Energy Colonialism: the scramble for African gas in COP27
By JAZIR MOHAMMED
COP27 was inevitably filled with chaos, indecision, empty objectives and fossil fuel delegates— lots of fossil fuel Delegates, even more than last year’s conference. This year’s COP doubled down on the need to finance schemes centred on mitigating, adapting, and building resilience in the face of climate change. It retained the goal of keeping emissions under 2°C (and possibly 1.5° for future discussions). Most impressively, the parties agreed to finally form a Loss and Damage Fund to compensate countries worst hit by climate change.
However, the agreement failed to call for the most fundamental cause climate activists have long been fighting for, reducing the world’s reliance on fossil fuel energy— the primary source of global warming. Nations, both developed and developing, have consistently shown little to no desire to pursue this aim. The goal is merely to counter carbon emissions with renewable energy to achieve a net zero goal. Western nations, especially the UK, have claimed that their moves in financing further oil and gas projects serve as a “transitional” fuel to pave the way forward for decarbonisation.
The desire of African nations to seek investment in natural gas sparked controversy and attracted criticism. The African Union proposed that its member states adopt a common stance: to “continue to deploy all forms of its abundant energy resources including renewable and non-renewable energy to address energy demand”. However, it is worth noting that this pro-gas position put forward to the conference did not fully materialise. Whilst around 10 African nations had taken an explicitly pro-gas stance and lobbied officials accordingly, several delegates realised this was a very controversial position and simply diverted focus away from the main issues on the agenda: adaptation and climate finance.
Nonetheless, this did not prevent African delegates from soliciting investment into their own countries’ natural gas, given the overwhelming presence of 636 representatives from energy companies registered at the conference. African delegates, even from countries with binding commitments, have shifted their priorities from renewable energy to alleviating energy poverty, especially in the wake of the global economic shocks sparked by the war in Ukraine. Africa has the potential to produce 60% of all the world’s solar power. Yet, only 1% of the country is fitted with solar panels. Why are African leaders turning a blind eye to the potential of renewable energy?
However, with 600 million Africans having no access to energy, it can be understood why African nations (having only contributed to only 3.8% of carbon emissions) would want to place importance on tackling their immediate economic problems over the long-term state of the Earth. Furthermore, this policy change has been exacerbated by the longstanding failure of rich nations to commit to the $100bn a year target for climate finance.
In fact, out of the money that was contributed to climate finance, the overwhelming majority came as loans and private finance schemes, which merely added to the debt. Doesn’t that sound eerily familiar? It is a part of the broader existential problem with foreign aid, which has failed to spur development and serves as a PR stunt for Western countries as they continue plundering the Global South for their debt.
But make no mistake, whilst African leaders from mainly unrepresentative and undemocratic regimes are pursuing fossil fuels in their “national interest”, the African masses are rising. Organisations like Greenpeace Africa and Power Shift are mobilising people to fight against the impact of climate change despite being aware that responsibility lies at home and abroad.
Nevertheless, African ruling classes are courting multinational energy firms (already having record-high profits) to exploit the continent’s natural gas. In response, hundreds of demonstrators ranging from indigenous environment protectors to international climate activists gathered outside the conference chanting slogans such as “Don’t gas Africa!”. Despite the danger of demonstrating in a highly authoritarian state like Egypt, their resistance was strong.
It is clear, time and time again, that every COP gathering ends up an enormous disappointment. Which is inevitable in a fractured global polity with colossal wealth and political power gaps. Instead of pointing fingers and passing blame between nations or regions, we must look at this climate crisis through a more structural lens— the never-ending pursuit of profit and wealth by the capitalist class as the main culprit in the destruction of our planet.
Image: The Lutheran World Foundation/Flickr