Poverty, not fossil fuel, biggest threat to climate in Africa

Smoke cloud rises from an oil petroleum refinery

A cloud of smoke rises from an oil petroleum refinery. It has become politically incorrect to talk about oil and gas as they are associated with global warming.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

We are being rushed into a fossil fuel-clean energy transition by climate activists since clean energy has little or no greenhouse gases, reduces carbon dioxide, and mitigates climate change.

It has become politically incorrect to talk about oil and gas as they are associated with greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

We are witnessing a significant shift in investments from fossil fuels to renewable energy projects. The future outlook of clean energy in Africa looks very bright.

We are aware of the existential threat of climate change and the need to transition to clean energy sources. But given our current social and economic realities, can we have a radical break with fossil fuels? No. We shall need both for the foreseeable future.

Climate change in Africa is not seriously threatened by fossil fuels. Our contribution to global greenhouse gases emissions is negligible—just three per cent of the global total.

Africa is still home to some thick forests which act as carbon sinks, absorbing the carbon emissions, and as a set-off for the carbon released into the atmosphere by fossil fuels.

The threat to climate in Africa is not fossil fuels; it is endemic poverty. Some 70 per cent of rural people cannot afford modern energy services like renewables.

Their only option is firewood, charcoal and agricultural residue for cooking and lighting needs. This not only produces carbon fumes but also destroys trees which serve as carbon sinks.

Poverty reduction

Climate change is also increased by deforestation and desertification caused by poor farming practices like overgrazing and over-cultivation and commercial activities such as logging and charcoal burning.

While we accept the place of renewable energy in the climate agenda, we cannot exclude poverty reduction and fossil fuels from that agenda.

To mitigate climate change, leaders must pull the people out of poverty. Oil and gas is Africa’s most lucrative natural resource.

The resources should be extracted and used to pay our external debts, uproot our people from poverty, invest in renewable energy and mitigate climate change. Special attention should be paid to development of natural gas resources; liquefied natural gas (LNG) releases fewer greenhouse gases.

Oil production by Tullow Oil is providing Ghana with a new source of foreign exchange earnings, which has enhanced its capacity to pay its external debts.

Ghana has also improved its credit ratings in the international financial markets, enabling it to borrow on more favourable terms.

Every country is unique. The transition should take into account the level of social development and the specific concrete realities of a country. We should use all the natural resources available to us, including fossil fuels, for the benefit of our people.

In Kenya, besides expanding our renewable energy sources, we should work with Tullow Oil in Turkana to extract our oil and pay external debts, fight poverty and implement the ‘Hustler’ agenda.

Part of the revenues can be invested in our renewable energy projects and implementing the President’s agenda of planting 15 billion trees, which will create a huge carbon sink and mitigate climate change effects.

We should exploit our oil and gas resources in the most sustainable and environment-friendly manner.

Oil and gas firms should be conscious of climate change concerns and support responsible global warming mitigation efforts. In the PSC negotiations and Field Development Plans, we should compel them to invest in clean energy.

- Mr Murungi, a former Energy and Petroleum minister, is the National Oil Corporation of Kenya chairman and senior partner at Humphrey and Company Advocates. [email protected].

(These are excerpts of his speech at the ongoing Australia-Africa Clean Energy Conference in Nairobi.)