Natural gas drilling in Africa at the center of COP27


Photos of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz shaking hands with Senegalese President Macky Sall this spring provide a stark contrast to the scenes seen this week at the COP27 climate conference.

In May, Scholz toured African countries including Senegal, Niger and South Africa, seeking partners willing to drill natural gas for export to try to counter a European energy crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This is a proposal that Sall’s government is putting forward.

Now Germany is the headlines for joining other nations aid fund the withdrawal of $8.5 billion from coal in South Africa. Meanwhile, Sall was a strong advocate at the conference in Egypt, demanding that Western leaders come up with more funding for climate adaptation.

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Developing countries have successfully added compensation for past climate damage to the COP27 negotiations, following the announcement that keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees is now highly unlikely.

Natural gas reserves have been discovered in a number of countries on the African continent and leaders have been faced with the question of whether they should try to capitalize on the recent surge in demand – a question that has held many back. attention during COP27.

Sall was pressed on this apparent contradiction at the conference and said resource development will lead to greater economic prosperity in his country.

“Let’s be clear, we are in favor of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But we Africans cannot allow our vital interests to be ignored,” he said on Tuesday.

Those advocating for the continued expansion of natural gas resources have called it a “transitional fuel” because it has a lower emissions impact than oil or coal. But climate advocates say it’s greenwashing and a ploy that will keep African nations stuck in the same development traps of the past.

“It was justified by saying it will bring development to Africa,” said Lorraine Chiponda, co-head of advocacy group Don’t Gas Africa.

“And again, as we all know, Africa has been disproportionately affected by climate disasters. We have contributed very little to greenhouse gas emissions and we are suffering the most.”

Africa has been disproportionately affected by climate disasters. We have contributed very little to greenhouse gas emissions and we are the ones who suffer the most.”​​​​​​– Lorraine Chiponda, co-leader of advocacy group Don’t Gas Africa

Climate negotiations have always been overlaid with debates about how to “fairly” move developing countries forward.

These countries are not responsible for the emissions that led to the climate crisis, but they are now being asked to limit their emissions in a way that Western countries have never done.

This is why Sall and many others argue that African leaders have a strong moral basis for choosing economic development opportunities for their countries.

Those who oppose such a development frequently cite four fundamental reasons why African nations should not invest in natural gas.

africa natural gas europe
Steam leaves a cooling tower at the Lichterfelde gas-fired power station in Berlin, Germany, on March 30. European leaders are turning to Africa for more natural gas as the EU tries to replace Russian exports as the war in Ukraine continues. (Michael Sohn/Associated Press)

Global warming affects Africa disproportionately

The scale of natural gas infrastructure expansion completely undermines any hope of meeting climate targets, and missing these targets will disproportionately harm Africans.

“Limiting warming to 1.5°C means total gas consumption has to go down,” said Bill Hare, senior scientist at Climate Action Tracker, an independent analytics organization that tracks progress on climate action.

“But the problem is that the pipeline of LNG facilities under construction, approved and proposed is huge. [Natural gas production] is expected to decline by 2030, but is actually expected to increase more than 200% from recent levels by then. »

The price of global warming is high and African nations need not look far to see its effects, as the Horn of Africa is currently suffering from a historic drought which threat of starvation 22 million people.

kenya drought
Young girls pull containers of water as they return to their huts from a well in Lomoputh village, northern Kenya, in May. UN officials say drought conditions in the Horn of Africa have led to a severe climate-induced humanitarian emergency. (Brian Inganga/Associated Press)

Demand and prices will not stay high

This year’s price spike in natural gas markets that makes such investments so desirable is likely fickle, according to multiple analysts.

Hare explains that this so-called rush for gas by European nations has in fact exceeded limits and will likely lead to a glut as supplies increase by about five times the amount Russia exported before the war.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) stated in the last annual report World Energy Outlook that the “extraordinary turbulence” in energy markets is most significant when it comes to natural gas.

Models used by the IEA project indicate that demand for natural gas will peak this decade due to the global shift away from fossil fuels.

Bad investment strategy

When reviewing any potential investment, a government will look at the period of time it takes to recoup the money it cost to build the project.

But as countries move away from non-renewable energy sources, there is a growing risk that the return on investment from fossil fuels will never occur and that infrastructure will become underutilized or obsolete before the end of its life. economic, a concept called stranded assets.

If prices fall and demand peaks, these investments may never pay off, especially since it will be several more years before they are operational.

natural gas producers in africa
A map, published in a report by the African Climate Foundation, illustrates which African countries are existing natural gas producers (yellow) and which are emerging gas producers (blue). (Natural Gas in Africa in the Context of a Global Low-Carbon Energy Transition/The African Climate Foundation)

Reuters reported that Natural gas project proposed by Senegal should not be operational before 2024 or 2025, and its cost is estimated at 5 billion US dollars. A Nigerian pipeline project is estimated to cost double.

The African Climate Foundation has raised fears that these investments will not pay off.

The risk is significant enough that many commercial and investment banks have stopped financing new gas projects, including UK’s largest national bank, Lloydsand the European Investment Bank.

Repeating historical injustices

In addition to economic or climatic reasons for not moving towards gas, Chiponda, with Don’t Gas Africa, also notes that doing so would allow historical injustices to be repeated.

“When we see countries from Europe coming to Africa to exploit gas to solve a short-term crisis that is raging in Europe, it shows that their gas agenda is a neo-colonial agenda,” she said on Monday. .

“This is an exploitative political agenda that aims to continue extracting resources from the African people.”

africa natural gas europe
In this photo from January 13, 2013, soldiers stand guard during a media visit to a gas plant in Ain Amenas organized by Algerian authorities. Research suggests that while African countries derive economic benefits from the export of oil and gas, they are also experiencing increased instances of conflict, unequal redistributive income, and significant environmental pollution. (Associated Press/File Photo)

Researchers from Nigeria’s Adekunle Ajasin University looked at the history of oil investments made in African countries throughout the 19th century.

While they found that oil-exporting countries reaped the economic benefits of resource development, they also found an increase in instances of conflict, unequal redistribution of income, and significant environmental pollution.

Signs that these projects are not in the best interests of the African people are already beginning to appear.

The IEA reported that the current energy crisis is creating the largest transfer of wealth from consumers to producers ever seen in the natural gas market.

Rising costs are leading to a decline in access to modern electricity systems for the first time in a decade, with 75 million people globally at risk of losing access, IEA analysis finds .

Meanwhile, European countries eager to get drilling in the ground are also currently grabbing natural gas away from developing countries to avoid power outages at home this winter, according to energy analysts.

Asked about the prospect of increased natural gas capacity in Africa at the COP27 conference this week, climate activist and former US vice-president Al Gore urged African leaders not to join.

“We need to see the so-called gas rush for what it really is: a rush for a bridge to nowhere, leaving countries around the world facing climate chaos and billions in stranded assets.”


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