It may not be on the official agenda at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt, but the thorny question of whether African nations should receive financial support to produce, use and export natural gas as part of a clean energy transition is on everyone’s lips.
Climate campaigners have pitched themselves against African governments that believe they should be allowed to use gas - which emits less climate-heating carbon dioxide than coal and oil when burned - to develop their economies and provide power to 600 million Africans who still lack access to electricity.
Activists raised the alarm last month when Tarek El Molla, Egypt’s minister of petroleum and mineral resources, told a ministerial meeting of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) that fossil gas is “the perfect solution” to “achieving the energy trilemma for security, sustainability and affordability”.
GECF member countries - which include Algeria, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea and Mozambique - agreed that COP27 and next year’s COP in the United Arab Emirates, also in the GECF, present “a great opportunity” to make the case for gas in the energy transition and efforts to meet global development goals.
But advocates for renewables are calling for no more investment in gas - especially in new infrastructure that would facilitate its export to European countries, which have been seeking fresh supplies since committing to cut their use of gas from Russia by two-thirds this year after it invaded Ukraine.
The International Energy Agency has said investors should not fund new oil, gas and coal supply projects if the world wants to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century, as required to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement to keep global warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and ideally to 1.5C.
That green development pathway will not happen if financing for dirtier industries is still nine times more than financing for greener industries and while the continent only still attracts 3 per cent of climate financing.
Bogolo Kenewendo, special advisor, UN Climate Change High-Level Champions Team
Mohamed Adow, director of Nairobi-based think tank Power Shift Africa, told journalists at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday that Europe is seeking to make Africa its “gas station”, while failing to provide adequate funding to boost renewable energy such as solar.
“We can’t let Africa - that has missed all the fossil fuel-powered industrialisation - now become a victim because of the short-sighted selfish colonialist interests of particularly Europe,” he said.
European countries, including Germany and Italy, have been criticised by climate activists this year for encouraging governments such as Senegal, Nigeria and Mozambique - behind closed doors - to develop and export their fossil gas reserves, in what is often dubbed a “dash for gas”.
Their efforts seem to have fallen on receptive ears, with Senegalese President Macky Sall in a July speech welcoming growing international support for developing gas resources in Africa as part of the continent’s energy transition.
Days before, the European Parliament had backed new European Union rules labelling investments in gas and nuclear power plants as climate-friendly.
Later in July, the African Union (AU) and other pan-African institutions adopted a common position on energy access and just transition that said Africa would continue to deploy all forms of its “abundant energy resources including renewable 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,” it added.
Gas-rich Nigeria, for example - where about four in 10 people live without electricity - has made clear in its Energy Transition Plan that it will need to boost the use of gas for power production and cleaner cooking until 2030 while also developing solar and hydrogen.
The plan says natural gas is a “transition fuel” on Nigeria’s path to net-zero emissions by 2060 and projects gas consumption will grow by about 25 per cent from a 2019 baseline by 2030.
It also projects growth in oil and gas refining through to mid-century but says greenhouse gas emissions from refining activities can be offset, or abated, by applying “Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage” (CCUS) - technology used to stop emissions escaping into the atmosphere.
Activists such as Lorraine Chiponda, co-lead of the “Don’t Gas Africa” campaign, have branded promises to abate emissions from the extraction and use of fossil gas as a “false solution” - and an attempt by the industry at “greenwashing gas”.
“Our governments must not fall into a trap of developing new gas infrastructure in Europe or Africa, which will continue to harm communities and enrich big polluters while winding up as stranded assets,” she told a briefing at COP27 on Monday.
John Kerry, the US special envoy on climate change, said last month at an event in London, that gas - including in Africa - “will be part of this (green) energy transition for sure if managed correctly and effectively”.
Switching to gas from coal and oil can provide an immediate reduction in climate-heating emissions of 30 per cent, he noted.
But, he added, building new gas infrastructure - which would last for 30 to 40 years - would only be a realistic option if it included ways to capture the emissions.
Even then, it might not be cost-competitive with cleaner alternatives such as green hydrogen, Kerry added, warning of the risk of stranded gas assets.
Vikram Singh, of the US-based Rocky Mountain Institute, said his nonprofit’s research showed the battle to limit global warming to 1.5C “will be won or lost in the Global South”.
Renewables are the best solution to provide electricity to rural communities in Africa, he said, adding that the continent is home to 60 per cent of the world’s solar resources, which have so far been little used.
“It’s really a shame that it’s not being leveraged more when it’s proving to be a cheaper, more effective and scalable approach to energy access (than fossil fuels),” he added.
Only 16 out of 54 African states have significant gas reserves, he said, with 60 per cent of those reserves held in four countries - Algeria, Angola, Nigeria and Mozambique.
Those governments, together with Senegal, will push behind the scenes at COP27 for access from donors to preferential financial support to exploit those resources, he added.
Meanwhile, energy and development experts say wealthy nations are not delivering climate finance to expand renewables on a scale that would allow Africa to leapfrog fossil fuels.
Donor governments believe the answer may lie in “just energy transition partnerships” (JETPs) of the kind they are putting together for some countries that rely heavily on fossil fuels.
South Africa won the first such $8.5 billion deal at last year’s COP26 summit to wean itself off coal.
But discussions on a JETP for Senegal have floundered over the role of gas in its future energy mix, observers say, with Britain insisting support cannot be used to expand fossil fuels.
Nigeria, meanwhile is on the hunt for an initial $10 billion for its energy transition.
But its environment minister said last month that African governments would push at COP27 for a “softening of the conditions” to access climate finance, noting that many Nigerians’ livelihoods still depend on its fossil fuel-heavy energy mix.
Bogolo Kenewendo, Africa director and special advisor to the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions Team, said African nations had started talking about a green development pathway.
“That green development pathway will not happen if financing for dirtier industries is still nine times more than financing for greener industries - and while the continent only still attracts 3 per cent of climate financing,” she said ahead of COP27.
This story was published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit https://www.context.news/.
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