Rich nations on the spot over climate crisis

US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry

US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry speaks at the opening of the US Pavilion during the COP27 climate conference at the Sharm-el-Sheikh International Convention Centre on November 8, 2022.

Photo credit: AFP

In Sharm-El-Sheikh, Egypt

Rich countries have been criticised for putting Africa on a “dangerous path” of dependency on fossil fuels.

The concern of the African delegation on climate justice comes amid ongoing and planned massive investments in oil and gas projects on the continent, which the activists have warned risk plunging the continent into the pit of fossil fuel-dependent development.
Activists under the Climate Action Network (CAN) said the global fossil fuels industry has been emboldened by the recent investments in oil and gas in Africa.

“You are locking Africa into a dangerous path of dependence on fossil fuels by investing in oil and gas projects on the continent,” said Ms Catherine Abreu of the Canadian Climate Institute.

The African delegation on climate justice agreed, noting that such oil projects will take long to implement and reap from while plunging the continent deeper into the pit of climate devastation for years. 

“Africa is already reeling from the effects of climate change such as drought and flooding that have been caused by consumption of fossil fuels. We must not allow the rich to take us away from the discussion on loss and damage,” argued Ms Abreu.

As Day 3 of the Conference of Parties (COP27) got underway yesterday in Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt, intense discussions on the role of fossil fuels in development took centre stage, putting delegates at cross purposes. 

Collectively, fossil fuels, including oil and coal, are the biggest contributors to carbon emissions in the world, accounting for more than 80 per cent of all emissions.
Kenya is the world’s 81st largest consumer of coal, considered the dirtiest polluter among fossil fuels.

Investments in the expansion and exploration of fossil fuels have increased in Africa in recent years as countries discover and explore their oil reserves. This has attracted major investments from large oil corporations, even as the world transitions to green energy.

In Uganda, for instance, French oil multinational Total Energies is financing a 1,400-kilometre pipeline to Tanzania at a cost of $5 billion (Sh600 billion). The oil pipeline has been mired in controversy since the beginning, three years ago, with major global financial institutions pulling out of an attractive reinsurance deal owing to its expected environmental implications.

In Kenya, extraction in the oilfields of Turkana County has been suspended for months after Tullow Oil and Africa Oil ran out of money for the project. Tullow and Africa Oil own 50 and 25 per cent of the stake respectively, with the rest going to Total Energies. Tullow is headquartered in London, the United Kingdom.

On Monday, President William Ruto brokered a five-year deal with the United Kingdom that will see the country invest Sh500 billion in green projects in Kenya.

“We commit to further our cooperation, particularly in the areas of regional peace and security, energy, agriculture, and infrastructure,” Dr Ruto said after holding talks with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on the sidelines of the climate summit.

While countries such as Kenya have been investing in green energy, the process has been slow, hampered by the inadequacy of resources and technical skills.

The high cost of installation at the individual level has also curtailed uptake, with most households across the country compelled to keep relying on other forms of energy.
Polish climate justice energy activist Dominika Lasota, though, argued that there is “no energy security with fossil fuels in the picture”.

“We will be told it is expensive to transition. But we must do it,” she said, emphasising that the world cannot continue “to support dictators and sponsoring wars and aggression in different countries to feed our addiction to fossil fuels”.

On the recent withdrawal of the oil subsidy that the Kenyan government has been providing to cushion the citizens from high prices, Mohamed Adow of PowerShift Africa said this is a win-win for climate and the rising cost of living.  “We are on the right path in terms of climate and cost. We just need to sustain the growth of renewables so that Kenya can attain energy sovereignty,” he noted. 

CAN has also called on governments in Africa to repackage their development as climate projects and to compel “historic polluters” to pay for them.

However, Mr Adow admits, this puts Africa at a crossroads. “We can become a global leader in clean energy, but we can also follow in the footsteps of historical polluters and continue to damage the planet. It is upon Africa to tap into this opportunity by doing the right thing.”
The world is currently battling the worst energy crisis in years, owing to the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. Activists, however, say calling it an energy crisis makes governments unaccountable for reducing their carbon emissions. 
By blaming the Russian invasion of Ukraine for the energy mess, the world is merely looking for a scapegoat, according to Zimbabwean climate and environmental activist Lorraine Chiponda.
She accused rich nations of turning their focus on Africa with attempts to reframe the narrative of loss and damage, by rushing to exploit Africa’s oil deposits.
“Investing in oil and gas is to introduce false solutions to [Africa’s developmental needs] and take away from the table the critical discussion of the reduction of usage,” said Ms Chiponda.
Instead, Ms Abreu said, rich nations should develop facilities that allow poor countries to build their resilience and cease the “sanitisation” of oil and gas. 

“We hope this COP will make a difference by standing up for energy justice,” she said.
In November last year, European countries committed to scaling down consumption of fossil fuels to reduce their carbon emissions, only to back down on the commitment as soon as Russia invaded Ukraine, affecting oil supplies and triggering a global energy crisis.

The Fossil Fuels Treaty, however, rubbishes the mess, calling it a “fossil fuels crisis”. The treaty is an umbrella group of civil society organisations that demand for decarbonisation of the world.

In recent years, allegations about oil industries funding anti-science campaigns to derail the decarbonisation process have emerged.

“There is no other definition for decarbonisation. It means moving away from fossil fuels. The Global North must support the Global South in its energy transition,” said Ms Abreu, calling for strict utilisation of money dedicated to transition projects.