Africa: For Africa, Extreme Poverty Is As Urgent As Climate Change

The African continent faces two of humanity’s greatest threats. One is climate change, which poses substantial risks for agriculture, food production, water supply, destruction of fragile ecosystems and energy security. The other is extreme poverty, which affects nearly 500 million Africans, and is being compounded by shifting weather patterns and natural disasters.

Until last year, extreme poverty in Africa had been steadily declining for nearly 25 years. Following the challenges like Covid-19 and a recent rise in violent conflicts, this trend has reversed.

As we embark on ambitious plans to combat climate change, we cannot overlook the urgent need to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and insecurity.

Central to this will be the adoption of measures to end energy poverty on the continent, which affects about 600 million people.

This will require doing what is necessary to improve energy access for all. Getting there means adopting a nuanced, all-of-the-above approach, rather than imposing rigid plans on different societies.

Fossil fuels, including oil and gas, must continue to be part of our energy equation if we are to achieve universal energy access by 2030.

This is essential not just for consumers who need a dependable supply of energy to fuel their cars, power their homes, and cook their food; it’s also an imperative for African countries that depend on hydrocarbons for economic growth, job creation, and the allocation of revenues that will finance the energy transition.

As stewards of their nations’ hydrocarbons, Africa’s national oil companies have a sworn responsibility to maximise the value of their people’s oil and gas resources.

That means they also have a responsibility to defend the crucial role that fossil fuels look set to continue to play in employing thousands of our citizens, fuelling our economies, and ensuring access to energy.

Investment is key

The main limiting factor in ending African energy poverty is investment. The continent attracts just 2 percent of global energy spending, which amounts to only $45 per African per year.

By comparison, the United States accounts for nearly 20 percent of global energy investments, or just over $1,000 per citizen.

We cannot expect the average person in Kenya to have reliable access to energy if we invest as much in their annual needs as it costs to fill up one tank of gasoline in Kentucky. It is partially the responsibility to African national oil companies to address this imbalance.

The most consumed energy resource in Africa is neither a fossil fuel nor conventional renewables. It is biomass, including wood, charcoal and animal dung, which are used for cooking stoves.

Biomass is not only a poor source of energy, it is also very hazardous, in particular for many rural households, as well as contributing to deforestation and soil erosion.

In cities and rural areas alike, products like liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), which is cheap and abundant, ensure safe and reliable access to energy for millions of people who currently depend on burning wood.

As long as African consumers require oil and gas products like LPG in their consumption, energy producers should strive to meet their demand.

Natural gas once enjoyed a coveted status as a bridge fuel of the Energy Transition, and with good reason.

For Africa, liquefied natural gas (LNG) has the power to transform the economies across the continent, from Mozambique to Tanzania to Senegal, especially in light of the rising international prices.

Natural gas presents a relatively clean fossil fuel that will remain indispensable to the energy transition for the foreseeable future, as well as helping to reduce food insecurity by providing feedstock for fertiliser production, of which there is also a current global shortage.

The role of renewables

Renewable energy will continue to play an increasingly important role in Africa’s energy mix as the world transitions away from hydrocarbons.

Among the energy resources inventoried to date, hydrogen figures prominently, which may play a decisive role in the continent’s energy transition.

At SNPC we are exploring and developing hydrogen in the inner Congolese basin, as well as conducting studies for geothermal energy generation and CO2 sequestration from nearby oil and gas infrastructure, which hold out the promise to decarbonise much of the Republic of Congo’s oil and gas production.

These efforts stand alongside those to promote wind energy, the construction of mini hydroelectric dams, and off-grid solar energy in inaccessible parts of the continent.

As well as a practical, sustainable solution to Africa’s energy needs, investing in the energy transition will present Africans with a new generation of job prospects and economic growth, both of which will help alleviate some of the continent’s persistent social problems.

Reassessing Africa’s role in the Energy Transition does not make us climate change deniers.

On the contrary, the ravages of climate change have had a disproportionate impact on Africa’s environment, putting in peril food and water supply and endangering habitats for a continent responsible for only 2 percent of global carbon emissions.

A nuanced and evolving combination of resources and country-specific strategies is the only viable way of simultaneously decarbonising African economies while providing energy access, employment, and economic inclusion in some of the world’s most deprived areas.

Developing and integrating Africa’s resources and renewable energy potential at this crucial stage in the continent’s history is central to both African energy independence and the global energy transition, and the continent’s national oil companies have a duty to their people and their international partners to see the job through. — New African

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