The involvement of ‘Rising Powers’, such as China, India and Brazil, in clean energy systems in sub-Saharan Africa is often obscured by popular images of resource – and land-grabs. Seeking to engage more closely with a number of African states, businesses and communities in pursuit of diverse economic and political goals, the Rising Powers have increasingly come to incorporate renewable energy projects into their aid and investment portfolios in Africa. The depth, drivers, and outcomes of this activity are complex and contested in terms of both development and the implications for international energy and climate governance.

This interdisciplinary research project seeks to examine how, why and to what extent China, India and Brazil are enabling the transition to low carbon energy systems in Southern Africa and to assess the consequent implications for the affordability, accessibility and sustainability of energy services in the region. The project will develop new frameworks for analysis in order to systematically compare the roles that China, India and Brazil are playing in facilitating the transition to low carbon energy systems in South Africa and Mozambique and in particular will analyse how they are shaping the provision of energy services for productive uses (e.g. for cooking, lighting and mobility). Further, the project also seeks to assess the implications for the wider governance of energy and climate change at the local, national, regional and global scales.

Empirically, the research project will seek to understand the engagement of Rising Powers with energy systems in South Africa and Mozambique by looking at the range of actors, institutions, partnerships and policy-making processes involved and by identifying the key interests and beneficiaries being served by this co-operation. Using a combination of semi-structured interviews and community-based participatory research methods the research will also explore the dynamics of the transitions being created and enabled by China, India and Brazil in South Africa and Mozambique, which are uneven and differentiated technically, socially and spatially. Across the region they have each championed different technology sectors and energy services.

Their impacts are also socially differentiated in that patterns of Chinese, Indian and Brazilian investment, innovation and infrastructure development benefit particular groups of society and have differential impacts on poverty and livelihoods. Further, the impacts China, India and Brazil are having on low carbon transitions appear to be spatially differentiated, not just between different countries in sub-Saharan Africa but also between urban and rural spaces within these countries. Thus the project seeks to examine the consequences of these dynamics for key issues of energy access and affordability, and in relation to wider development strategies. It will also provide a detailed analysis of how South-South technology transfer and technology cooperation between the Rising Powers and Southern Africa can work, including insights about the implications for innovation capacity, the appropriateness of specific technologies and the impact of current investment strategies which will be of particular use for government and the private sector, within and outside the region.

Involving collaborations with UK government departments, academic research partners in China, India and Brazil and partners from the academic and NGO community in Southern Africa the project seeks to build capacity, to foster knowledge exchange and policy dialogue and to build cross-disciplinary and transnational research networks concerned with the role of the Rising Powers in facilitating low carbon transitions in Southern Africa.