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Young people hold up banners as they take part in a global climate march in Wakiso, Uganda on September 20, 2019. (Photo: Isaac Kasamani/AFP via Getty Images)

Campaigners Warn Against 'Reckless' Fossil Fuel Expansion in Africa

"It would be the ultimate betrayal of African people if their leaders missed the opportunity to become a renewable energy superpower by locking us into a doomed experiment with fossil fuels that is hurting Africa through climate breakdown."

Jenna McGuire

A coalition of African NGOs released a statement on Wednesday denouncing African leaders' plan to develop new dirty energy projects, saying it would have drastic consequences for the continent and lock the region into a fossil fuel-based future.

"Africa needs to wake up and stop behaving like Europe's petrol stations and always looking at resolving their energy problems, it is now time to think collectively on what's best for the continent and its people."

An African Union committee—which the advocacy groups noted is "made up of energy, not climate ministers"—recently unveiled the "African Common Position on Energy Access and Transition." The proposal, which promotes an energy policy that centers fossil gas and nuclear energy over cleaner and cheaper renewables, will be put forward for adoption by African heads of state at the United Nations' COP27 in November 2022.

"The African Union would be crazy to shackle their countries to fossil fuel infrastructure just as the era of polluting fossil fuels is coming to an end," said Joab Okanda, Pan Africa senior advocacy adviser at Christian Aid. "The African Union is in danger of falling for the con of African gas at a time when other countries are investing in renewables, which will be what powers development and progress in coming decades."

The proposal comes on the heels of the European Union's recent vote in favor of a new rule that will classify fossil gas and nuclear projects as 'green'—making them eligible for low-cost loans and subsidies, while easing the process to acquire Africa's energy resources.

Environmental activists see the E.U. decision as furthering the goal of shifting dangerous nuclear technologies away from Europe and onto African soil.

Fatima Ahouli of Climate Action Network Arab World rebuked rich countries for treating the continent like a "gold mine" and demanded "a shutdown of these colonialist mindsets that only lead to more conflicts and accelerate humanity's doomsday."

Omar Elmawi, coordinator of #StopEACOP, said that "Africa needs to wake up and stop behaving like Europe's petrol stations and always looking at resolving their energy problems, it is now time to think collectively on what's best for the continent and its people."

In June the International Energy Agency released the Africa Energy Outlook 2022 report that "called on the continent to profit from the 90 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas that it could potentially produce per year until 2030," while other countries around the world are shifting away from fossil fuels.

The IEA report suggests a full third of that production should be exported to overseas markets. Landry Ninteretse of 350 Africa, said the push "will primarily benefit the fossil fuel industry and Western societies seeking to fill the gap left by current shortages from Russia."

Critics say the IEA's guidance to Africa is in opposition to the agency's landmark report released last year, which clearly stated that there was no room for continued production of fossil fuels by any country or continent in order to reach net-zero carbon emissions.

Noting the IEA's warning that "there is no room for new fossil fuels," Charity Migwi, Africa regional campaigner at 350.org, said that "the development of gas would not only lock African nations into fossil fuel production but would also undermine any plans to rapidly cut greenhouse gas emissions in a bid to keep global temperatures under 1.5°C, in order to avert even more catastrophic climate impacts."

Lorraine Chiponda, Africa Coal Network coordinator, called African leaders' push for gas developments and investment "overwhelming and reckless" while millions of Africans are suffering from worsening droughts, hunger, recurring floods, and cyclones exacerbated by the climate crisis. Chiponda also highlighted that fossil fuel projects historically have failed to solve energy poverty on the continent.

"The acceleration of gas projects in Africa is another colonial and modern 'Scramble and Partition of Africa' amongst energy corporations and 'rich' countries," Chiponda said. "Fossil fuel projects have neither solved energy poverty in Africa where 600 million people in Africa still live in energy poverty nor brought any socioeconomic justice to African people. We shall continue to strengthen calls for a people's just transition away from fossil fuels."

Sixbert Mwanga, coordinator of Climate Action Network Africa, pointed out the vast resources of high-quality renewables in Africa including solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal. He called on the Africa Union and the continent's leaders to change course at COP27 and "announce the utilization of these sources for the benefit of our people and leave aside fossil fuel development for export."

According to Okanda, "It would be the ultimate betrayal of African people if their leaders missed the opportunity to become a renewable energy superpower by locking us into a doomed experiment with fossil fuels that is hurting Africa through climate breakdown."


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