Coal Power station in Africa with wildlife in the area. Carbon emissions from power plants and industrial complexes in the region are increasing.
Photo: Chris Kruger, Shutterstock

Coal boom in sub-Saharan Africa

Global climate policy must pay attention to the fact that poorer countries are trying to catch up economically and assist in making emission-free energy supply alternatives attractive.

Sub-Saharan Africa is at the brink of a coal boom, researchers from Berlin climate research institute MCC (Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change) warned in December 2019. 

While in many industrialised countries the climate policy debate is focused on how fast greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced, things are moving in the opposite direction in the economically least developed countries, they say. 

In the nearly 50 African states south of the Sahara (sub-Saharan Africa), not including the newly industrialising economy of South Africa, new coal-fired power plants with an annual output of 100 million tonnes of CO2 could go into operation by 2025. It is equivalent to about 40 per cent of what German coal-fired power plants currently emit. 

Between 2005 and 2015, carbon emissions from power plants and industrial complexes in the region already increased by 6 per cent annually, according to the researchers, while Angola, Congo and Mozambique, even though starting at low levels, were the three countries with the strongest increases worldwide.

Two scenarios of the coal boom

In the study Coal and Carbonization in Sub-Saharan Africa published in Nature Climate Change, the researchers describe two scenarios of the coal boom. 

A relatively favourable scenario would cancel 70 per cent of the specifically planned projects as well as all projects that are currently on hold. While there will still be some investments in coal-fired power plants, energy-related emissions can be largely stabilised through the expansion of renewable energies. This path would be largely in line with the objectives set out in the Paris world climate agreement. 

By contrast, in an unfavourable scenario all coal projects will be implemented – and emissions, currently around 245 million tonnes CO2 per year in the energy and industry sectors, will rise rapidly.


More information:

Read more at MCC website:

Read the study Coal and Carbonization in Sub-Saharan Africa: Steckel, J., Hilaire, J., Jakob, M., Edenhofer, O., Coal and Carbonization in Sub-Saharan Africa, 2019, Nature Climate Change:

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