African countries cling to fossil fuels despite climate call
A gas flare in Nigeria’s delta region a symbol of hope, supporters of the country’s fossil fuel industry say – Copyright AFP Manjunath Kiran
StÃ©phane Barbier with the AFP Africa offices
African oil and gas producers are likely to pay little attention to the growing clamor to scrap fossil fuels, the main driver of the global climate crisis.
Adding to the pressure, the UN climate summit in Glasgow this month called for more efforts for a “gradual reduction” of unhindered coal emissions and “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”.
The appeal was diluted after hours of torturous debate, but it was historic nonetheless. It was the first time that a UN text made specific reference to energy sources causing global warming.
But African producer countries may well turn a deaf ear to calls for rapid fossil reduction.
Compared to giant polluters, they contribute little to the greenhouse gas problem – and many argue that forgoing oil and gas at this point could cripple development and worsen poverty.
“Limiting the development of fossil fuel projects and, in particular, natural gas projects, would have a profoundly negative impact on Africa,” said recently Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, whose country is the main producer of fossil fuels from Africa.
Natural gas “is a crucial tool for lifting people out of poverty” in many African countries, he warned.
Osinbajo took up the well-informed argument that a global shift away from carbon-based fuels must take into account the economic differences between countries.
For the poorest countries, âthe transition must not come at the expense of affordable and reliable energyâ¦ (and) the right to sustainable development and the eradication of poverty,â he said.
– “Debt and corruption” –
But his widely held idea that fossil fuel development helps eradicate poverty comes up against hard facts.
In African countries that have profited from oil and gas production, a small part of the windfall has fallen on the poorest, and suspicions of unlimited corruption and sickening waste run deep.
In Angola, the second largest producer of crude in sub-Saharan Africa, oil accounts for half of gross domestic product and 89% of exports.
Yet more than half of the 34 million people survive on less than $ 2 a day and the unemployment rate is 31%.
President Joao Lourenco has launched an anti-corruption campaign aimed at raising billions of dollars that he suspects were embezzled under his predecessor JosÃ© Eduardo dos Santos.
“If you look at the model of fossil fuels in Africa, it is very clear that they have not contributed” to development, said Daniel Ribeiro, environmental activist from Mozambique.
Instead, he said, “it increases debt, it increases corruption.”
In his own country, authorities have drawn up ambitious plans to exploit huge deposits of natural gas off its northeast coast.
Ribeiro has accused multinational fossil fuel companies of using tax havens, with the result that Mozambique’s economy will derive little revenue from the expected boom.
Instead, the profits go to the “ruling elite” and the Frelimo party, in power since independence in 1975, he accused.
This is why the Mozambican government “is really fighting against any kind of ‘no gas’ movement,” he said.
In West Africa, anger is mounting in CÃ´te d’Ivoire among people who say they have seen little wealth reaching them after decades of oil and gas exploitation on the oil-rich coast.
At the end of October, residents blocked work to lay a new gas pipeline.
“They have been extracting oil since I was born and I live in poverty,” said Duval Nevry, 27, in the village of Addah.
“I don’t understand why a village that has an oil rig doesn’t have a fire station and no secondary school, or why hospitals don’t have supplies,” added Jean Biatchon N’Drin, 32 years old.
– Financing key –
While African countries are aware of the downsides of oil and gas, they also see relatively little help in switching to cleaner renewables.
The continent has enormous potential for solar, wind and other green energy sources.
The International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that with access to appropriate finance, renewables could account for up to 67% of power generation in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030.
In 2009, rich countries pledged to mobilize $ 100 billion a year by 2020 to help vulnerable countries fight climate change.
The promise is broken and is further clouded by the debate over how the money should be allocated.
A dozen years ago, funds were expected to focus on helping developing countries make the transition to cleaner energy.
Since then, a series of catastrophic droughts and floods have sparked calls for the funds to be used more to bolster climate defenses rather than to reduce carbon emissions.
But that money would be a fraction of what is needed anyway.
Billions of dollars, not billions, are needed just to adapt to the impacts of global warming, according to a draft report by UN scientific experts, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC ), which is expected to be published early next year.
“The question of financing remains one of the major challenges to be taken up,” said Cheikh Tidiane Wade, a Senegalese geographer specializing in climate.
strawberries-stb / ck / dl / ri