Key trends impacting prosperity that are shared across Africa include:
The rise in the global population is being matched with an extraordinary and unprecedented level of urbanisation. In 1950, just 30% of the world’s population was urbanised but by 2050 this figure is projected to increase between 65% to 75%. This amounts to a near doubling of the global urban population from approximately 3.5 billion today to 6.5 billion by 2050. Much of this growth is also true for Africa. By 2035, 49% of Africa’s population will be urbanised, up from 33% in 1990, largely driven by population growth and urban migration from rural areas. According to the World Bank over the coming decades we can expect the typical African city to double in size with many urban centres emerging as well. For many African towns and cities, this urbanisation is correlated with a very low level of industrialisation and a high level of informality, raising critical questions around employment and delivery of essential public services.
Cities can either facilitate or hinder sustainable, inclusive prosperity. If designed well, they can be liveable hubs of economic activity and local councils can take advantage of their density when delivering public goods and services. However, cities can equally become polluted and congested with high-levels of poverty and its associated social costs. These trends in urbanisation are hugely important as urban planning decisions have long-term implications lasting for decades and even centuries into the future. Given this massive increase in the world’s urban population, it is clear the decisions made over the next two to three decades will be critical.
Energy generation remains a serious challenge for Africa. Approximately 630 million Africans live without reliable access to energy and 790 million rely on solid biomass to cook their food and heat their homes. Many of these people live in rural areas, away from an effective energy grid. Currently, the large, centralised and largely fossil fuel dependent energy grids provide energy relatively expensively and inefficiently, leading to large energy losses. Not only does this energy system need to be de-carbonised to maintain a safe climate, it is also hugely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. For instance, changes to the hydrological cycle carry the twin threats of flooding which can take down large-scale power plants, and drought which can stop large dams from generating electricity.
Fortunately, Africa’s relative lack of a developed energy system gives it ample opportunities to “leapfrog” the centralised energy infrastructure of the twentieth century. Alternative energy systems powered by distributed, renewable energy and facilitated by smart, flexible energy grids, can power the continent. Distributed and diverse energy systems are cheaper and more resilient in the face of climate disruption. Furthermore, community owned and managed energy systems offer cascading social benefits by giving communities the energy independence to enhance their productive capabilities. While this transition will be a decades-long process it is clear alternative energy pathways that is community oriented and resilient can provide an alternative energy future for Africa.