Energizing Democracy: Senegal's Historic Debate on Climate Change and the Energy Transition

As Senegal approached its 12th presidential election on 24 March 2024, one issue noticeably absent from political campaigning and public discourse was the candidates’ position on climate change and the nation’s just energy transition.  While this was not surprising, given the nature of the events leading up to these elections, it would also have been an opportunity lost – for a country that holds significant influence in the region and on the continent – to help to shape Africa’s climate change and development agenda. 

To fill this important gap, on Wednesday 20 March, the National School for Journalism (CESTI) with support from the African Climate Foundation and Natural Justice, organised a historic public debate on climate change and the energy transition between 11 representatives from major political parties. This debate gave journalists a platform to ask candidates questions about their positions on Senegal’s energy future.  

What emerged from the engagement was consensus on the urgent need to ensure energy sovereignty and diversification. Candidates all agreed that in the face of global uncertainties, such as the war in Ukraine, there was a need to both accelerate renewable energy development and maintain fossil fuel exploitation. This commitment extends to ambitious targets, including a 50% renewable energy mix by 2035 or 2050, with a bold pledge of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. 

A key theme that resonated throughout the debate was the importance of financing the transition.  Some candidates suggested that oil and gas revenues could be ringfenced to fund renewable energy initiatives. Some suggested the need for innovative financing mechanisms like a National Green Fund. 

Candidates also emphasised the critical importance of leveraging renewable energy deployment to support local economic development. They suggested mobilising the local private sector to drive innovation, create jobs, and support technology transfer. They also advocated for incentives to promote domestic manufacturing of solar technologies and reduce the dependence on imports. Some outlined plans for investment in human capital through education and vocational training programmes tailored to the needs of the emerging green economy. 

Beyond energy, the candidates delved into broader questions around climate change and  the countries sustainability goals, including green cities, sustainable transport systems, and green growth initiatives. Candidates outlined strategies to foster competitiveness, combat unemployment, and alleviate poverty through the creation of green jobs and sustainable development projects. They also advocated for comprehensive climate change legislation, institutional reforms and stronger political commitment and coordination to enable the transition. 

Throughout the debate, there was a strong emphasis placed on the need to ensure a just and equitable transition, and on the importance of centering  the needs of communities, particularly in rural areas. Candidates also highlighted the potential of renewable energy to support energy access in vulnerable communities and to help boost productivity in agriculture production and enhance food security. 

What the debate illustrated is that while climate change and energy might have been absent from the political campaigning, they were top of mind for presidential candidates. As Lamine Cisse, the ACF’s Senegal Country Manager noted, the debate “in essence, transcended political divides, offering a glimpse into a future where sustainability and the energy transition are fundamental pillars of governance.”  The ACF remains committed to helping to build that future.  

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