Uganda and other East African countries have agreed to move faster on the energy transition but without sacrificing critical industries like oil and gas and minerals.
At the regional energy transition dialogue, people from civil society and academia also warned that, even though African countries need to use their minerals and other resources, they will have to work with the developed world on concessions because they don’t have enough money or skills.
The “Just Energy Transition” dialogue was set up to talk about how the governments of the countries can find a balance between using their extractives and making the switch from fossil fuels, coal, and other types of energy that are bad for the environment to clean energy.
It comes at a time when conservationists and climate change activists in Uganda are fighting against the growth of the oil and gas industry, especially the building of the EACOP crude export pipeline.
Peter Lokeris, who is the state minister for Mineral Development, asked the people who work in the extractives sector to help the ministry make sure that minerals used to make renewable energy are made in a sustainable way and help the community.
He, however, said that Uganda and the other countries in the region cannot go at the same speed as the developed world because they still need oil and energy to develop.
According to him, in the developed world, for example, everyone has access to the national grid for a kind of energy for cooking, lighting, and heating, while in Uganda and most of Africa, more than 80 percent of the population has no electricity.
Lokeris said that to these people, even the word “transition” has no meaning.
However, he said the government’s energy mix of hydro, solar, wind and other sources will help the country fit into the transition movement, saying it is now even more possible with the venturing into the electric vehicle industry.
Francis Odokorach, who is the Executive Director of Oxfam Uganda, agreed that the change will be hard for a lot of people who don’t have access to or can’t afford the energy sources that are currently available.
Odokorach said, however, that if the countries had the commitment and adequate finances needed, it would be possible for everyone to access some kind of clean energy because the sources are available.
Over 600 million people in Africa do not have access to electricity, and around 900 million lack access to clean cooking facilities, with Uganda being among the top 26 countries with energy access deficits.
National figures also show that Uganda’s access to the national grid is less than 20 percent, while 38 percent have access to off-grid solar electricity, which is mainly used for lighting and phone charging.
Uganda’s representative to the East African Legislative Assembly, George Stephen Odongo, said that politics can slow down progress in the energy transition because leaders want to do things that voters will remember them for.
Uganda also has a benefit in that the new minerals that have been found are important to global developments like the growing electric motor industry, IT devices, and other things.
Some of these are rare earth elements and graphite, which are used to make batteries that are needed for many electric and electronic devices.
However, they are coming at a time when geopolitical conflicts are increasing in number and the threat of renewed arms races is increasing.
Experts say that this will increase the demand for the minerals mined in Africa, especially Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This includes uranium, which is used in the nuclear industry.
While this might seem a good opportunity for the mineral to reach developing countries, it pauses a risk that such minerals could be sanctioned at one time by the global community.
In that case, Dr. Livingstone Ssenyonga, a Senior Lecturer in Energy Economics at Makerere University Business School, said that in that case, there is a fear that the heavy investments happening now could be rendered useless.
He did say, though, that African countries could get around the problem of getting money for mineral development and even raise their voices if they worked together to use the resources instead of each country running its own industry.