African countries should be able to tap their vast reserves of natural gas despite the urgent need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, former UN climate envoy Mary Robinson has said.
Robinson, the chairman of the Elders Group of former statesmen and business leaders of the world, said the need for energy in African countries was so great that they should use gas on a large scale, unlike the developed countries which must stop their gas consumption as soon as possible to avoid climate degradation.
“Africa is trying to make its voice heard on its fair and equitable energy needs, and of course that involves some use of gas as a just transition,” she told the Guardian in an interview.
She highlighted the 600 million people in Africa who do not have access to electricity and the 900 million who use biomass or dirty oil cooking stoves, which could use gas as a less polluting alternative. “There needs to be some leeway to tackle energy poverty in Africa and give Africa the ability to move faster,” she said.
African leaders will make similar arguments ahead of Cop27 in Sharm el-Sheikh in November, which is sure to make the issue a flashpoint at the UN climate summit, seen as a chance for Africans. African countries to draw global attention to their vulnerability to the climate crisis and their economic potential.
Robinson’s intervention is likely to inflame controversy after two weeks of preparatory UN talks for Cop27 convened in Bonn, Germany, from Monday. While some support the idea that African gas can be tapped while the EU and developed countries find green alternatives, others see an African gas race as a potential disaster.
With gas prices high and likely to remain so, and with most of Africa’s potential reserves owned or licensed by foreign companies, it would be difficult to keep African gas on the continent, rather than selling it to the most offering.
Thuli Makama, director of the Africa program at campaign group Oil Change International, said: “Africa should not be forced to exploit fossil fuel reserves to serve the international community in the face of Russia’s unprovoked war, and Africa does not need to develop these reserves. to meet its energy access needs. It is a myth that fossil fuels are good for development.
African countries are also unhappy that developed countries have tapped their own gas and are now looking for new sources due to soaring prices and supply constraints following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Africa has significant gas reserves in countries like Nigeria, Mozambique and Senegal, but many are still largely untapped.
Mohamed Maait, Egypt’s finance minister, made this argument last month during a visit to London. He warned rich countries not to appear to “punish” the poor world and gave the example of Senegal, where major gas discoveries are expected it could transform the economy – but would also be a vast ‘carbon bomb’ of the type which, if exploited, would lead to temperature rises far exceeding the 1.5C limit targeted in Glasgow.
“Senegal hoped that this discovery would help them. Now you come and say climate change means stop finance,” Maait said. “It’s very worrying.”
Urging Africa to drill for gas marks a change of heart for Robinson, who ahead of last year’s Cop26 summit sharply criticized the UK government for its involvement in funding a new gas field in Mozambique . She also called the UK’s tax breaks for North Sea oil and gas a “form of madness”.
Robinson, the former President of Ireland and an influential figure in global climate diplomacy, admitted that she had been very reluctant to encourage new gas development, but Africa’s energy poverty was so great that the transition to the gas was needed.
“Some people think it’s a dangerous message,” she said. “You can see my dilemma. I am totally committed to [climate action], I couldn’t be more attentive to the seriousness of the situation. But it’s not one size fits all. »
The International Energy Agency has warned that no new oil and gas should come on stream in the future if the world is to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. The Guardian has uncovered nearly 200 carbon bombs, including a significant number in Africa, representing oil and gas deposits which, if exploited, would cause greenhouse gas emissions well in excess of 1 .5 C or 2 C heating.
“If we had done the right thing and invested in clean energy for large-scale African businesses, we would be in a different place, but we haven’t,” Robinson said. “And now we have to understand that African countries are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis.”
She said European countries and the United States, which are still heavily dependent on fossil fuels, had no reason to advise African countries to leave their reserves alone.
However, Friends of the Earth campaigner Jamie Peters said: “Fossil fuel extraction has not brought prosperity to the vast majority of Africans and new developments will only cause more damage. There needs to be rapid change to develop clean energy systems in Africa to provide much-needed energy security and jobs – and this should be funded by the wealthy, industrialized countries that have done the most to create the climate crisis .