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Binding, democratic, in solidarity: african perspectives on the energy transition

Based on the events and discussions with our guests from Africa in 2012 and 2013 within the framework of the project "Paradoxes of sustainability - how socially equitable are ‘green’ technologies really?", the final version of the recommendations of action on the way to a global equitable energy transition is now available. African activists and scientists demand:

  • Binding and fair terms of use for natural resources, especially in connection with their use for "green" technologies!
  • The ultimate authority for all decisions over access and processing of these ressources should democratically rest with the concerned communities!
  • International solidarische Entwicklung und Förderung dezentraler regenerativer Energieversorgung!

We thank every guest speakers and visitors to our events in 2012 and 2013 for their critical feedback!

Pdf Version of the recommendations of action

"Green economy won´t save the planet, but green democracy will."
Patel, 2012

In Germany the “energy transition” is on everyone's lips. With slogans such as "High time for things to change" actors in the political and economic arena were campaigning for “green” energy and more energy efficiency in the beginning of 2013.1 There is considered to be broad political and social consensus on the irreversible phasing out of nuclear energy by 2022. The federal government is aiming for a 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, compared to base year 1990.

In the framework of its project "Paradoxes of sustainability - how socially equitable are ‘green’ technologies really?" the Berlin-based organization AfricAvenir International e.V. sheds light on African perspectives on the energy transition in Germany and Europe, as well as the associated rapid expansion of renewable energies. In 2012 AfricAvenir invited the African intellectuals and activists Nnimmo Bassey (Friends of the Earth), Many Camara (ARACF - Association of ressortissants et des Amis de la Commune de Falea), Dr. El Mostafa Jamea, Tidiane Kassé (Pambazuka), Jean-Claude Katende (ASADHO - Association Africaine de Défense des Droits de l'Homme), Kulthoum Omari (Heinrich Böll Foundation South Africa), Silas Siakor (Sustainable Development Institute), Odile Tendeng (Gorée Institute), Prof. Judi W. Wakhungu (African Centre for Technology Studies) and Nozipho Mabebe Wright (Energia Botswana) to report on their experience with renewable energy in a series of dialogue forums, a conference and in published articles providing perspectives from various regional and scientific points of view from the continent. The participants discussed the consequences of the energy transition in the global north for the African continent. Following questions formed the basis of this project:

  • What are the social, environmental and economic consequences of the extraction and trade of raw materials that are necessary for the production of renewable energies?
  • Will the energy transition unleash positive development potential for Africa? Or will the continent experience a new "resource curse" and continue to be dependent on imported expensive technologies?

The African voices are unequivocal. They too are saying, "High time for things to change!". The African speakers all welcome the nuclear phase-out and the expansion of renewable energies in Germany. However, they also make it clear that these targets alone are still far too short-sighted.

This is because the federal government gives priority to opening up new markets for German companies in the field of renewable energy3 and view the countries of the Global South as willing suppliers of raw materials for an energy production without uranium or fossil fuels which takes place primarily in the North. The experts invited by AfricAvenir highlight the impact that the extraction of African raw materials which are required for the production of "green" technologies has on the continent. The current concept of the energy transition is merely a switch from fossil to non-fossil energy production that is still dependent on the exploitation of partially non-renewable resources. An energy transition that also benefits the resource-supplying countries is out of the question. The unequal power structures on which Europe's energy transition to resource exploitation in the Global South is based will remain in place without the local populations being given a say.

In this context, the Moroccan energy expert Dr. Mostafa El Jamea presents the example of Desertec, a major project to generate solar energy in North Africa. Due to the size of the project, it devours hectares of land, as well as the important but rare resource water. A potential negative impact on the ecosystem cannot be ruled out. The local communities however were not involved in the preliminary consultations or the decision-making process and it remains questionable whether the project will benefit them. Neither do local residents have any significant access to the decentralised production and storage of electricity which is now technically and economically possible with renewable energy.

Up until now, the energy transition in its current form is predominantly designed for the benefit of the growth-oriented economies of the global North. The "Green Economy" is in danger of becoming a mere form of green washing of these economies that in fact continue to rely heavily on conventional fossil sources of energy which keep producing an undiminished amount of emissions.. Instead of presenting serious alternatives to the continuous increase of fuel consumption and to the focus on resource security for Germany, public discourse and research continue to focus narrowly on the improvement of energy efficiency. However, the successful implementation of a socially just and efficiently target-oriented energy transition calls for a paradigm shift in global energy, commodities and resource policy. The basis of this policy must be the recognition of autonomous definitions and paths of development on the part of the concerned populations. All stakeholders - the northern and southern governments, civil society, companies and development cooperation - need to do their bit.

AfricAvenir International demands, together with the experts involved in the project:

1. "It's high time that the conditions of resource extraction change in the commodity producing countries and that violent conflicts are no longer tolerated and fuelled due to economic interests!"

The utilisation of renewable energies requires certain raw materials. If these technologies are to deserve the label "green" or “sustainable”, human rights, social and environmental standards must be consistently maintained in the extraction of raw materials such as copper, bauxite, zinc, indium, selenium, gallium, tellurium, lithium and rare earths. Here African civil societies, together with European initiatives, are called on to hold African and European governments and investors accountable, and to, for instance, renegotiate existing mining contracts so that local populations are taken into consideration. This is also the only way to prevent violent conflicts from being carried out over the access to mining rights and the economic benefits of resource extraction.

