Fossil fuel: The human cost of powering Africa’s future

Avoidable deaths attributable to exposure to future fossil fuel use is estimated to be over 45,000 by 2030
Fossil fuel: The human cost of powering Africa’s future

Official projections of the UNDP suggest that the rise in human population in the next few decades will be most visible in Africa. Thirty years from now, about 2.2 billion people could be added to the global population – more than half of this is expected to come from Africa.

The broader consequences of this are far-reaching; from the need for more automation to enhanced jobs and expanded career prospects, demand for more food; housing alternatives, need for more alternative energy sources to overcrowding in mostly urban centres.

In spite of the increasing access to renewable energy sources, firewood and coal remain the dominant energy source powering African countries. About 80% of the world energy comes from fossil fuels, and fossil fuels such as coal are limited and therefore unsustainable resources

A recent study reveals that the rapid depletion and usage of fossil fuels on the continent will result in at least 50,000 avoidable deaths as a result of emissions from power plants and vehicular emissions alone.

Annual emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide in Africa will double by 2030, compared to figures from 2012.

Avoidable deaths attributable to exposure to future fossil fuel use is estimated to be over 45,000 by 2030. Most of which is likely to occur in South Africa, Malawi, and Nigeria. Yet fossil fuels are a driver for many economies around the world.

Overfilling our atmosphere with carbon will provoke more extreme weather, deadly heatwaves, more severe droughts, and increasing bush fires.
While the adoption of renewable energy sources for power generation is frequently cited as a practical alternative but despite the promise of innovations like solar mini-grids, most governments are less invested in solar-power solutions across the continent.

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But with governments and corporations counting carbon emissions and mounting concerns about climate change, reliance on these same fuels will not last forever. As attitudes and policies evolve, they will continue to see a reduced role going forward.

Even African countries who have remained major proponents of renewable energy, still show a pull towards the use of coal.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) recently declined Kenya’s request for a coal-fired power plant. The AfDB further warns that it had no plans to finance new coal plants in the future, citing environmental and social impact assessment for the Lamu project in Kenya.

Numerous investors, development finance institutions and insurers are limiting coal-related investments. China, the World bank group, Germany and Japan who are the largest providers of public finance for Africa’s energy sector has continuously demonstrated the will to move away from fossil-fuelled power projects.

Also, environmental activists and climate crusaders are continually voicing their growing concerns about the impact of burning fossil fuels.

One such group is Greenpeace which sued and won its case against the Lamu plant in Nairobi.

Ghana currently faces a severe power crisis that could have significant repercussions on the overall working of a national economy – with fuel reforms on petroleum products such as gasoline and diesel being heavily taxed.

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An area in Mpumalanga, an eastern province in South Africa houses South Africa’s national power supplier Eskom. It remains the largest single area contaminated by lethal nitrogen dioxide globally. This makes it the centre of the world’s deadliest air pollution.

This is not surprising as South Africa is the continent’s most advanced economy. Power generation and distribution persist as a major challenge. It has remained predominantly coal-based with already evident attendant consequences.

It is equally not surprising, that since the nation’s power supplier had been struggling lately losing $1.46 billion in one year; the economy of South Africa had been adversely affected with job losses, inflation and the worst unemployment statistics – South African unemployment rate of 29.1% hit10-year record high in 2019.

Again, most of the likely sulphur dioxide emissions are expected to come from future coal-fired power plants across central Nigeria, along the coast of Egypt and southern Africa.

And, as droughts get worse, the air quality deteriorates with air pollution from power plants in South Africa and Botswana travelling as far as Zimbabwe and Namibia thereby impacting ocean evaporation, surface wind speed, atmospheric pressure and the chances of uncontrollable bushfires with its associated consequences on the ecosystem.

UNICEF report showed only seven of Africa’s 54 countries are home to real-time air pollution detection and monitoring devices.

The challenge of air pollution on the continent is worsened by other environmental pollution and resource-depleting activities such as desertification, population explosion, and fauna depletion.
In essence, while over 70% of children living in Europe and North America live within 31 miles of an air quality monitoring station, the number stands at just 6% across Africa’s 1.255 billion people.

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Fossil fuel burning also impacts water quality and availability –acid rock drainage from coal mines, the destruction of mountain streams and soil quality.

Governments of African countries and corporate decision-makers must, therefore, continue to expand the use of renewable energy and transform its energy system to cleaner alternatives; less dependence on coal and other fossil fuels.

With effective national and regional climate strategies, policymakers must be deliberate about legislations on the quality of automobile imports, increasing vehicle fuel efficiency; deploy more waste-to-energy approaches in rural communities, introducing limits on the amount of carbon that polluters are allowed to emit and building a clean energy economy by investing in efficient energy approaches and technologies


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