OPINION: The launch of an oil and gas licensing round in the Democratic Republic of Congo last week perfectly illustrates the dichotomy at the heart of the energy transition in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Like Kinshasa, many African governments want to explore for and develop hydrocarbons but are pressured by international and domestic anti-fossil fuel proponents to instead focus their energies on renewables, skipping the benefits accruing from oil and gas under the right governance conditions.
African government agendas are also at the mercy of the civil society pressures placed on Western institutions and governments to stop funding overseas hydrocarbon projects.
If foreign finance cannot be secured, the only alternative is to create a dedicated African bank to finance energy projects, while looking to Middle Eastern and Asian investors to replace their Western counterparts.
Even so, media savvy, politically astute and well-funded campaign groups — many based in the wealthy, industrialised West — will continue to protest and use the courts to stop any hydrocarbon activities.
Underpinning the views of most non-profits is a statement made in 2021 by the International Energy Agency (IEA) — an organisation without any African members — which said no new oil and gas fields must be developed for the world to reach net zero by 2050.
However, just two months ago, the IEA explicitly said in an Africa-specific report that the continent will continue to develop gas and countries with indigenous resources would build 30 gigawatts of new gas-fired power plants by 2030.
“In regions with low levels of access to modern energy and new natural gas discoveries, such as Mozambique, gas developments can support industrialisation while helping to extend access to electricity,” it stated, adding that gas will also be exported.
Cumulative carbon dioxide emissions from Africa using 90 billion cubic metres of gas resources over the next 30 years would be 10 gigatonnes, says the IEA, equivalent to just four months of global emissions from the energy sector today.
Furthermore, if all this extra gas is used, then Africa’s share of cumulative energy‐related CO2 emissions since 1890 would only increase from 3% now to 3.5% in 2030.
This IEA data and the agency's practical energy development scenario for Africa is ignored by anti-fossil fuel groups who see no role for gas.
The aim of these campaign groups is laudable — tackling global emissions and drawing attention to biodiversity issues and corruption linked to extractive industries — but to some in government and business, it appears campaigners do not want African nations to industrialise.
African fossil fuel advocates say no country has developed without using coal, oil and gas and fear the continent is being scapegoated, while the biggest emitters exploit oil and gas unhindered.
Some observers think industrial nations should cut their hydrocarbon production — and emissions — to allow Africa to boost its hydrocarbon output.
If Africa cannot exploit its hydrocarbons, others say the continent’s leaders must raise the spectre of climate reparations.
The numbers are staggering, with a recent study estimating the US and China caused $3.6 trillion of income losses from global warming between 1990 and 2014, with African nations the worst affected.
Perhaps it's time for Africa to talk tough.
(This is an Upstream opinion article.)
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