Africa’s natural resources are at the heart of a heated debate about how to balance economic growth and tackle global warming.
At Egypt’s current COP27 negotiations, dubbed by some as the “African COP,” the continent’s leaders are seeking support and funding to tap Africa’s vast gas reserves, arguing that gas is less polluting than alternative fossil fuels. fuels such as coal and oil. This argument has already been endorsed by the European Union.
African leaders argue that their countries should harness their reserves to generate electricity and make it available to millions of their people who do not have access to the electricity 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 benefited from polluting fossil fuels, so Africa should not be prevented from exploiting its cleaner natural gas to raise the standard of living on the continent.
But climate campaigners and low-island delegates have said this will lock Africa into fossil fuel use for years to come and make the crucial goal of slowing global temperature rise more difficult.
They say the continent should instead embrace renewable energy, pointing out that Africa has 60% of the world’s solar energy potential, but only 1% of the world’s installed solar capacity is located on the continent.
“Fossil fuels must be phased out; they must remain in the ground. Africa’s backyard will not become Europe’s front yard,” Greenpeace Africa said in a statement.
His spokesman Mbong Tsafack said the push from African delegations for aid and funding to exploit their gas reserves was mainly done on the sidelines of the COP27 talks.
“The deals being negotiated are generally with companies from the north of the world,” he told the BBC.
However, African officials insist they have the right to exploit their resources and say their COP27 negotiators have been given the power to reject any deal that forces them to go low-carbon if it jeopardizes the continent’s future development.
Any deal at COP27 should reflect the right of African countries to use their natural gas reserves, Reuters said, African Development Bank president Akinwumi Adesina said.
The 2015 Paris climate agreement set the goal of limiting global temperature rise above pre-industrial levels to well below 2°C and aiming for 1.5°C to prevent dangerous climate change.
The world has already warmed by 1.1°C and the impacts of climate change – many of which are being felt in Africa – are accelerating and becoming more prevalent.
That is why campaigners like Mohamed Adow of Power Shift Africa do not want new gas fields to be opened in Africa. He blames a “powerful cabal of fossil fuel companies” along with “African elites” for the pressure to exploit gas.
“This would clearly be a disaster for the planet, but also for Africans, who are among the most acutely affected victims of climate change.”
Negotiators for some African governments say they are very aware of the needs of their people.
“African states’ priority now is to reduce poverty and not to save the planet,” said Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, chief negotiator for the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“If only 10% of our population has access to electricity, what an energy transition [to clean energy] do you expect them to make?
“First we need to make electricity accessible to 90-100% of our people, then we can think about energy efficiency, green energy and the transition to renewable energy sources.”
Another leading African negotiator, who declined to be named, said no country in the world would waste its energy resources.
“Even developed countries are going back to fossil fuels and when they criticize us, double standards are applied.”
More than 5,000 billion cubic meters of natural gas have been discovered in Africa to date, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Sixteen African countries have significant gas reserves, four of which – Algeria, Angola, Nigeria and Mozambique – hold 60% of the total.
“With the European Union aiming to halt Russian gas imports by 2030, Africa could in principle supply an additional 30 billion cubic meters by 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 “monetizing Africa’s fossil fuel for their immediate gain”.
One of the main arguments of African negotiators pushing for climate finance to tap gas reserves has been that gas is a much less polluting fossil fuel than coal and oil.
“European countries have reopened their coal-fired power stations for energy supply, while coal causes twice as many emissions as gas,” says Mpanu.
“How can you condemn Africa for chasing gas?”
The continent currently accounts for about 4% of total global emissions.
Western countries have promoted gas as a transition fuel for their net zero carbon emissions targets.
Earlier this year, the European Parliament supported the European Union’s new rule that labels investments in gas and nuclear power plants as climate-friendly.
However, scientists say gas could be a major source of methane, a greenhouse gas that has 80 times more warming power than carbon dioxide, the world’s leading source of emissions.
So it will be quite a task to convince delegates, especially those demanding an end to all fossil fuels, to agree with Africa’s pursuit of gas.
The global climate summit COP27 in Egypt is seen as crucial to bring climate change 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.