OPINION: International organisations are increasingly calling on Africa to keep its vast oil and gas resources in the ground to help save the planet.

Can it be fair to ask governments on the continent — which hosts 10% of the world’s oil reserves and 8% of all natural gas — to just walk away from huge investments in nurturing local industries, developing gas-to-power infrastructure and the hard-earned indigenous skills base?

A continent where millions languish in energy poverty and growth per capita in gross domestic product is forecast for 2020 at -4.9% — and -7.4% for oil exporters — is being asked to forego the stimulus of hydrocarbons-fuelled development that propelled industrialised countries to power.

Africa’s oil and gas exporters are urged by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to become “proactive” in the wake of permanently depressed oil and gas prices, even as demographic trends indicate Africa's energy needs will overtake Asia's by 2050.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) and Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) jointly declared the current Covid-19 outbreak as a “golden opportunity” to phase out public support for fossil fuels and persuade lenders not to bankroll new projects.

Former Irish president Mary Robinson famously told last year’s UN Climate Action Summit that the science is clear and leaders must act on the outrage of millions of "climate strikers" to end the use of fossil fuels.

Africa should bite the bullet and join in the detox, so runs the argument. Leaving “unburnable fuel” in the ground is the smart thing to do, not least to avert community conflict arising from ecological deterioration.

Others disagree, arguing the IMF, IEA and OECD do not always know best and have been proved wrong before, and that saddling Africans with more aid to compensate for an oil and gas slowdown will do nothing to realise sustainable investment goals.

“The call to leave fossil fuels in the ground is a Western narrative and fails to factor in the needs of low-income Africans who would gain from a strategic approach to oil and gas operations, job creation and local enterprise opportunities,” says African Energy Chamber chair NJ Ayuk.

Mitigating the impacts of Covid-19 across Africa ought rather to focus on fuel subsidy reforms, and on guiding public funds and private equity lending to oil and gas projects that bring light and hope to the poor, gas-to-power initiatives that target stranded and marginal fields, and projects that generate growth.

When the long-delayed African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTFA) kicks in next year, there will be 1.2 billion people across 55 nations needing access to an integrated regional energy market that can support local supply chains and intra-African trade on a scale never seen before.

Some 13 African countries consume domestically produced gas or import it from neighbours.

Indigenous entrepreneurs and Africans who care about energy poverty need breathing space to develop local resources, but Black and African voices are being ignored, says Ayuk.

Half of all Africans lack access to electricity — on a continent that produces just 2% of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions — but the unscientific global warming consensus insists they have no room for manoeuvre, and should look to the sun and wind for succour.

The American Association of Petroleum Geologists is not alone in questioning the significance of anthropogenic impacts on climate change.

The science is far from settled, and Africa should not be the sacrificial lamb in the drive to carbon neutrality.

(This is an Upstream opinion article.)