Africa’s natural resources are at the heart of a debate about how to balance economic growth and combat global warming.
At the COP27 negotiations currently taking place in Egypt, known by some as the “African COP”, the continent’s leaders are seeking support and funding to exploit Africa’s vast gas reserves, insisting that gas is less polluting than alternative fossil fuels such as coal and oil. This argument has already been endorsed by the European Union.
African leaders argue that their countries must tap into their reserves to help generate electricity and provide it to the millions of people who do not have access to the grid. They also want to increase exports to Europe, where many countries are looking for an alternative to Russian gas.
They argue that Western countries have taken advantage of dirtier fossil fuels and therefore Africa should not be prevented from taking advantage of its cleaner natural gas to raise living standards on the continent.
But climate campaigners and delegates from low-lying islands have said this will lock Africa into the use of fossil fuels for many years and make the crucial goal of slowing global temperature rise more difficult.
They say the continent should embrace renewable energy instead, pointing out that Africa has 60% of the world’s solar power capacity but only 1% of global installed solar capacity on the continent. department.
“Fossil fuels must be phased out; they must be kept in the ground. Africa’s backyard will not become Europe’s front court,” Greenpeace Africa said in a statement.
Its spokesperson Mbong Tsafack said the push by African delegations for support and funding to exploit their gas reserves occurred mainly on the sidelines of the COP27 talks.
“The deals that are being negotiated are generally with companies from the global north,” he told the BBC.
African officials, however, insist that they have the right to exploit their resources and say that their COP27 negotiators have been given the authority to reject any agreement that forces them to decarbonize if it would hinder the development of the -department at risk in the future.
Any deal at COP27 should reflect the right of African countries to use their natural gas reserves, Reuters quoted African Development Bank president Akinwumi Adesina as saying.
The 2015 Paris climate agreement established the goal of limiting the rise in global temperatures above pre-industrial levels to well below 2C and aiming for 1.5C to avoid dangerous climate change.
The world has already warmed by 1.1C and the impacts of climate change – many of which are being felt in Africa – are accelerating and becoming more frequent.
This is why campaigners like Mohamed Adow of Power Shift Africa do not want to open new gas fields in Africa. He blames “a powerful cabal of fossil fuel companies” along with “African Stories” for the attempt to exploit gas.
“This would obviously be a disaster for the planet, but also for Africans, who are some of the most affected victims of climate change.”
Negotiators for some African governments say they are very aware of the needs of their people.
“The priority of African states now is to reduce poverty and not to save the planet,” said Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, the chief negotiator of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“When only 10% of our population has access to electricity what energy transfer [to clean energy] do you expect them to?
“First we need to make electricity accessible to 90-100% of our people, then we can think about energy efficiency, green energy and make the transition to renewable energy.”
Another senior negotiator in Africa, who did not want to be named, said that no country in the world would leave their energy resources unused.
“Even developed countries are returning to fossil fuels and if they criticize us, that’s a double standard.”
More than 5,000 billion cubic meters of natural gas resources have been discovered so far in Africa, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Sixteen African countries have significant gas reserves, with four of them – Algeria, Angola, Nigeria and Mozambique – holding 60% of the total.
“With the European Union aiming to stop Russian gas imports towards 2030, Africa could in principle supply an additional 30 billion cubic meters in 2030,” says the IEA’s Africa Energy Outlook 2022 report.
Mozambique exported gas to Europe for the first time this week and climate activists have accused European countries of “swapping the fossil fuel in Africa for immediate gain”.
One of the main arguments African negotiators have been pushing for climate finance to tap gas reserves is that gas is a much less polluting fossil fuel than coal and oil.
“European countries have reopened their coal-fired power plants for energy supply and coal is causing double the gas emissions,” says Mr Mpanu.
“How can you criticize Africa for exploiting gas?”
The continent currently accounts for around 4% of total global emissions.
Western countries are promoting gas as a transitional fuel for their net zero carbon emissions goals.
The European Parliament earlier this year supported a new European Union rule labeling investment in gas and nuclear power plants as climate-friendly.
However, scientists say that gas can be a major source of methane, a greenhouse gas that has 80 times more warming power than carbon dioxide, the world’s main source of emissions.
So it will be a tall order to convince delegates, especially those who call for an end to all fossil fuels, to agree to support the African gas push.
The COP27 world summit in Egypt is seen as crucial if climate change is to be brought under control. More than 200 countries are attending the summit to discuss further measures to reduce emissions and prepare for climate change, which could lead to major changes in our daily lives.