New York

30 June 2020

Deputy Secretary-General's opening remarks at Ministerial Roundtable on the Impact of COVID-19 on Africa's Energy Sector: Challenges and Opportunities [as delivered]

Let me start by thanking my His Excellency Minister Cissé and Executive Director Birol of the International Energy Agency for hosting this timely discussion. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing human suffering, destabilizing the global economy and upending the lives of billions of people in unprecedented ways. As we strive to ease the impacts of the crisis, we must also plan now how to recover better.

It is projected that Foreign Direct Investment flows into African countries will decline between 25 and 40 per cent in 2020 alone.

The UN Economic Commission for Africa projects a 1.1 per cent growth rate in 2020 in the best-case scenario, and a contraction of 2.6 per cent in the worst.

Our common task of eradicating poverty and achieving the 2030 Agenda has never been more urgent. 

At the same time, climate change continues to present monumental, permanently life-altering challenges. 

We cannot tackle these global crises separately.

Access to clean, affordable and modern energy services is critical for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement. 

Energy is also an essential service for all aspects of the pandemic response – from powering health facilities and supplying clean water for handwashing, to enabling services for socially distanced education. 

The eventual vaccine will need off-grid, transboundary energy systems to be produced, stored and distributed.

These COVID-19 energy needs can accelerate progress on energy access in Africa, where 600 million people across the continent still lack reliable electricity.

COVID response and Recover Better strategies can bridge this crippling access gap.

Africa’s energy needs will grow exponentially over the coming decades. Massive population growth projections will require new and energy-intensive infrastructure and systems – housing, buildings, electrical grids.

The African Development Bank estimates that Africa’s infrastructure needs are between $130 and $170 billion per year.

These factors present us with a phenomenal opportunity: Africa can lead the clean energy revolution and avoid the traditional high-polluting, expensive energy trajectory of emerging economies. 

Countries such as Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Egypt, Zambia and Zimbabwe have demonstrated leadership in promoting investments in clean energy development through policy and regulatory reforms. We need to see many more of these.

In this context, I call on leaders present today to shape a climate-positive recovery in six key ways: 

First, deliver new jobs and businesses through a clean, green transition.

With enabling policies, regulations and incentives, Africa can become a global hub for green jobs, particularly for young people. 

Second, use fiscal firepower to protect vulnerable populations and ensure uninterrupted access to clean electricity. This requires treating both on-grid power companies and off-grid developers as essential industries in order to keep the lights on for all. 

Third, end fossil fuel subsidies and make polluters pay for their pollution.

The current low prices for fossil fuels offer a historic opportunity to phase-out fossil subsidies - as we saw earlier this year in Nigeria.

In most places, including Africa, renewables offer the least expensive option for power generation. 

The case for new coal power generation is both environmentally and economically unjustifiable. Africa needs to be on the right side of history.

Fourth: pursue a just and fair transition that leaves no one behind, understanding that developing countries must have the opportunity to carve the transition in the interest of the people and a sustainable environment.

Fifth, incorporate climate risks and opportunities into the financial system, public policymaking and decisions on infrastructure.

Sixth, raise ambition. The enhancement of Nationally Determined Contributions – NDCs — before COP26 in 2021 provides a perfect opportunity to do this, creating investment opportunities for sustainable energy.

The Secretary-General will convene a High-Level Dialogue on Sustainable Energy just before COP26. 

We hope to see innovative, measurable, and transformative results on clean energy for Africa before this important moment.

Now is the time for energy leadership. In Africa and across the globe.

Let us work together in solidarity to build back better, stronger, more sustainable and more resilient for our people and the planet.

Thank you.