, May 3-5.