West’s thirst for African gas sounds alarm at COP27

West’s thirst for African gas sounds alarm at COP27


Wealthy Western nations facing an energy crisis are eyeing natural gas in Africa at the expense of supporting green transition in poorer countries, climate activists at the expense of COP27.

European countries have been looking for alternative sources of gas after Russia, the continent’s former main supplier, cut its exports in apparent retaliation to Western sanctions over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

Gas-rich Norway has now overtaken Russia as the leading supplier, but Europe sees great potential in Africa’s fossil fuel reserves, including promising oil and gas discoveries in Senegal and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Europe wants to “make Africa its gas station,” said Mohamed Adow, director of the think tank Power Shift Africa, at the UN climate summit in Egypt.

“We don’t have to follow in the footsteps of the rich world that caused climate change in the first place.”

Exporting natural gas may bring near-term gains but worsen the climate crisis and leave African nations worse off in the long-term, activists, researchers and advocacy groups have said.

The research group Climate Action Tracker called global gas pressure a “serious threat” to the Paris Agreement goals – to keep global warming well below two degrees Celsius and preferably at 1.5 degrees compared to pre-industrial levels.

– “Stranded Assets” –

Some African leaders have argued that the potential benefits to people on the world’s poorest continent outweigh the harm from fossil fuel production and export.

“We are for a just and fair green transition, rather than making decisions that damage our development process,” Senegalese President Macky Sall told around 100 world leaders at COP27 last week.

Germany – the European country most dependent on Russian supplies before the war – was keen to tap into Senegal’s gas resources.

Omar Farouk Ibrahim, secretary-general of the African Petroleum Producers’ Organization, argued that the slight increase in the continent’s marginal contribution to greenhouse gas emissions “would make a fundamental difference in whether people live or die”.

“We have 600 million people in Africa who have no access to electricity at all. We have over 900 million people in Africa who do not have access to modern forms of energy for cooking or heating,” he said.

“No society can progress without energy.”

But advocacy groups were not convinced that Africa’s poor would benefit.

“History tells us that … mining in African countries has not led to development,” said Thuli Makama, program director for Africa at Oil Change International.

Makama, an Eswatini lawyer, said the war in Ukraine would trigger only “short-term” demand from Western nations, leaving African countries with “stranded assets” — infrastructure that will become obsolete as the world turns to renewable energy.

Governments and companies have invested in infrastructure only to be left with “lost assets, cleanup costs and all the devastation that the industry brings to local people,” Makama warned.

– “Incredible” potential –

A report released on Monday by think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative says Western investments in fossil fuels will eventually fizzle out, encouraging African countries to harness the potential of solar energy instead.

“The way to help us actually address our challenge of fuel poverty is by unlocking the incredible renewable energy potential that exists on the African continent,” Adow said.

African nations could opt out of all further fossil fuel extraction and turn the continent into a “green pioneer,” he added.

But renewable energy investment across the continent fell to its lowest level in 11 years last year, research group BloombergNEF said on Wednesday.

Of the $434 billion invested in renewable energy worldwide in 2021, a meager 0.6 percent went to projects in Africa, the report says.

The Carbon Tracker Initiative report states that the solar industry provided 14 gigawatts of electricity across Africa in 2021.

But it found that with production costs falling, solar power in Africa “has the potential to grow to over 400 gigawatts by 2050” – half of the continent’s energy needs.

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