By NJ Ayuk, Executive Chairman, African Energy Chamber (www.EnergyChamber.org)
Pressure is mounting to phase out oil production in Africa to combat climate change. But strategically operated, Africa’s oil and gas industry can secure a brighter future for Africa. Are calls to “keep it in place” really in Africa’s best interest?
Do a Google search for “Help Africa” and you know how many results you will get?
1.7 BILLION. “Help the children in Africa.” “African hunger and how to help”
“Save Africa from climate change.”
There is even a strategy for the latter: to keep Africa’s oil resources in the ground. The reasoning is this: if we produce less fossil fuels, we will emit less carbon and be better protected from climate change.
The international community supports this idea. BlackRock and Royal Bank of Scotland have said they are moving away from investments that support fossil fuel production.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and the International Energy Agency go even further.
Seeing how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected oil markets, they say now is a golden opportunity to phase out fossil fuels and usher in an era of renewable resources, particularly freeing developing countries from “Dirty energy sources”.
So much help ???????
OK, World Community, here’s how I would suggest helping Africa.
Stop trying to apply your Western ideas and priorities to Africa’s needs, challenges and aspirations.
Stop piling up more aid on top of the billions of dollars that have been poured into the African continent over the past five decades to no avail except by helping yourself to think about cleaning up the guilt of the limo liberators on behalf of the help these poor Africans.
And, please stop trying to dictate how Africa should use its own oil and gas resources. With the right strategies, a thriving African oil and gas industry is the key to alleviating widespread energy poverty, supporting economic growth and diversification, and ultimately improving the lives of Africans everyday.
Africans have every right to decide how and when to use their natural resources without interference from the rest of the world, however well-meaning they may be.
Carbon dioxide emission
What is behind the vested interest in oil and gas production in Africa? Does the world really have our best interests at heart? Of course, limiting greenhouse gas emissions is an admirable goal.
But consider this. Over the past 300 years,
- all of Africa emitted seven times less carbon dioxide than China,
- 13 times less than in the United States, and
- 18 times less than European countries combined.
Trying to phase out the African oil industry to prevent climate change is like putting out a small, controlled campfire instead of focusing your attention on miles of blazing forests.
Funny that the argument of keeping fossil fuels in the ground is a Western construct, promoted by countries that have developed their economies with fossil fuels. I will not name names.
The head of oil trading in Africa for the multinational commodities trading company Trafigura said telling Africa not to develop its resources was to make Africa “pay for the sins” of other regions. I am saying that trying to dictate what Africa does with its own resources is insulting, hypocritical and frankly, overstepping.
But you know what, I think there’s more to it than just concerns about climate change. The oil and gas industry has been described as a bunch of bad guys who oppress people and steal resources. Wrong.
But if that’s true, how do you explain the native oil and gas industry companies that provide jobs and training opportunities for local residents and partner with local suppliers? The same goes for international companies operating in Africa.
But in addition to creating jobs, international companies also share knowledge and technology and often improve the communities in which they operate.
Something else to consider: Many oil and gas companies are diversifying their portfolios to include renewable energy assets. In fact, some of them are at the forefront of research that could lead to new renewable energy technologies.
So, if the goal is to advance Africa towards increased use of renewable energy, a healthy oil and gas industry is an efficient and cost-effective way to achieve it.
Does anyone care about fuel poverty?
But the most important reason why Africa should be free to continue producing hydrocarbons is: Africa’s huge reserves of natural gas are the continent’s best weapon for reducing energy poverty.
Today, more than 620 million people in sub-Saharan Africa have no electricity. This represents two thirds of the population. Hundreds of millions more have unreliable or limited power.
What does it look like? Without electricity, you cook your food and heat your home by burning wood, charcoal, or maybe even animal waste. Your regular exposure to indoor air pollution increases your risk for respiratory infections and chronic illnesses.
If you have to go to the hospital for treatment, it will be by lantern light or, worse yet, in the dark. Equipment that requires electricity, such as MRI scanners and ventilators, is probably not an option.
And that’s just one aspect of your life. It’s not even about how the lack of electricity affects your children’s school or limits your community’s economic growth and employment opportunities.
Gas-to-electricity technology which incidentally generates less CO2 emissions can bring reliable electricity to Africa. But we must be allowed to free our resources, not to coerce them.
The good news is that 13 African countries use the natural gas they produce themselves or import from neighboring countries to generate electricity. Yes, I know that renewables can also help meet Africa’s energy needs. But Africans should not be pressured into making decisions in this area.
Fuel poverty is a serious concern. It is quite simply a mistake to make the solution more difficult to solve.
Lack of help
Now back to the idea that Africa needs everyone’s help. For more than 60 years, the world has provided financial aid to Africa. And where has it taken us?
We are still hungry. We still have poverty. We still have violence, infrastructure deficits… the list goes on.
There is no doubt that other nations and other people want to uplift us. But the net effect of their generosity has been to keep Africa under external control.
To achieve self-reliance, we begin by monetizing our oil and gas resources. It starts with using oil and gas as a feedstock to create other value-added products, such as petrochemicals and fuel. Then we take the income to build infrastructure and diversify economies.
Senegal, Mozambique, South Africa, Anzania, Nigeria, Cameroon, Algeria and Equatorial Guinea have embarked on this path. And with the right fiscal, fiscal and regulatory policies, they will be on their way to becoming major players in the global LNG market.
Allowed to continue to use our resource wealth in our own way, other African countries can follow this path. So you see, Global Community. Africa does not need you to help it. Africa does not need you to decide how best to protect Africa from climate change. No one protects the environment better than Africans. Look at the emissions figures.
Africans need you to respect us and understand that your perspectives, priorities and solutions are just that: yours.
We have our own goals and our own ways to get there. If you just stop trying to put up roadblocks, if you stop lecturing, you stop preaching to us, if you stop talking to us and start talking and working and walking and listening to a little, we will help each other from here. and help you too.
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