/ 4 November 2022

COP27: Scramble for Africa’s gas – and some countries on the continent keen to comply

Reducing imports: Nigeria’s Kaduna Refinery is expected to resume operations by 2023. Photo: Andrew Holt/Getty Images

On the eve of crucial climate talks in Egypt, Africa’s top energy official has criticised the “hypocrisy” and “double standards” of Western countries who want Africa’s natural gas following the fallout from Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“It had to take a war in Ukraine for the West to realise Africa is capable of providing energy through gas,” said Amani Abou-Zeid, the African Union commissioner for infrastructure and energy. “Just two to three months ago, those same Europeans who were lecturing us on ‘no gas’ say they’ll make a compromise.”

“Europe, after all, used not just natural gas, but far dirtier fuels like coal, for hundreds of years to drive an age of empire-building and industrialisation.” 

That several African countries are doubling down on their plans to develop new natural gas fields for domestic and export purposes is likely to be a source of tension at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh next week in what has been called the “Africa COP”. 

The other contentious issues that will be at the forefront of the climate summit include the poor flows of pledged climate finance from wealthy polluting countries to developing countries, climate-induced loss and damage and how vulnerable nations adapt to the adverse effects of climate change. 

Africa is the least developed continent, producing only 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but is on the front line of the climate crisis. 

“The UN climate talks are often very complex,” Khadija Mohamed Al-Makhzoumi, the Federal Republic of Somalia’s minister for environment and climate change, said in a statement. 

But, she said, at its core the issues are pretty straightforward.

 “The rich world has created the climate crisis. They have agreed they will pay to clean it up, but they have broken their promise and left those that have done the least to cause it to suffer and try and cope with the consequences. That is why climate change is an issue of injustice.”

The Africa COP should not neglect Africa’s concerns, Christina Duarte, the special adviser of the United Nations secretary general on Africa wrote this week. For African countries, access to electricity is no longer just an equity and economic development issue. “It has real and severe implications for the continent’s peace and security, with a growing demand for food and energy and a young population demanding better futures.”

Although the continent is home to 17% of the world’s population, it represents only 3.3% of global primary energy consumption, 1.1% of electricity generation and 3% of global energy use in industry. 

Each African country is at varying stages of its energy journey, she said. “Some have achieved a 100% electricity access rate, while others are well below 50%. Some countries already generate over 90% of their energy using green energy resources.” 

About half of Africa’s population — 600-million people — still don’t have electricity. Countries such as Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia boast a 100% electricity rate, while South Sudan, Chad, Central African Republic, Malawi and Niger have among the lowest levels of access. 

Countries that are leading on renewable energy on the continent include Ghana, Kenya, Zambia and Ethiopia. 

“There are also countries with large natural gas endowments and economies driven mainly by fossil fuel generation and export,” said Duarte.

“It is therefore unconscionable to arm-twist the entire continent into accepting an unrealistic ‘only renewables from now on’ argument, knowing full well that renewables can only be a part of the equation in the path to a sustainable energy future.” 

She said the continent’s future and its transformation lie in a “balanced energy mix, if all are truly committed to the principle of ‘no one left behind’”.

Ovigwe Eguegu, a Nigerian policy adviser at consultancy Development Reimagined, said Nigeria’s position at COP27 would be to “support gas as part of the solution, because we need stable energy first, and then we can discuss how clean it is”.

For many African leaders, the main focus is to ensure that the world leaders who will be present at COP27 understand that Africa needs energy to “electrify every African home” and “that gas projects benefit Africa first before Western countries, Eguegu said. 

“If Europe is using gas as a transition fuel or for political calculations, why shouldn’t we?”

Akinwumi Adesina, the president of the African Development Bank, encouraged European countries to move urgently beyond grandstanding. 

“Even Europe’s energy transition was not possible without gas. Reality is reality,” he said. 

There are also widespread reports that countries such as Germany and Austria are turning back to coal following the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Europe is weighing up a future without Russian gas, Al Jazeera recently reported. “European Union countries are negotiating a common response to the energy crisis while seeking to strike deals with alternative gas providers.”

In July, the AU said its member states had adopted a common position on energy and the just energy transition, which details how the continent will continue to use all forms of its abundant energy resources, including renewables and non-renewable energy, to address energy demand. 

