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25th May 2022

Analysis

African push to invest in gas met with caution by EU

  • Cutting off funding for new gas exploration would amount to "a fatal blow" Macky Sall, the Senegalese president has said
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The EU's big offer at the two-day EU-AU summit was the Global Gateway Africa — a €150bn initiative that, among other goals, aims to connect Africa's mineral wealth to the global market and invest in the continent's electrification, preferably using clean energy.

"Africa is rich in hydropower, solar power and wind power," European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said Friday (18 February), at the close of the two-day summit in Brussels.

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"To end climate change the world needs Africa," she said.

The availability of far more power from renewables has been amply demonstrated in Africa, with countries like Kenya and Morocco already significant generators of cleaner energy.

Yet for some African countries, the focus may be as much on fossil sources — in particular natural gas — which aren't so climate-friendly.

Nigeria, Mozambique and Senegal are sitting on giant natural gas reserves, and they have lobbied hard in recent months for Europe to continue to make financial support available for new gas projects.

Macky Sall, the Senegalese president who currently presides over the African Union, has said that cutting off funding for new gas exploration would amount to "a fatal blow" for emerging African countries.

Sall regularly makes the point that some 600 million Africans — more than the entire population of Europe — still lack access to electricity.

And it's not as if efforts aren't underway to tap African gas.

European vice president Margrethe Vestager and Nigerian vice president Yemi Osinbajo ahead of the summit agreed to "explore all options for increased supply of Liquified Natural Gas from Nigeria to the EU."

That pledge came against a backdrop of Osinbajo writing in Foreign Affairs magazine about wealthy nations banning or restricting public investment in fossil fuels, including natural gas, after "decades of profiting from oil and gas" themselves.

But the African push on energy is a difficult matter for the EU, where many member states don't want to be seen investing in gas at a time when climate action is centre-stage.

Europe itself also is deeply divided over the role of gas as a transition fuel to a cleaner future.

Questions of fairness

African countries now want their opportunity to industrialise — and, for some, that may mean a continuing reliance in some countries on fossil fuels.

African policymakers also point to the hypocrisy in Europe's enthusiasm for Africa to embrace renewables while Germany, for example, has allowed construction of Nord Stream 2, a pipeline connecting Europe to Russian gas suppliers.

And questions of fairness loom large over how far and how fast Africa should be expected to make a transition to renewables, particularly given the rich world's responsibility for the overwhelming bulk of emissions responsible for climate change.

"There is a question of whether Europe is actually using Africa as a guinea pig, even while [Europe's] own power consumption patterns, and in general its consumption patterns, aren't seriously put into question," Faten Aggad, a senior advisor at the African Climate Foundation, told the EU Scream podcast ahead of the summit.

Unsurprisingly, given the sensitivities surrounding energy issues in Africa and Europe, leaders did not appear to be in a hurry to announce big, new financing deals for fossil fuels at the summit.

"The transition to clean energy will be a process, especially for countries that rely heavily on coal," von der Leyen said on Friday.

A new meeting between the European and African commissions is now planned for the spring.

"Then we really have to deliver a solution," she said.

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