By Sophie Squire
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2809

Exploiting gas reserves is not the solution to develop Africa

Extending gas infrastructure will not bring people out of poverty
Issue 2809
Woman cooks by burning wood

Woman in Burkina Faso burns highly polluting wood to cook. (TREEAID)

Is digging into untapped reserves of fossil gas a solution to energy poverty in Africa? This is what some leaders argue as countries prepare for Cop27 later this year. 

At the general assembly of the United Nations, the president of Senegal, Macky Sall, said, “We will not accept that polluting countries, responsible for the situation of the planet, to tell us that we are no longer going to finance fossil fuels.” “Our countries cannot succeed in the energy transition and abandon the polluting schemes of industrialised countries without a viable, fair, and equitable alternative.” 

For Sall and a growing number of African leaders, the increased exploitation of natural gas is seen as essential to growing African economies. Yemi Osinbajo, Nigeria’s vice-president, later said, “We think that gas as a transition fuel is absolutely crucial, not just for an effective transition but also for our economies.”

The call for more gas has been steadily building since Cop26 when 20 states and institutions came together and vowed to stop financing new unabated fossil fuel projects. 

The World Bank also vowed not to finance upstream oil and gas projects after 2019. This sent a ripple of concern and anger around leaders of African countries.  They argue Africa can only develop, like the countries in the West have, using fossil fuels. And it is easy to sympathise with aspects of the argument. 

Countries in the global south have been utterly abandoned by richer ones, who have failed to send the money needed to help with adaptation or greener alternatives. 

Rich countries in the West became more prosperous from the colonisation of Africa and industrialised off the back of the uncontrolled burning of fossil fuelsIt must feel like sheer hypocrisy that these countries are now shaking the finger at poorer ones that want to use their natural resources to grow their economies. 

But burning more gas cannot be the solution, especially as nine of the ten countries most vulnerable to climate change are found in Africa. Describing gas as a “transitional” fossil fuel has dangerous consequences. Firstly natural gas is not a “cleaner” option. Gas is one of the most carbon intensive methods of generating energy. And in the process of collecting and burning gas, tonnes of methane are spilt into the atmosphere, a gas more toxic than carbon dioxide. 

Many people in Africa rely on burning wood in their homes. This is awful for their health and the planet. But the solution is not to replace one dirty energy source with another slightly less dirty one.

Exploiting more gas has another drawback. The construction of new gas projects often delays and replaces renewable ones.  This would be a tragedy, especially as there are vast opportunities for cheaper, greener energy in Africa, with many countries already leading the way. In Kenya, 75 percent of the country’s electricity is generated by hydro, wind, solar, and geothermal power. 

And 22 countries in Africa already use renewables as their primary source of electricity, according to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. But despite boundless opportunities, African leaders are still pushing to burn more fossil fuels. This is because their calls have never just been about providing energy for more people. 

The demand for African gas soared amid the conflict in Ukraine, with European countries no longer wanting to buy from Russia. Increasing interest has the power to make a handful of people very rich. But with most of the gas extracted in Africa shipped overseas, there’s no guarantee it will benefit ordinary people.  Despite what world leaders say, a just transition and the rollout of renewables without detriment to the poorest people is not only possible but essential. 

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