“Natural gas, green and low carbon hydrogen and nuclear energy will therefore be expected to play a crucial role in expanding modern energy access in the short to medium term while enhancing the uptake of renewables in the long term for low-carbon and climate-resilient trajectory.”

But the “dash for gas” in Africa is dangerous and short-sighted, according to Don’t Gas Africa, an African civil society campaign working to ensure the continent is not locked into fossil fuel production. 

“Rather than provide Europe with more climate-damaging fossil fuels, Africa’s development agenda and the climate emergency call on us to rapidly shift away from harmful fossil fuels-based technologies towards a renewable energy future,” read an open letter to the AU. 

Energy deficit: Compare city lights in Africa to those of the Global North. About half of Africa’s population doesn’t have electricity. Photo: NASA

It said the common position “lacks critical analysis about the causes of energy poverty, the energy transition required, long term climate policy scenarios, the associated risks of stranded assets, the threat of fossil fuel production to sustainable development and much more”.

Success at COP27 ultimately rests on its ability to get money flowing from wealthy countries to those most in need — at the pace and scale required to match the climate crisis, said a report released by Power Shift Africa this week.

“One of the biggest points of tension at COP27 will be the developed world’s failure so far to fulfil its promise to mobilise $100-billion a year in finance by 2020. As well as meeting that sum, developed countries need to set out how they will increase it from 2025,” the report said.

Duarte wrote that not only has this figure never been reached “but little of the billions also reported as climate funding is new”, and Africa’s share has been less than a third of what has been made available. “Indeed, expectations of massive flexible transfers from rich countries to enable developing countries to invest in their climate futures is, at best, misleading.”

Achieving reliable electricity supply for all would require an almost fourfold increase to about $120-billion annually to 2040. 

“If past performance is an indicator, this number will not magically increase,” Duarte said. “Moreover, financial markets and private sector actors will not suddenly change their business models to grant concessional financing and reduced profit targets for African energy projects, renewable or otherwise.” 

South Africa’s minister for forestry, fisheries and the environment, Barbara Creecy, said that most climate finance available to developing countries is in the form of loans. 

“We do see a situation where many developing countries are facing heavy indebtedness. And we want to make sure whatever finance is available … is not adding to the burden developing countries are facing.”

Duarte said African countries should take lessons from the “Just Energy Transition Partnership to support South Africa’s decarbonisation”, one of the most prominent achievements of COP26 held in Glasgow, Scotland, last year. 

The initiative promises to mobilise an initial commitment of $8.5-billion for the first phase of financing South Africa’s transition. 

“A year later, its practical implementation is still in the works due to the sheer complexity of the negotiations as to where the money is going to come from, how the country will spend it, and the conditionalities that need to be met before accessing the financing.”

Brandon Abdinor, a climate advocacy lawyer at the Centre for Environmental Rights, said that very little “climate financing is going to Africa at this point in time”.

“And then a lot of the climate financing that is available, it’s questionable how fit for purpose it is. Is it real assistance or trapping us in more debt?” 

Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the timelines for new developments in Africa have been brought forward to meet the gas gap left by Russia, said the African Climate Foundation’s Ellen Davies. She was speaking at the recent launch of the foundation’s economic analysis weighing the costs and benefits of natural gas developments in Africa. 

“Big investment decisions that will have long term implications for African countries are being rushed, effectively to ensure that houses stay warm and the lights stay on in Europe,” said Davies. 

One of the arguments made in favour of developing the African continent’s gas resources is that this will address the energy access gap, she said. “While gas obviously technically can play this role, the economics, on the whole, favour exports. So, those developing resources on the continent have very little interest and very little incentive to favour domestic consumption over global markets.”

Prabhat Upadhyaya, a senior policy analyst at World Wildlife Fund-South Africa, said Africa is “fighting hypocrisy with hypocrisy”. 

“How African countries are interpreting it, is that we have gas, why should Europe take away our gas, we need to have the first claim on our gas, and use it. If Europe can use it, we can use it. 

“But at the same time we are saying Africa is the most vulnerable continent, we are the most vulnerable countries. But you can’t say you’re the most vulnerable country but you want to continue using gas, that’s hypocrisy.”