Africa is not a ‘gas station’, European countries eyeing gas fields warned

Homa Bay Governor Gladys Wanga take a photo with some Kenyans at the COP27

Homa Bay Governor Gladys Wanga take a photo with some Kenyans at the COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh City, Egypt on November 14, 2022.

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

In Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt

Keep off Africa’s fossil fuel reserves. That is the message delegates defending the continent at the ongoing climate change conference have for Europe.

This was a reaction to reports that European governments have deployed more than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists to the ongoing United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) to promote gas as a “transition fuel”.

While releasing the findings from a new report titled Fossil Fuelled Fallacy: How the Dash for Gas in Africa Will Fail to Deliver on Development, several experts deconstructed arguments deployed by the fossil fuel industry and a number of European governments to justify their dash for gas in Africa.

“This report confirms that the pro-gas rhetoric of governments is in no way intended to help the African continent ‘develop’. It is once again a trap to lock us into the role of ‘gas station’ so that we’re useful to the Global North,” said Mohamed Adow, a director at Nairobi-based Power Shift Africa. He added that the continent does not need more fossil fuel. 

“What Africa needs is a decentralised and democratic energy system based on our rich renewables potential. This is the real solution to end energy apartheid in Africa and put the world on the path to a just transition,” he said.

Dean Bhekumuzi Bhebhe of Don’t Gas Africa is of the view that Europe does not mean well for Africa.

“European governments, multinational fossil fuel companies, and their financial backers are all too willing to subject Africans to pollution, environmental degradation, and more frequent and severe climate impacts, while they profit at our expense. The economic, social, and environmental risks associated with these mega-projects are too great and will only hamper the sustainable development of the continent,” he said.

Mr Bhebhe’s sentiments were lauded by his colleague, Lorraine Chiponda.

“If the dash for gas across Africa goes ahead, the continent will once again be subject to the unequal and unjust trade relations of the past, pulling wealth out of Africa and poisoning our land, water, and air,” she explained while urging African leaders to rise to the occasion.

Bridge shortfall

According to the new report, European governments have joined multinational fossil fuel companies in a dash for gas on the continent to bridge the shortfall of Russian gas in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine.

“Sensing the opportunity to take advantage of global gas prices, develop African gas infrastructure and establish new export markets, African leaders and elites are misappropriating the language of climate justice and economic prosperity to legitimise a huge expansion in gas production,” pointed out NJ Ayuk, the executive chairman of the African Energy Chamber during the African Energy Week conference in October.

The report reminds African governments that despite the flurry of deals, risky investments, and their willingness to expand fossil fuel production, there are concerns that the dash for gas in the continent is both dangerous and short-sighted.

“Expanding fossil gas production in Africa will devastate the natural environment, communities, and the climate, with its credentials as a cleaner ‘bridge’ fuel often exaggerated and distorted,” it said.

Speaking to the Nation on the sidelines of the COP27, the African Union’s High Representative for Infrastructure Raila Odinga raised similar concerns.

“The fact that African countries are being exploited when it comes to fossil fuels cannot be blamed on the West but on Africans themselves. Ask the African countries exporting petroleum why they don’t have refineries. The reason is the commissioning we have made outside of Africa.

“While it is true that fossil fuel usage will not disappear tomorrow, we need to have a transition and we must all agree to go green. It is the only way that we will be able to save the globe and this requires a global approach and determination of all countries both from the Global South and the Global North,” he said.

The experts said the AU is now faced with the choice to either give in to lobbying from the fossil fuel industry and European governments or prioritise investments and incentives towards the energy sources with the greatest potential to provide reliable, affordable and universal access to low-carbon, sustainable energy.

“The International Energy Agency has said investors should not fund new oil, gas, and coal supply projects if the world wants to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century ...” the experts’ joint official statement said.