The world is in the grip of a global energy crisis. When Russia’s invasion of Ukraine brought Europe’s self-built dependency on cheap gas from Russia crashing down, panicked governments turned their eyes to the African continent to make up for the shortfall. In May, the European Commission announced a €210bn plan to end its dependency on Russian fossil fuels. Among REpowerEU’s stated goals was a desire to explore the energy export potential of African countries, despite promises at COP26 to move away from fossil fuels.
African countries with sizable reserves of oil and gas see the possibility of replacing Russia as Europe’s primary gas supplier as an opportunity. In May, 10 African countries signed onto a communiqué calling on the international community to support the development of gas fields, framing it as a “transitional fuel” or “natural” gas. But Europe’s simultaneous reclassification of both fossil gas and nuclear energy projects as “green” (making them eligible for low-cost loans and subsidies) signals that its priority is its own energy security, potentially skewing Africa’s gas investments and preventing the realization of energy accessibility and affordability to people in Africa.
Fossil gas is not ‘natural’
Fossil gas is not a “transitional” fuel, nor is it a clean one. Investing in gas developments unnecessarily risks lock-in and stranded assets when cheaper alternatives (which will continue to become cheaper) are already available. Fossil gas power stations and leaks and venting in the gas supply chain also emit substantial greenhouse gases. The continued exploration of fossil fuels puts Africa – the region most vulnerable to climate change – at risk of further devastation caused by worsening climate impacts. They do not viably and safely replace coal-fired power, but rather displace new renewables.
We do not accept that the need to address the energy crisis should be used to greenlight gas development in Africa. Africa has an abundance of renewable energy potential, which if developed, can help the continent achieve its energy and development goals. Africa needs to explore and invest in sustainable renewable energy solutions that are good for people, nature and the climate.
Investing limited resources in fossil gas will strand assets and economies while threatening potential investments into affordable, easily deployable, accessible, much-needed renewable energy for the people. Rather than provide Europe with more climate-damaging fossil fuels, Africa’s development agenda and the climate emergency call on us to rapidly shift away from harmful fossil fuels-based technologies towards a renewable energy future.