2. "It's high time that local peoples themselves have the freedom to make decisions about the access to their resources and how these are used and processed!"

Adapted to local contexts, communities should be able to represent their interests in terms of “Green Democracy“, instead of being forced by the “Green Economy” to submit themselves to market interests dictated by the Global North. Certification of what is declared sustainable cannot be left to investors and consumers in the Global North alone. The German federal government should support countries of the Global South in putting into practice the principle of Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC)4 so that the sections of the population that are affected by energy and raw material projects can develop mechanisms to safeguard their rights to free, timely and informed consent. The "Green Economy" is based on the valorisation of nature and of habitats.5 Based exclusively on a financial rationale, as is currently the case with the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), this valorisation can at best be one tool for the implementation of a global energy transition. The decision-making authority and the right of disposition of the valorisation of resources needs to be primarily in the hands of local communities and governments and must give them the right to exclude certain raw materials from exploitation, especially when they are connected to the basis for life, like water, land and food products. They must be able to exercise their right of access to these life-supporting resources without fear of repression. In order to achieve this, a mutually agreed upon democratisation and strengthening of regional minority rights must take place.

3. "It's high time for comprehensive democratisation in the renewable energy sector!"

The entire production chain, from raw material extraction to the generation of renewable energy, must be made transparent and comprehensible for consumers in the Global North and populations in commodity extraction regions. Civil society in Europe and Africa must claim its right to participate in the formation of (major) projects in the field of renewable energy and in the distribution of profits.

4. "It's high time that decentralized regenerative and autonomous energy supply is given priority over centrally organized solutions!”

The central message of AfricAvenir’s guests is the call for the development of a decentralized energy supply with renewable energies. Herein lies the significant advantage of "green" technologies for the African context. Especially rural areas that have no access to the national electricity grid can be supplied with energy this way. The democratic right of citizens in the South and the North to participate in decision making about their energy supply, also regarding large-scale energy projects, is centrally important. The long term goal for Africa and Europe should be energy sovereignty adapted to local needs and markets, as well as the promotion of regional development.

5. "It's high time that production of green technologies and the creation of added value takes place in Africa!"

As with other areas of production, it is imperative that Africa free itself from its dependence on imported technologies and set up its own production of green technologies. Here Germany, as an experienced producer of renewable energy, can offer valuable support in capacity building and can also champion an alternative trade mandate (ATM) of the EU.6 This should primarily benefit the development of independent African production and not only serve to secure markets for German companies. The right of the Global South to determine the conditions of investment and of export in the energy and raw material sectors must be respected.

6. "It's high time that the German government champions an EU-wide nuclear phase-out!"

The decision to phase out nuclear energy must not remain limited to Germany. As a driving force in Europe, Germany should demand the phase-out of nuclear power in the entire EU and help put a stop to exports and business transactions that support nuclear power stations abroad. The risks that nuclear energy poses for uranium-producing countries and for energy producers and consumers are no longer acceptable.

These experiences gathered from exchange with African experts provide the main objectives of a transition from "Green Economy" to "Green Democracy" for politics, business and development cooperation.

Minimum standards of social and ecological compatibility must be guaranteed for the exploitation of raw materials that form the basis of renewable energy production, or rather the specific technologies needed for this production. Certification procedures can at best complement the implementation and control of existing international standards. By no means can they replace a broad change of views in society, towards a change of lifestyle that reduces our resource and energy consumption and towards increasing democratic participation of civil society in raw material extraction countries. Conventional strategies for market protection should be reviewed for the benefit of a long-term, socially and ecologically just resource policy. The federal government of Germany has the possibility, within the EU and the G20 as well as the United Nations, the World Bank and the regional Banks for Development, to exert influence on the situation of the people in the Global South. The more coherent the German policy becomes in the fields of foreign affairs, trade, development, environment and energy, and the closer it orientates itself to the goals of human rights and environmental protection, the more positive this influence will become.

The active promotion of structures based on decentralization and on self-initiative is essential. Only then can real participation by the Global South be realized, for example through targeted promotion of local mini-grid and off -grid initiatives or alternative projects for mining raw materials.
For the joint preservation of the inalienable rights of all people8 and the limited resources of our planet, it is necessary to leave behind global competition and the paradigm of unlimited growth and to realize the vision of solidarity and collaboration on equal terms between North and South:

"It is time for citizens of the world to urgently reclaim their sovereignty and not watch helplessly while political-corporate powers ride roughshod over everyone and everything."
(Nnimmo Bassey)

Further References:

  • Heinrich Böll Foundation in cooperation with Wuppertal Institut (2012). International Resource Politics - New challenges demanding new governance approaches for a green economy. Vol. 26, Publication Series on Ecology. Berlin.
  • Raj Patel & Martin Crook (2012). At Rio+20, the green economy won’t save the planet. But green democracy will. Commonwealth Advisory Bureau. London.
  • PowerShift e.V. (2011). Oben hui, unten pfui? Rohstoffe für die „grüne“ Wirtschaft: Bedarfe – Probleme – Handlungsoptionen für Wirtschaft, Politik & Zivilgesellschaft. Berlin.
  • Comhlámh, AITEC and WEED (2012). Alternatives on Resource Trade and Access to Information in Africa A response to EU policy on raw materials by Dr Claude Kabemba. Comhlámh.
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