African leaders must move from fossil fuel discussions, say protesters

“It is so ironic that in the week of COP26 happening in Glasgow, where we are trying to solve and fight the climate crisis, that people are meeting here, talking about how they can extract more fossil fuels, particularly oil and gas from the African continent.” 

These were the words of the South African team leader for environment group 350 Africa.org, Glen Taylor-Davies, who led a group of protesters outside the Africa Energy Week conference taking place in Cape Town on Wednesday, 10 November.

As part of the Afrika Vuka platform, made up of organisations from across the African continent, the protesters wanted to bring a message to conference delegates that fossil fuels were not the solution to Africa’s climate crisis, Taylor-Davies said.

“People are fighting against these sorts of fossil-fuel projects in their communities. Communities are being displaced in Uganda and Tanzania, communities are impacted in Namibia and Botswana by fracking, and we wanted to allow them to bring their voices here,” said Taylor-Davies.

“They cannot afford a $1 500 ticket to attend the conference, but they are the people who are impacted by these projects, so we wanted to bring that message to this conference that Africa’s future is not about fossil-fuel energy, it is about renewable energy, and we are going to see renewable energy and a just transition to renewable energy so that people are able to own their own energy generation and that they benefit from it.”

At the opening of the conference, various energy ministers from across the continent said  Africa was not in a position to abandon the use of fossil fuels as an energy source, but Taylor-Davies told the Mail & Guardian that the energy poverty on the continent would be ended through the implementation of cheaper sources of energy.

“People need access to energy and it needs to be affordable. The ministers saying that we need to exploit our fossil fuel reserves in Africa — it is saddening and frustrating to hear that because climate change is impacting Africa the worst,” he said.

“These ministers need to wake up, we cannot keep exploiting fossil fuel reserves because the impact on the people that they are supposed to represent is going to be terrible.”

Taylor-Davies said the ongoing electricity load-shedding in the country as state power utility Eskom grappled with breakdowns was a perfect example of how unreliable fossil fuel energy is. Eskom supplies the bulk of South Africa’s electricity, most of it coal-fired.

“We have a minister who is supporting fossil fuel energy that is letting us down right now. There is load-shedding. Where is that load-shedding coming from? It is coming from the breakdown and the unreliability of coal plants, whereas renewable energy can be built quickly and it is affordable,” Taylor-Davies said.

Conference organiser the African Energy Chamber said the environmental groups were free to join the summit, provided they were not “violent” and did not “disrupt” the proceedings.

In a media statement released shortly after the protesters were asked to move from the venue entrance by officers of the South African Police Service, the chamber said it believed the ongoing protests against fossil fuels and energy producers should be part of the conversation on Africa’s energy future.

“The Africa Energy Chamber cannot push for inclusive dialogue within the global energy landscape if there is no inclusivity within Africa’s energy dialogue,” chair NJ Ayuk said.

“By inviting the protesters to take part in the conversation at the conference, the chamber is focused on providing everyone with the equal opportunity to take part in engaging and deliberate on energy and Africa.”

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Marcia Zali
Marcia Zali is an award winning journalist

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