Africa has a right to energy self-defence

By Joël Té-Léssia Assoko
Posted on Sunday, 16 October 2022 10:00, updated on Tuesday, 18 October 2022 11:18

A coal-fired power plant on the Yangtze River in Nantong, China, in December 2018. © Utuku/ROPI-REA

Why should the African continent deprive itself of fossil fuels while the West and Asia continue to happily pollute the earth?

One might be tempted to employ the epithet once applied to a chaotic French Socialist Party congress – “a drunken brawl in a Mexican brothel” – to describe the vaudeville that played out in New York at the end of September regarding the subject of climate finance.

Accused without further justification by the former US vice-president Al Gore of being “a climate denier”, David Malpass, the head of the World Bank, clumsily defended himself.

No doubt a vestige of the language acrobatics employed during the Trump years, the former Treasury undersecretary (2017-2019) at first refused to expand on the human and fossil origins of global warming, merely stammering: “I am not a scientist.”

To fund or not to fund

Of course, Malpass was quick to correct the record. He acknowledged that the “sharp increase in the use of coal, diesel, and heavy fuel oil” had negative consequences for the climate. But the damage had been done.

A dismayed chorus made up of NGOs and activists, supported by Gore, chanted calls for his resignation (a three-year-old monomania). Similar calls came from John Kerry and John Podesta, President Joe Biden’s special envoy and senior climate adviser respectively. Malpass’s term runs until the first half of 2024.

It is African countries that are being intimidated, excluded from funding and forced to give up this energy.”

The climate lobby – whether acting out of calculation or conviction is basically irrelevant – stubbornly opposes the financing of any fossil fuel project, especially on the African continent, whatever the circumstances, and whatever the consequences.

Recurrent gambling

Africa is a convenient stooge in these recurring energy financing games. Data from the Global Energy Monitor shows that China’s coal-fired power plants emit as many tonnes of CO2 in 36 hours as Morocco’s do in an entire year.

All the coal-fired power plants installed since 2000 across the continent account for 13.8 GW of electrical capacity. This is barely half the coal-fired capacity that China added to its electricity mix in 2021 alone. And this was without the World Bank’s endorsement, support or involvement.

Campaigns of intimidation

Yet it is African countries that are being intimidated, excluded from funding and forced to give up this energy.

Take gas, for example, another bête noire for activists and their sponsors. The combined capacity of all the gas-fired power plants being developed across Africa is only 65 GW. At the same time, Vietnam alone is developing 93 GW of gas-fired power.

The hypocrisy and double standards that Africa suffers on these energy and climate issues seem endless. In total, the continent has barely eight billion cubic metres (5.8m tonnes per year) of storage capacity for imported gas. As a result of the crisis in Ukraine, Latvia is building a 6.2 billion cubic metre storage facility in the harbour town of Skulte (population 900).

Prioritisation

Calls to make renewable energy financing ‘the only priority’ are part of the Can’t-We-Just-Print-More-Money school of climate policy that ignores economic realities.

In The Climate Casino (2013), Nobel laureate William Nordhaus, a pioneer of climate macroeconomics, said: “Costs and benefits must be weighed in the balance when evaluating global warming options […]. It is not enough to say ‘ecosystems are priceless”.

The hypocrisy and double standards that Africa suffers on these energy and climate issues seem endless.”

“Tackling climate change will require a huge pipeline of impact projects and a coordinated effort to finance these projects”, as well as “sound diagnostics, new uses of technology and ambitious prioritisation”, Malpass said in October 2021.

This has not stopped the World Bank from mobilising a record $31.7 billion in 2021-2022 “to help countries face climate change”. This is 19% more than the previous record, which was set just one year earlier. Is this climate denial?

What absurd cost-risk/cost-benefit comparison could justify depriving the African continent of fossil fuels to supposedly preserve the planet’s balance?

The Europeans have hastily reopened their coal-fired power stations to heat their homes this winter. Incidentally, it was not an Angolan minister but rather the British energy secretary who, in April, promised to deregulate the sector in order to extract “every last drop” of oil from the North Sea.

Meanwhile, 600 million Africans do not have safe and stable access to electricity. African countries, which have contributed nothing to the climate disaster caused by the West and China, have a right to energy self-defence.

There is no doubt that drastic measures must be imposed to mitigate the impact of climate change. But the obvious targets of this policy are not in Africa. Try looking in the mirror instead.

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