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Africa must get out of fossil fuel 'traps and lies'

The main fossil fuels are coal, crude oil and natural gas. [iStockphoto]

Today, one of the major challenges facing Africa is energy poverty. At least 600 million people lack access to electricity, while 900 million still rely on unclean energy sources to cook.

Besides dirtying the air, energy sources such as charcoal, wood fuel and kerosene are responsible for in-house pollution and caused or worsened respiratory diseases. The worst have been deaths by suffocation from burning charcoal, or fire gutting houses, sometimes having human casualties. Effects of deforestation also begin to show.

The global UN-backed Sustainable Development Goal 7 aims to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all” by 2030.

To achieve this goal and address the energy gap, many leaders of poor countries are looking in the wrong direction. Last week, in Dakar, leaders attending the MSGBC Oil, Gas and Power conference, pushed for Africa to exploit the 620 trillion cubic feet of natural gas it has, to grow the economy and address the energy deficit.

Senegalese President Macky Sall, also African Union chairperson, said it would be “an aberration to give up the exploitation of our resources while more than 600 million Africans still live in the dark”.

He said the continent would still contribute not more than 3.5 per cent carbon emissions globally. This coming from the AU leadership, when the AU Commission launched a five-year continental Green Recovery Action Plan 2021-2027 that also supports “energy efficiency and national just transition programmes” is confusing. The AUC also has Africa Renewable Energy Initiative and several others.

Granted, we must address the energy poverty as soon as yesterday; considering effects of the war in Ukraine on energy access and stagnating economic development. But natural gas should not be an option for Africa to reduce its carbon footprint.

Though less pollutant than coal and petroleum, natural gas is still non-renewable and is not clean energy. AU needs to lead in the right direction on energy access. It must also consider the “lies” that bind partners, where projects’ host countries get the least share of profits. An example is the proposed East African Crude Oil Pipeline, where host Uganda and Tanzania will each get 15 per cent of profit, while TotalEnergies and China National Offshore Oil Corporation share the rest.

That renewable energy sources are not well distributed is neither here nor there. Countries that have more sunshine, wind or rain water than others, or multiple sources of renewable energy, can export power to needy countries.

Happily, renewable energy projects are increasing in Africa, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report released in April, 2019 and 2020 recording increased capacity in solar by 13 per cent, wind (11 per cent), and hydropower’s 25 per cent. Research shows Africa harbours 40 per cent of the world’s solar energy resources, which, with the right investment on equipment and skills, can help address the energy poverty.

The bad news is AU is inconsistent on matters of transition to renewable energy. At the AU summit, the clarion call has been climate action, yet outside, the leaders’ appetite for fossil fuel is alive.

Today, faith based civil society groups want “immediate end to new fossil fuel projects”, “a rapid transition to 100 per cent renewables and a fair phase-out of fossil fuels” and a “just transition to an environmentally sustainable future for workers and communities most affected by climate change and this transition”.

We must not merry in the immediate benefits of fossil fuel projects, but aim for Net-Zero by 2050.

-The writer is interim communications manager, GreenFaith. [email protected]