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Enabling African communities with sustainable solutions: working toward SDG 11

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By Roberto Vigotti

· 6 min read

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals aim to address the most urgent developmental challenges of our era, such as poverty elimination, full sustainability, and more inclusive and fair societies. Among those goals, the 11th stands out for its ambition to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. In this aspect, the African continent is known to be facing a myriad of challenges that threaten the sustainability of numerous cities within the region.

Given the magnitude of the aforementioned problem, it is essential to understand the obstacles and requirements for African nations to provide a more sustainable environment for their citizens and promote a green development plan. This article will delve into the challenges of SDG 11 as it relates to African cities and explore the role of international partners and renewable energy technology in helping African countries thrive.

Impacts on African communities

SDG 11 has been established to ensure access to safe and sustainable cities and communities. Therefore, the achievement of this target area can provide numerous benefits to the world and, more specifically, to Africa, such as access to affordable energy, improved air and water quality, and the enhancement of green spaces.

The potential for Africa's sustainable development through green energy is huge; nonetheless, there is still much progress to be made, which can be attributed in part to the rate of population increase outpacing the number of people providing access to renewable energy. The central issue that lies at the heart of this problem, however, is that there is a global pattern of investments that has yet to take hold in Africa.

A contorted road: challenges and obstacles in achieving SDG11

African nations face a number of obstacles as they strive to put into action the objectives of SDG 11. Perhaps the most obvious challenge is represented by poor infrastructure. Although African governments have pledged to implement their own initiatives in pursuit of sustainable cities and communities, the reliance on outdated or insufficient infrastructure has proven to be a hindrance in achieving SDG 11. This is because poor infrastructure can contribute to energy waste, limited access to renewable energy, and inefficient water and sewage systems, hindering the possibilities of sustainable development.

In addition to poor infrastructure, countries face limited access to green technologies. Sustainable technologies like solar power, energy-efficient construction, and green buildings are all prominent solutions to help reach SDG 11 objectives, but their affordability is still an issue for African countries. The expensive costs of these solutions could potentially stunt the progress of green cities in Africa if not properly provided with subsidies and financial support.

Lastly, due to the lack of efficient public transportation and crumbling infrastructure, mobility is also an obstacle in the continent. Poor roads and ailing transportation systems make it difficult to travel, and even harder for goods and services to reach rural areas. Statistics show that 4 million people living on the continent are more than five kilometres away from an all-season road, thus reducing their access to vital services. Despite these challenges, e-mobility has the potential to be an agent for sustainable development and is proving to be a disruptive force in multiple markets. This is partially due to the increasing demand for energy storage solutions and renewable energy sources, as well as the requirement of advanced components for sustainable energy distribution, both of which call for innovative IT solutions. In terms of societal benefits, it will create a positive domino effect with multisectoral implications in Africa, as it will allow for synergy with other market segments such as cutting-edge components, and energy distribution infrastructures. Furthermore, its widespread adoption will lead to improved air quality, cost savings, increased job opportunities, improved public health, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. This, in turn, could help reduce poverty, fuel economic growth, and boost development in rural areas of the continent.

Achieving SDG 11: a collective commitment 

The continent is demonstrating a strong commitment to meeting Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 and is increasingly looking to collaborate and work together in pursuit of improved urban infrastructure, green spaces, and pollution reduction. Several countries in the region have established regional networks of urban actors to facilitate joint efforts - with the African Urban Forum, African Network of Urban and Suburban Bus Services and the African Land Policy Initiative being some of the most prominent examples.

In addition to these broader collaborations, numerous African countries launched their own green urban strategies in 2019, demonstrating the commitment to achieving SDG 11 at the national level. In Senegal, for example, a project was launched to reduce energy costs by installing energy-saving technology in public buildings across the country; this included the installation of energy lightbulbs, solar panels, and air conditioning. In Ethiopia, the government created a master plan for the capital city, Addis Ababa, to promote sustainable development focusing on energy efficiency, cleaner infrastructure, green spaces, and data-driven decision-making. Tanzania also made significant strides toward green urbanization in 2019, with a plan to reduce levels of air pollution in Dar es Salaam by increasing the enforcement of existing legislation and introducing a new generation of public transport vehicles.

Taken together, these ongoing initiatives are evidence of a collective effort across the African continent to promote sustainable urban development and to achieve the UN's SDG 11. With countries in the region demonstrating strong commitments to working together, it is only a matter of time until significant progress is made.

Creating a more sustainable and resilient future

In conclusion, achieving Sustainable Development Goal 11 is an ongoing process that requires ongoing effort and collaboration from all stakeholders. African countries have been actively making investments in renewable energy sources, adopting eco-friendly technologies, and improving access to basic necessities. However, further measures must be taken to ensure a successful transition to green energy. Empowering community involvement and developing comprehensive policies are two crucial steps toward fulfilling the promise of SDG11. For this reason, RES4Africa will continue to facilitate the dialogue between investors and African partners, in order to boost renewables, widen access to energy, promote the renewable energy transition, and finally achieve Africa’s sustainable development.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Roberto Vigotti is the Secretary General of RES4Africa Foundation, a European think tank gathering 34 stakeholders from the clean energy value chain to accelerate Africa’s RE transition. Previously, he spent 35 years in Enel Power R&D Division and served for 12 years as the chair of the Renewable Working Party of the IEA

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