African nations’ gas race reveals division at UN and ‘hypocrisy’ in Europe

UN chief says it’s ‘madness’ to explore more fossil fuels, while top Nigerian UN officials back gas-fueled African leaders’ development plans

African leaders’ gas rush is increasing tensions at the UN summit and exposing Europe’s divisive approach to fuel.

Throughout Africa, gas is at the heart of a challenge between development and decarbonization.

“We could see gas as a transitional energy source with certainly fewer emissions,” Egyptian Foreign Minister and Cop27 President Sameh Shoukry told The Associated Press in Davos on Monday.

What this transition should look like dominated discussions at the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) forum held in Kigali, Rwanda last week.

“We need to plan now to be able to sustainably fuel future African industries, but without slowing down our development,” said Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

For ministers from at least 10 African countries, the answer lies in gas.

In a seven-point statement, they called on the international community to “support Africa in the deployment of gas as a transition fuel and the long-term replacement of gas with renewable energy and green hydrogen for industrial development, whether it is financially and technically sustainable”. .

This, they said, would help “close development gaps” and “put Africa on the path to economic prosperity and net zero.”

The Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Uganda and Zimbabwe signed the declaration.

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The appetite of African nations to exploit intact gas reserves contradicts UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ repeated call for the phasing out of fossil fuels, including gas.

He described investment in new fossil fuel infrastructure as “moral and economic folly” following the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report which showed that the expansion of coal, oil and gas production jeopardizes global climate goals.

But African leaders have found sympathy from high-profile Nigerian women at the UN: Guterres’ deputy environment minister and former environment minister Amina Mohammed and SE4All chief Damilola Ogunbiyi.

Ogunbiyi is responsible for achieving a Sustainable Development Goal by 2030 for everyone to have access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy. She joined SE4All in early 2020 with a clear opinion on the issue.

“Gas, for me, in Africa, probably needs to be part of the equation a bit longer as a transitional fuel because gas also affects cooking. I’m here in New York cooking with gas. That going to be very strange to tell all of Africa ‘don’t use gas because it’s a fossil [fuel] and keep using firewood,” she told the BBC.

“If people who don’t have electricity in Africa were powered by gas today, it would increase Africa’s…emissions by 2-4%. That’s what we’re talking about. It is therefore not right to continue to identify Africa’s fossils as the problem,” she added, defending gas infrastructure projects on the continent.

A statement on SE4All’s website, posted following his appointment, said the organization “recognizes that interim solutions, including natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas, need to be deployed urgently in certain contexts. where they can best reduce human suffering and save lives”.

Mohammed has been less vocal on the issue, but supports gas-fired development behind the scenes, sources close to the UN told Climate Home. She did not respond to a request for comment.

Damilola Ogunbiyi, CEO of Sustainable Energy for All, speaking at the organization’s forum in Kigali, Rwanda (Photo: Rwandan Ministry of Environment/Flickr)

According to 2019 data, around 90 million people are without power in Nigeria alone. In Africa, 592 million people do not have access to electricity. The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a reversal of some of the earlier gains in energy access.

Ovigwe Eguegu, a Nigerian political adviser at consultancy Development Reimagined, told Climate Home that ahead of a presidential election next year, “the national discourse is not even about gas as a transitional fuel, but rather ‘we have first need power, then we can discuss if it’s clean’.”

At the time of the interview, Eguegu’s house had been without electricity for seven hours. Many middle-class Nigerian households use polluting diesel generators as backup for frequent grid outages.

“No candidate can come to Nigeria and oppose gas,” Eguegu said, adding that it would be “shocking” if Nigerians in high-level positions at the UN did not support gas as part of the solution.

A spokesperson for SE4All added that the organization “strongly supports” achieving net zero global emissions by 2050 and that gas replacing diesel use should be phased out from 2030.

“If we want these countries to give up gas sooner, they will need a lot of additional support, especially financial and technical, from the north,” they added.

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Youba Sokona of Mali, vice-chair of the IPCC and special adviser for sustainable development at the South Centre, said gas had become a “dilemma” for the African continent. While the current deployment of renewables is not enough to fuel the continent’s industrialization, the development of new gas infrastructure risks leaving them stranded, he explained.

“The question is whether Africa will boost its development by electrifying or will it invest in fossil fuels with all the associated risks it will have to face?”

For climate activists, the way forward is clear. These “cases for gas exploration and gas-powered electricity infrastructure in Africa rob us of vital time to transition to clean energy,” Ugandan youth activist Vanessa Nakate wrote in Al-Jazeera ahead of the summit. SE4All.

“We need massive investments from the countries of the North in clean energy in Africa. Climate justice for Africa does not mean following the mistakes of rich countries that have dragged us into this crisis,” she told Climate Home.

In fact, SE4All identifies off-grid renewable solutions such as solar mini-grids as the cheapest, fastest and most sustainable way to electrify Africa. Yet oil and gas companies have continued to market gas as a reliable, cleaner alternative to coal that can support economic growth in developing countries.

And arguments about energy access obscure the reality that much of the gas production being developed in Africa is for export. This includes European countries that talk tough on fossil fuels, but since Russia invaded Ukraine they have scrambled to get gas supplies from other sources.

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On the first leg of an African tour on Sunday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Germany would work “intensely” to support offshore gas production in Senegal – a project developed by BP and embroiled in a corruption scandal.

Senegalese President Macky Sall said he was “dancing with joy” at the prospect of cooperation with Germany. The production and export of LNG to Europe “is an issue that is really close to our hearts”, he said.

Germany’s support for gas development in Senegal appears to violate a COP26 pledge signed by Berlin and more than 30 other countries to end international public funding for fossil fuels, including gas, by the end of this year – a commitment that has angered West African leaders.

A spokesman for the climate ministry insisted that Germany was sticking to its pledge.

But those mixed messages have led to fresh accusations of European hypocrisy. “If Europe uses gas as a transition fuel or for political calculations, why not us? asked Eguegu.

Aki Kachi of the New Climate Institute told Climate Home that the prospect of a deal “undermines Germany’s international credibility to deliver on its promises”. Starting Wednesday, Germany is hosting a meeting of G7 climate ministers, where an end to public funding of fossil fuels is on the table.

“These European countries know that fossil fuels like gas are not the future and once they update their renewables, they will abandon these new gas deals,” said Mohamed Adow, director of Power. Shift Africa, at Climate Home.

“For Africa, it would be silly to invest our small resources in increasing gas production just to help Europe in the short term when we could invest in our own sustainable renewable energy,” he said.

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