Calls for a just energy transition in Africa echo elite panic
Macky Sall, President of Senegal and Chairman of the African Union, speaks on behalf of many poor countries when he declares: “We will not accept that polluting countries, responsible for the situation of the planet, tell us that we do not ‘ll no longer finance fossil fuels. fuels. »
Sall’s argument, increasingly familiar to leaders of poorer states with large oil or gas reserves, is essentially that countries left behind by the richer world’s rapid industrialization must be allowed to exploit their fossil fuels. Telling them not to or denying them funding is bullshit.
According to World Resources Institute. This drops even lower if coal-intensive South Africa is excluded.
Poor countries in Africa and elsewhere missed the magic of the fossil fuel-fueled industrial revolution that, one by one, made the rich countries appear from the poor. And although the poorest countries have contributed next to nothing to the climate crisis, they will be among the hardest hit by changing weather patterns. Now they are being told that they missed the boat.
Western governments, private banks and well-meaning ESG investors are indeed saying: we are terribly sorry but, in the interest of the planet, poor countries must leave their fossil fuels in the ground. Instead, they are told to use the sun and the wind to fuel their dreams.
African leaders rightly call time on this hypocrisy. Rich countries have plunged the world into a climate mess, they say, and it is their job to pull the world out of it. If that means they have to go carbon negative in order to allow poor countries to catch up a bit on carbon, then so be it.
They must also pay for technology to help countries transition to new forms of energy such as hydrogen and new mitigation efforts such as carbon capture. After all, rich countries have been shoveling coal and consuming oil for decades.
This argument is sound as far as it goes. But this cannot remain totally undisputed. Yemi Osinbajo, Vice President of Nigeria and another staunch proponent of the “it’s up to us to pollute” argument, pointed out that almost half of Nigeria’s 210 million people do not have access to electricity . The country still has a nominal per capita income of just $2,400 and a life expectancy of 55 years. Nigeria needs more time, he says, to use its oil and gas to bring light and prosperity to its people.
But Nigeria has had 60 years to do just that. It began serious oil production in 1960 and has produced around 2 million barrels for decades. However, almost all of this oil was exported to rich countries, which burned it and profited from it. The lion’s share of the profits – the rent, as economists call it – went to the Nigerian elites who controlled access to resources and to the multinational oil companies who persuaded them to part with them.
The same goes for other oil-producing countries whose governments have failed to turn oil into prosperity. Angola, with 32 million people but similar reserves, wasted even more oil wealth per capita than Nigeria – no small feat. Mozambique has quantities of offshore gas commensurate with Qatar, but almost no credible plan to turn that wealth into lasting benefits for its impoverished population.
“For all the talk about energy exporting going to make us rich, I refer you to Equatorial Guinea,” says James Mwangi, executive director of consultancy Dalberg Group, pointing to another country whose ruling class has lined its pockets while most of its people remain poor.
Certainly, if you listen carefully enough to talk about a just transition, you can barely hear the sound of elites panicking that they are going to be deprived of their pensions. Mwangi argues that poor countries can do much more to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the global push towards net zero.
For the just transition to land argument, countries like Nigeria need to change the reason they use hydrocarbons. Instead of flaring the gas, as they have done in huge quantities for decades, they must bring it ashore and turn it into electricity for homes and industry. Aliko Dangote, Nigeria’s biggest businessman, has finally opened a factory on the outskirts of Lagos to turn gas into fertilizer – it’s a no-brainer and should have been done decades ago.
If countries are advocating for a just transition, it must benefit the majority of their population through power, electricity and industrial transformation. Everything else is just hot air.