Africa: With funds short, Africans weigh on green energy and fossil fuels


As countries strive to cut emissions, some African countries find themselves without the money to switch to green energy – and are turning to fossil fuels to improve energy access

JOHANNESBURG / NAIROBI – As crucial UN climate change negotiations begin on Sunday in Glasgow, seeking to dramatically cut global emissions to protect people and nature, many African countries – relatively small contributors to the problem – find themselves in an unusual position.

Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest energy access rates in the world and an estimated 600 million people – half of the population – still lack access to electricity, according to the International Agency for l ‘energy.

What the fast-growing continent needs is clean, renewable energy to fuel its development, experts say – but with the cash running out to finance green energy and the large deposits of fossil fuels still available, some Africans wonder why they should change.

“As we prepare for COP26 (…) Africans must stay strong and protect their energy industry like a scrap dog in the face of a hurricane,” said NJ Ayuk, Executive Chairman of the African Energy Chamber. , during a webinar last week.

As UK hosts of UN climate talks strive to end the world’s use of coal for electricity, African countries are tapping new oil fields and approving new pipelines – and coal giants like South Africa are finding themselves backing down from an old staple food tough.


Swiftly ending the use of coal for electricity is seen as essential to achieving an international target of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, in order to avoid d ” aggravate climate threats such as floods, forest fires and more severe droughts.

South Africa, the world’s 12th largest contributor to climate change emissions, relies heavily on fuel – the most polluting of fossil fuels – and is under increasing pressure from rich countries to switch to clean energy.

Coal-fired power plants provided nearly 90% of South Africa’s electricity last year, and the industry directly employs over 400,000 people.

“Do we want to have this energy revolution? Of course we do. But it has to be managed,” said Sizwe Pamla, spokesperson for the South African trade union federation COSATU.

“Does it make sense to replace coal if we have it in abundance?” “

While South Africa is seen by some climate analysts as a test of whether developing countries can cut emissions while benefiting people – by achieving a so-called ‘just transition’ – some African experts say that this should not be the continent’s top priority.

“We know that more than 600 million people do not have access to energy and that we need to reduce emissions,” said Rolake Akinkugbe-Filani, member of the advisory board of the African Energy Chamber.

“Fighting poverty should be the top of Africa’s agenda.”

Sub-Saharan Africa is responsible for only 2% of global CO2 emissions, according to the chamber – but the impacts of accelerating global warming are strongly felt in failed harvests, destructive cyclones and water shortages that endanger hydroelectricity.

The Indian Ocean island nation of Madagascar, for example, is experiencing one of the first climate-related famines due to a lack of rain, leading to poor harvests and leaving more than a million people in need of ‘food aid.

In East Africa, Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia increasingly face extreme weather conditions resulting in death, displacement and other serious losses.

The region also suffered an unprecedented locust invasion linked to climate change last year.


Coal is not the only fossil fuel that is increasingly under scrutiny in Africa.

Across the continent, environmental groups are campaigning to stop new oil and gas projects that they believe will cause environmental destruction and displace communities while increasing emissions.

Uganda and Tanzania signed an agreement in April with oil companies, including France’s Total and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, to build a $ 3.5 billion pipeline to help get oil to international markets.

Campaigners estimate that the project will generate more than 34 million tonnes of carbon pollution per year – more than the combined total amount generated by Uganda and Tanzania today.

Across Africa, each country’s socio-economic situation, current dependence on fossil fuels and energy needs will determine the pace and paths taken in the global energy transition, according to energy experts.

“A rapid transition away from fossil fuels is not relevant for all African countries as there are very urgent energy development priorities that need to be addressed,” said Landry Ninteretse, regional director of the environmental group

The commitments of many countries to adopt clean energy depend on funding made available by the richest countries, which have pledged to raise $ 100 billion a year from 2020 to help the poorest countries develop properly and to adapt to climate impacts.

But rich countries conceded last Monday that the target would only be reached in 2023, three years behind schedule, which activists say could thwart progress at COP26 talks.

“We cannot come and tell small countries which are insignificant emitters like Burundi, Togo and Benin to reduce all their emissions at the same rate as the richer world,” especially without funding, Ninteretse said.

Energy experts say a global move away from fossil fuels to prevent deadly impacts of climate change is inevitable, but how it’s done – and who benefits – will be key.

“We will not allow the (government) to blindly honor this commitment” to move away from coal, said Pamla of the South African trade union federation COSATU, noting that the livelihoods of coal dependent communities must be protected.

For the transition to happen quickly, it will take “real funding, not just a funding commitment,” Pamla said.

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