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 [NAIROBI] Establishing multi-stakeholder engagement platforms in low-carbon development could enhance research and development on energy in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to experts.

During deliberations at the Low-Carbon Development Workshop held in Kenya last month (10-12 June), the experts were concerned that two-thirds of people in Sub-Saharan Africa lack access to electricity despite the abundant energy resources available on the continent. They noted that low-carbon development hubs could help Africa increase efforts to clean energy access in a sustainable manner.

“No platform currently exists for stakeholders to articulate African energy development research needs,” said David Ockwell, deputy director of the UK-headquartered Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability (STEPS) centre, which jointly organised the workshop with Kenya-based African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS), the African Technology Policy Studies Network and the Stockholm Environment Institute Africa (SEI Africa).

“Low-carbon development could lead to a sustainable development pathway with both social and economic benefits.”

Cosmas Ochieng’, African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS)

During the workshop, Judi Wakhungu, Kenya’s cabinet secretary for environment water and natural resources, officially commissioned the STEPS Africa Sustainability Hub. “The launch of the STEPS Africa Sustainability Hub is a huge contribution that will bring together researchers from across the continent to work on research promoting pro-poor, low-carbon economic development,” Wakhungu said.

The experts called on investments in such networks to help address the energy knowledge gaps in Sub-Saharan Africa.

 “Africa is rich in energy resources such as solar and hydrology that are still untapped,” said Cosmas Ochieng’, the executive director of ACTS.

Ochieng’ revealed that 621 million people in Africa lack access to grid energy, and 713 million lack access to clean energy.

“Low-carbon development could lead to a sustainable development pathway with both social and economic benefits,” Ochieng’ told SciDev.Net, adding that such benefits include cheap clean energy interventions and adaptation to climate change.

Oliver Johnson, a research fellow at SEI Africa Centre, said the establishment of the STEPS African Sustainability Hub will help bridge the gap between researchers and communities and help address the existing knowledge gaps on energy. “This hub will help greatly in sharing knowledge and experiences, especially if connected to other networks worldwide,” Johnson explained.

Nicholas Ozor, the executive director of the Kenya-based African Technology Policy Studies Network, said:  “We need trans-sectoral research to meet the people needs, especially the rural poor”.

Ozor emphasised that networks on low carbon should fit into the national innovation system to avoid segregated efforts from different ministries. “Having a national innovation system of experts from different ministries will help save on costs and have one voice,” Ozor noted.

But Margaret Kamau, who manages the East African programme of the UK-headquartered Climate and Development Knowledge Network, says that one of the challenges facing Africa is that low-carbon development is not a priority for most governments. “Evidence-based policy for governments to invest in low carbon development is thus needed,” Kamau tells SciDev.Net, adding that low carbon could help Africa address climate change challenges as it helps reduce emissions and is cost-effective compared to traditional methods of cooking.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.