Dash for fossil gas would be a great folly for Africa

Smoke cloud rises from an oil petroleum refinery

A cloud of smoke rises from an oil petroleum refinery. Rather than grab the moment to urge Europe to accelerate its transition to renewable energy, some African leaders appear happy to provide Europeans with fossil fuels.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

For a long time, Africans, on the frontlines of the climate crisis, have urged rich countries in Europe and America to wean themselves of fossil fuels and substantially cut greenhouse emissions.

Africans face devastating droughts, rising temperatures and lethal storms, like 2019’s Cyclone Idai, but Europe was happy to get addicted to Russian gas supplies.  Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a wake-up call with Europe desperate for gas and, ironically, they are turning to Africa.

Worryingly, rather than grab the moment to urge Europe to accelerate its transition to renewable energy, some African leaders appear happy to provide Europeans with fossil fuels, which will heap more suffering on the continent. Recently, some African leaders at the Sustainable Energy for All summit in Rwanda called for more gas development.

This is a terrible time for Africa to deal in fossil fuels. European countries know the future of global energy is renewable. Even before the war in Ukraine, they had announced when they would achieve net zero emissions and had started to switch off fossil fuel power stations and build wind and solar plants.

Taxing high-carbon imports

The danger is, Africa could pour its limited financial reserves into fossil fuel extraction and export industry for Europeans, who will only use us for a few years until their investments in renewables come online and they stop buying. In fact, Europe has made its plan to phase out dirty imports clear: Their new Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism will further accelerate their transition by taxing high-carbon imports, helping to bolster and grow their local cleaner industry. Europe has shown their cards: They want to shift their dirty industry to Africa, and they want Africa to pay the price.

It would be pure folly for Africa to shackle itself with fossil fuel infrastructure that will be redundant in a few years, not to mention self-harming. Rather than trudge along in the fossil fuel footsteps of Europe, we need to be much smarter, to invest in the clean energy of the future and leapfrog the polluting fuels that Europe is trying to wean itself of.

Reduce emissions

Oil and gas companies in Europe and North America are also turning their sights on Africa as fossil fuels lose their political appeal and those countries seek to reduce their emissions. They are switching their lobbying efforts to make the case for African fossil fuels in a bid to survive the loss of support back home. Africa should recognise these efforts for what they are: A cynical attempt at squeezing profits out of a polluting and failing industry, leave Africa holding the stranded assets during the inevitable transition and totally disregard its climate suffering.

The cost to provide Africa access to clean, affordable and reliable energy by 2030 has been estimated by Damilola Ogunbiyi, the CEO of Sustainable Energy for All, at $30 billion (Sh3 trillion) a year. This is the long-term vision that we need to invest in, one where we are powered by the vast wind and solar resources at our disposal, not chasing the short-term fossil fuel dollar that will vanish quickly and radically escalate trouble for our climate.

Mr Adow is the director of Power Shift Africa. @mohadow