Dash for African gas threatens transition to renewables

If all its slated oil and gas projects go ahead, the amount of land in Africa given over to the production of fossil fuels could quadruple, warns Rainforest Foundation UK. While many African nations are known to have significant reserves of oil and gas, at present most of it remains in the ground.

However, sanctions against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine in February have led many countries particularly in Europe to seek alternative energy supplies from the continent immediately to their south. Italy has sought a deal with the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) in central Africa. Meanwhile Germany, whose Green party forms part of the coalition government with the SPD and FDP, has turned to the west African nation of Senegal to fill its energy blackhole.

The ‘dash for gas’ would delay Africa’s switch to renewable energy sources, something climate activist Al Gore described at COP27’s opening ceremony as ‘a dash down a bridge to nowhere.’ More immediately, it would do nothing to alleviate the air pollution which hangs over cities as far afield as Lagos in Nigeria and Durban in South Africa, putting residents’ health and wellbeing at risk.

bird eye view photography of lighted building

It would see the destruction of further large areas of tropical rainforest which are important carbon sinks too. Botswana’s Okavango Delta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)’s Virunga National Park are also at risk. The latter is one of only three places in the world where it’s possible to see mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.

The DRC plans to auction off an area of land, predominately rainforest, roughly equal to the area of England for new oil and gas projects. Executive director of Rainforest Foundation UK, Joe Eisen, warns that ‘gas expansion poses a stark threat to the Congo basin forest and its millions of inhabitants least responsible for the climate crisis.’

With 38.3% of all Africans (460 m people) living in extreme poverty, defined as having an income of less than $1.90 per day, it’s understandable why the continent’s leaders might be tempted to exploit their natural resources in the same way the global north did.

Namibia’s government, who is allowing exploration drilling close to the Okavango Delta, has said that as one of the least polluting countries in the world it has a duty to explore new sources of revenue, including from fossil fuels.

Some argue that since burning natural gas is around a third lower in greenhouse emissions than oil or coal its extraction by developing nations should be permitted, and perhaps even funded, as part of the transition to renewables. The European Union has gone as far as declaring gas climate friendly.

At the same time, the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization with no African member states, believes that there can be no new investment in fossil fuels if the world is to reach its carbon net zero target by 2050.

Initiatives launched on COP27’s finance day might persuade Africa’s leaders to follow the route of renewal energies. They must first run the gauntlet of the fossil fuel industry at COP27, who are fielding more lobbyists than the ten countries likely to be most affected by climate change. This is according to pressure group Germanwatch. That’s a quarter more than they did just a year ago in Glasgow at COP26.

The decision to accept Coca-Cola as a major sponsor of the event, worth an estimated $250 m, has also raised the eyebrows of campaigners. #breakfreefromplastic has named Coke as the world’s largest plastics polluter, and a report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has said that the drinks company’s use of new plastics has actually gone up 3% since 2019

Photo by American Public Power Association


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