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Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba is a writer and journalist based in Mexico City. She has extensive experience writing and editing environmental features, travel pieces, local news in the…

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Africa’s Energy Trilemma

  • Africa is disproportionately vulnerable to climate change, though it accounts for just 3% of global emissions.
  • The World Economic Forum has stated that “financing Africa’s green energy transition should be the focus of COP27.”
  • “We cannot be Europe’s gas station. Otherwise, we will crash the climate,” Joab Okanda, Christian Aid’s Pan African Advocacy Advisor, said.
Africa Trilemma

The world is facing an energy trilemma. Leaders in the public and private sectors are faced with the challenging puzzle of how to ensure a secure and reliable supply of energy while also keeping energy prices affordable and minimizing negative environmental externalities. This isn’t easy anywhere on Earth, but nowhere is it more of a challenge than in Africa, the continent that epitomizes the trilemma as well as the consequences of falling short. 

600 million people across the continent still lack access to energy, and that number will only expand as the population continues its growth trajectory. It is projected that by 2050, one in four of the world’s people will be sub-Saharan African, and the region’s energy demand is expected to increase by a third over the next ten years. As such, meeting this projected energy demand will require a ten-fold increase in power generation capacity by 2065.

Development of affordable energy resources is therefore of top priority for development. In Africa, cheap energy often means taking advantage of the fossil fuel resources and infrastructure that are already in place locally. However, Africa is also disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, despite contributing just 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Seven out of the ten countries most vulnerable to climate change are located in Africa, and therefore will be disproportionately impacted by each additional ton of carbon dioxide equivalent released into the atmosphere. 

For these reasons, the World Economic Forum has stated that “financing Africa’s green energy transition should be the focus of COP27.” The 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference is currently taking place for its second and final week in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. But as the conference draws to a close, African leaders don’t feel that their unique position has been fairly weighed. According to African leaders, the focus on decarbonization is all well and good but needs to be seen from a different lens and with differentiated priorities in the context of Africa. As Verner Ayukegba, Senior Vice President of the African Energy Chamber told CNN, “If in the US your fridge uses more power in a year than an African family, where do we start in terms of addressing the problem?

This sort of climate (in)justice is a common refrain from the developing world, who feel that they should have the opportunity to develop their economies just as the developed world did before being asked to kickstart a green energy transition that they can’t afford. This is where climate financing is key. Africa has 39% of the world's clean energy potential – more than any other continent. Tapping into that potential will be essential to addressing the energy trilemma, but doing so will require that the world’s richest countries make good on their repeated (and repeatedly shirked) promises to direct $100 billion a year in climate financing to the world’s poorest nations. 

The problem is that while there is currently plenty of foreign investing in the African energy sector, the vast majority of that is directed at oil and gas, and mostly for export. "Fossil fuel companies are showing their greed and plan to exploit fossil fuels in 48 out of 55 African countries,” Joab Okanda, Christian Aid’s Pan African Advocacy Advisor, said at COP27’s Energy Day. “If all this fossil fuel is successfully burned then it will push us past the Paris Agreement goals and spell misery for African people already on the front lines of this crisis.”

While increased oil and gas capacity would be welcome for many Africans living in energy poverty, these developments will do nearly nothing to fill their own energy needs; Africans themselves are not the target of the fuel, just the consequences of the emissions. “What’s so galling is that 89% the liquified natural gas infrastructure being built in Africa is to be exported to Europe to bail them out of their addiction to Russian gas,” Okanda continued. “We cannot be Europe’s gas station. Otherwise, we will crash the climate.”

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com


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  • Mamdouh Salameh on November 20 2022 said:
    What Africa needs immediately isn’t green energy transition as the World Economic Forum suggested but the immediate development of its vast its oil and gas reserves estimated at 12% and 9% of the world’s oil and natural gas reserves respectively.

    The continent of 600 million people suffers from a chronic energy poverty with its population continues its growth trajectory. The continent’s energy demand is expected to increase by a third over the next ten years. As such, meeting this projected energy demand will require a ten-fold increase in power generation capacity by 2065.

    Western countries have consistently ignored Africa’s energy resources for years declining to offer investments as long as they didn’t need these resources at the time. But in the aftermath of the Ukraine conflict, the European Union is trying to curry favour with African hydrocarbon producers to reduce its dependence on Russia’s gas and oil supplies.

    Despite the continent’s chronic energy poverty, US Presidential Envoy to the Environment John Kerry recently called on African countries not to invest in the development of their considerable oil and gas resources, claiming that these assets will become stranded by 2030. His advice is that they should rather focus on reducing emissions in a continent which only contributed in 2021 3.8% to global emissions, the least in the world.

    The West puts so much importance on the climate change agenda in Africa. I would hazard two explanations for the West’s attitude. The first explanation is that the West is under the misguided and erroneous view that any future energy assets will end up after 2030 as stranded assets. The second explanation is a more sinister one, with the West wishing to keep African energy resources underground in order to satisfy its own appetite for energy in the future.

    And while denying Africa's right to push ahead with its own energy endeavours, the West would be eager to offer investments and technological know-how to the continent in exchange for receiving the lion's share of the regional hydrocarbon wealth. The West doesn’t care whether African countries are experiencing severe energy poverty or not as long as it gets its hands on these reserves.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Global Energy Expert

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