Africa: Not Your Gas Station
Throughout modern history, Africa has been the site of extraction. While colonialism has ended, the legacy it has left on the African continent is one of dispossession, exclusion, and inequality.
Even in the context of the climate crisis, the neo-colonial project persists. The war in Ukraine and subsequent sanctions against Russia has highlighted the fact that somehow even in 2022, Europe’s relationship with Africa remains skewed and centered on resource extraction. As the continent faces an energy crisis and a looming cold winter, its governments are scrambling for a solution and turning their gaze on Africa’s gas as a short term, cheap and easy solution.
The EU has recently rebranded gas as a clean energy source, but we know that gas is neither clean nor green. Investing in gas has massive implications not only for countries meeting their Paris Agreement targets, but also the just energy transition and mitigation needs on both continents.
These EU taxonomy changes effectively enable Europe to continue using fossil fuels in the form of gas, while claiming to transition, instead of making use of clean energy sources such as wind and solar. While there are claims that this is short term for Europe, the additional exploration and infrastructure risks locking Africa into fossil fuel energy for a prolonged period of time, compromising the continent's ability to leapfrog to clean energy.
Unfortunately, the fight for a true and just transition will be long and complicated. With attention turning to gas, African governments are not as averse to the idea of once again supplying Europe as activists are. In fact, some governments welcome these investments. Ahead of COP 27, an African Union committee proposed an African Common Position on Energy Access and Transition. The draft has several shortfalls, such as insufficient support for clean energy and an emphasis on coal, oil and gas as energy sources for the continent.
In a post-colonial, highly globalised world, we cannot transition alone. Political instability on one part of the globe informs energy decisions on another. So it is necessary for climate justice activists to establish a common position on gas and extractivism on the African continent together.
On October 25, the African and European branches of The Climate Reality Project hosted a webinar to contribute to that journey.
The webinar brought together three speakers from the African continent, and one from Europe.
- Amy Giliam Thorp, Branch Manager, African Climate Reality Project
- Dean Bhebhe and Lorraine Chiponda, Representatives, Don't Gas Africa
- Esther Bollendorff, Gas Coordinator at CAN Europe
Amy Giliam Thorp, African Climate Reality Project
European resource extraction on the African continent has a long history, going back to the European Scramble for Africa and the Berlin Conference of 1884. Today’s resource extraction in Africa takes the form of large-scale land acquisitions, referred to as land grabs, all under the guise of development.
“The profits are flowing out of the [African] continent and out of countries that are producing the energy. [...] Governments are entering into these [fossil fuel] deals as a way to balance their budgets and at the expense of local communities and their climate commitments.”
Dean Bhebhe and Lorraine Chiponda, Don’t Gas Africa Campaign
Self-interest is a driving force for the EU and African Union without working for the people they claim to represent. The gas issue is a gender issue, a political issue, and a biodiversity issue. The further expansion of the gas project means that new pipelines will displace communities while also destroying natural biodiversity and contributing further to climate change.
"You might ask: How is this relevant? Because the dash for gas in Africa is an issue based on equality because any conversation about the climate crisis in Africa is incomplete without considering how it disproportionately harms disadvantaged communities in Africa who are least responsible for the climate crisis . . . The current threat to use Africa as a gas station has made it clear for Africa to raise its climate ambitions on the international agenda and Africa’s ability to be a green clean global economy and not just a victim of the climate crisis.” – Dean Bhebhe
“It became clear that investments in gas were not aimed at meeting the needs of 600 million people in Africa, but this poison of gas was meant to extract gas from the continent, create pipelines that displace communities, that devastate the environment and that feed into the market of Europe … There hasn’t been any consideration by Europe of Africa’s energy poverty.” – Lorraine Chiponda
Esther Bollendorff, CAN Europe
Despite numerous EU members at COP 26 stating plans to get out of fossil fuels and invest in a clean energy transition, Europe is still expanding pipelines. To reach the EU’s net zero goal by 2050, no new oil or gas fields should be approved. Nevertheless, the REPowerEU plan – developed to reduce dependence on Russian fossil fuels and diversify the bloc's energy supply – saw the creation of a new EU Energy Platform to negotiate and coordinate both infrastructure use and gas and hydrogen purchases with international partners.
“The gas industry has done a very good job for decades to sell itself as being a natural gas, clean gas, much more healthy and less CO2 heavy as coal.”
Too Much Hypocrisy
As one participant put it: There is “so much hypocrisy [...] in Europe saying that a return to more fossils is just a short-term strategic response to war, but enabling long-term big gas in Africa.”
Today, there is no transparency as to how public money is being used to finance fossil fuel projects, even though most big financial institutions have claimed to stop funding dirty projects that harm the environment and the people.
Yes, the European Union is creating COVID recovery funds, adopting a Green Deal, and assisting member states communities with an EU Just Transition Fund. But it's also using a false narrative around gas and turning to neo-colonial measures to combat its energy crisis.
We cannot respond to crises at the expense of those that contributed least to it. We cannot end the climate crisis within the same fossil fuel system that created it. We need to invest in communities, rebuild our relationship with nature, and give agency to people to create the future they want. We need a new economic system based on circularity, democracy, inclusivity and care. Only then can we stop global warming and we can stop it only if we join forces.
To learn more, check out the African Climate Reality Project's position paper on gas in Africa or visit Don't Gas Africa.
Courtney Morgan is a campaigner with the African Climate Reality Project. Jessica Besch is the program and engagement manager at The Climate Reality Project Europe. Image copyright Esther Blodau.
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