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After more than six decades of oil exploitation in the Niger Delta, the region now ranks as one of the top ten most polluted places on earth. Water bodies, soils, and the air have all been stoked full of harmful pollutants, and life expectancy now stands at a dreary 41 years. (Photo: Jacob Silberberg via Getty Images)

After more than six decades of oil exploitation in the Niger Delta, the region now ranks as one of the top ten most polluted places on earth. Water bodies, soils, and the air have all been stoked full of harmful pollutants, and life expectancy now stands at a dreary 41 years. (Photo: Jacob Silberberg via Getty Images)

Fossil Fuel Expansion in Africa 'Not Compatible With a Safe Climate Future': Report

"There is now little to gain and everything to lose from building new fossil fuel projects," said Oil Change International.

Kenny Stancil

Fossil fuel corporations have plans to expand dirty energy extraction in Africa—proposing more than a trillion dollars worth of new oil, gas, and coal projects over the next three decades—even though such an undertaking would exacerbate climate chaos and create "stranded assets that leave behind unfunded clean-up, shortfalls of government revenue, and overnight job losses."

That's according to a new report published Thursday by Oil Change International in partnership with Oilwatch Africa, Africa Coal Network, 350Africa.org, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, WoMin African Alliance, and Center for International Environmental Law.

"Fossil fuel industry plans to sink USD $230 billion into the development of new extraction projects in Africa in the next decade—and USD $1.4 trillion by 2050—are not compatible with a safe climate future," note the authors, who advocate instead for a just transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

"It is a myth that fossil fuels equal development," Nnimmo Bassey, director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation and a Right Livelihood laureate, said in a statement. "Both the physical resources and the profits from these projects have overwhelmingly flowed out of Africa rather than addressing energy poverty on the continent."

"Meanwhile," he added, "pollution is the daily reality of our peoples and criminally harms nearby waterways, bodies, soils, and the air."

The fossil fuel industry's plans would reinforce longstanding patterns of exploitation and inequality, according to Oil Change International, which pointed out that "two-thirds of projected oil and gas expansion in Africa [from 2020 to 2050] will be owned by overseas corporations, who are structuring contracts to guard remaining revenues."

The new report comes one day after the International Energy Agency (IEA) reiterated its message that limiting global warming to 1.5°C by the end of the century requires keeping fossil fuels in the ground, meaning that no new oil, gas, and coal extraction should be approved—in Africa or anywhere in the world.

"If the fossil fuel industry extracts the oil, gas, and coal projected for production in Africa in the next three decades," the report states, "this will emit 62 billion tons of CO2. This is equivalent to 13% of the remaining carbon budget associated with a 50% chance of staying within a 1.5°C level of warming."

In addition to urging policymakers to swiftly phase out fossil fuel production and massively ramp up investments in clean energy to avert the worst of the climate emergency—which is already fueling deadly extreme weather across the globe and is projected to become even more "catastrophic" in the absence of rapid and far-reaching efforts to slash greenhouse gas emissions—the IEA has also warned that there is a growing risk of dirty energy projects becoming stranded assets in the coming years.

According to the new report, 71% of proposed fossil fuel production in Africa over the next three decades would either rely on more expensive methods, be located in "new entrant" countries with little or no existing oil, gas, and coal extraction, or both—putting those projects at a heightened risk of being abandoned and causing "overnight" unemployment, fiscal austerity, and unaddressed environmental harms.

Moreover, the opportunity costs of further exploration and investment in new oil, gas, and coal projects are enormous, as the fossil fuel industry's expansion across Africa would foreclose possibilities to build more egalitarian economies powered by clean energy.

"The risks of allowing the fossil fuel industry to continue with business as usual must also be compared with the alternative development opportunities on the table," the report states. "If countries do not start to develop the infrastructure and technologies that will enable them to implement clean energy sources, they could also be locked out of the coming low-carbon economy. Many countries in Africa have a comparative advantage for renewable energy."

Africa is home to nearly 40% of the world's renewable energy potential, notes the report, and over a third of the continent's "future fossil fuel emissions are not locked in."

"From 2020 to 2050, 46% of gas production, 36% of oil production, and 23% of coal production are projected to come from new projects that are neither in production nor under development currently," the researchers write. "This means there are little or no costs to cancel them."

As a result, the report points out, "African countries are poised to leapfrog directly to more advanced and affordable renewable energy technologies—which also lend themselves to democratic ownership models."

"Phasing out fossil fuel production does not mean halting the use and production of fossil fuels in Africa overnight," the authors emphasize. "Rather, it means starting widespread planning now to ensure there is time and resources for clean-up and for a just transition for the workers and communities that depend upon production."

"The costs of this phase-out," they add, "should not and cannot be borne equally: Wealthy countries in the Global North most responsible for historic and current emissions must move first and fastest to phase out their fossil fuel production and pay their fair share for the global energy transition."

Oil Change International stressed that "the escalating risks of fossil fuel extraction for economies, the climate, and frontline communities mean there is now little to gain and everything to lose from building new fossil fuel projects."

The authors of the report make the following recommendations:

  • Governments in Africa—and everywhere—should stop licensing and approvals for new fossil fuel projects now;
  • In African countries where fossil fuel production is already an established industry, governments should begin a gradual and managed phase-out of existing projects alongside a just transition led by workers and communities; and
  • In African countries where fossil fuel production is planned but not already established, governments should rapidly scale up the installation of renewable energy—taking advantage of the continent's unparalleled solar and wind power resources—to achieve universal energy access before 2030.

In a blog post written at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Bassey argued that "the petroleum civilization will have an end. And that end is near."

"It is for humans to decide," he added, "if we want an orderly transition or a haphazard and cataclysmic one."


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