By Megan Rowling
BARCELONA, June 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - African governments should aim to increase power generation 10-fold to give all their people access to electricity by 2030, an effort that would require a big increase in investment focused on renewable energy, a panel of high-profile figures said.
Two in three Africans - around 621 million people - live without electricity, a situation worsening as the population grows, said an annual report from the 10-member Africa Progress Panel, chaired by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Nearly four in five Africans cook using biomass - mainly wood and charcoal - with some 600,000 dying each year from indoor air pollution, the report said.
To fill the energy gap, African nations do not have to resort to old, dirty technologies, Annan wrote in a foreword.
"We can expand our power generation and achieve universal access to energy by leapfrogging into new technologies that are transforming energy systems across the world," he said.
"Africa stands to gain from developing low-carbon energy, and the world stands to gain from Africa avoiding the high-carbon pathway followed by today's rich world and emerging markets," he added.
The Africa Progress Panel promotes sustainable development, and includes Irish musician and campaigner Bob Geldof, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and rights advocate Graça Machel, widow of late South African President Nelson Mandela.
The 2015 report laid much of the blame for Africa's energy shortfalls on poor governance of power utilities, often viewed as vehicles for corruption and political patronage.
African governments have treated the provision of affordable energy as "a distant secondary concern", leaving some of the world's poorest people paying huge prices for energy compared with richer consumers, the report said.
Households living on less than $2.50 a day spend around $10 per kilowatt hour (kWh) on various sources of lighting, while the average cost for electricity is $0.12/kWh in the United States and $0.15/kWh in Britain.
"Africa's poorest households are the unwitting victims of one of the world's starkest market failures," the report said.
Africa's energy sector needs investment of around $55 billion per year until 2030 to make up power deficits and provide everyone with access to electricity, the report said.
African governments could provide a large chunk of this by boosting tax collection, cutting corruption, ending subsidies for unprofitable utilities, stemming illicit financial transfers - put at $69 billion in 2012 - and tapping bond markets, it said.
The international community should also contribute aid and cheap loans to support investments that deliver modern energy to those without, it added.
Caroline Kende-Robb, the panel's executive director, said much of the energy infrastructure Africa needs is yet to be built, and the continent could benefit by choosing clean energy sources like solar and hydro, and installing mini-grids.
"Energy policies have to be decided now for 15 to 20 years down the line. That is why Africans are saying, 'This is our opportunity to do things differently,'" she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa are already building large power plants that use renewable energy, the report noted.
At the same time, many innovative companies are responding to household demand for lighting and power with products such as "pay as you go" solar.
'FAILED' BY CLIMATE FINANCE
The report called on developed countries to raise ambition on cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the run-up to a new global deal to tackle climate change due in December.
It also urged reform of what it described as a fragmented and under-resourced climate finance system, which Kende-Robb said had "failed" Africa by delivering piecemeal amounts.
At the latest round of U.N. climate talks in Bonn this week, climate justice groups backed a proposal by African states asking for support to develop feed-in tariffs and technologies for renewable energy.
The Africa Progress Panel report said G20 countries should set a timetable to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, including banning exploration and production subsidies by 2018.
"Many rich country governments tell us they want a climate deal. But at the same time billions of dollars of taxpayers' money are subsidising the discovery of new coal, oil and gas reserves," Kofi Annan said in a statement.
"They should be pricing carbon out of the market through taxation, not subsiding a climate catastrophe."
(Reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Laurie Goering; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)
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