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Afrika Gas LNG-Tanker im Senegal
Image: Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa/picture alliance

Europe scrambles for African gas

Tim Schauenberg
November 11, 2022

The African Union is pushing for more investment in fossil gas projects at the COP27 climate conference as European leaders seek alternatives to Russian gas imports.

https://p.dw.com/p/4JMMH

Caught in an energy crisis and hungry for alternatives to Russian gas, European leaders have spent months eyeing fossil fuel projects across Africa.

Their counterparts are willing to sell.

Senegal and Mauritania are planning to ship liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Germany. The Senegalese government expects to supply Europe's biggest economy with 2.5 million tons of gas from 2023 and as much as 10 million tons by 2030. The African Union is pushing for more energy infrastructure, including fossil gas. Countries like South Africa and Tanzania are home to untouched fields that could net them billions of dollars.

"This is indeed a great moment for Africa," African Union Executive Director Rashid Ali Abdallah told DW. "It's not just Europe, there are global crises and Africa can help meet global demand."

Workers at a fossil gas pipeline in Tunisian
Fossil gas demand must quickly fall to stop the planet heating 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperaturesImage: Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images

So far, just 6% of the world's fossil gas is produced in Africa, a continent where climate change is wreaking havoc on crops and homes and 600 million people do not have access to electricity. From Nigeria to Egypt and Algeria to Mozambique, countries across the continent are pushing to extract more gas – for both them and Europeans to burn. 

"Africa has woken up and we are going to exploit our natural resources," said Ugandan Energy Minister Ruth Nankabirwa Ssentamu ahead of the COP27 climate conference in Egypt.

Africa 'not Europe's gas station'

The 55 member states of the African Union have adopted a common position to promote the expansion of energy infrastructure. The African Energy Commission, the agency responsible for coordinating energy policy across the continent, has made a case for gas and nuclear to play a decisive role in development alongside renewable sources.

"If global environmentalists call for an immediate end to fossil fuel use, developing countries in Africa will suffer economically and socially," the energy agency found in a report.

But stopping the planet from heating 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures — the level to which world leaders promised to halt global warming by the end of the century — does not allow for further exploration of oil and gas fields, according to the International Energy Agency, an organization led by energy ministers mostly from rich countries. Cutting emissions quickly enough would mean that by 2035, just 5% of electricity would be made by burning fossil gas unchecked.

Workers at the Nord Stream 1 gas facility in Lubmin, Germany
Countries like Germany relied on Russia for gas to heat homes and power industry before it invaded UkraineImage: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images

Environmentalists have warned rich countries against negotiating new gas supplies with African counterparts during the climate summit. Representatives of environmental nonprofit groups Powershift Africa, Greenpeace and Climate Action Network said the summit risks becoming a festival of greenwashing.

Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa, a think tank based in Nairobi, told journalists at the conference in Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday that Europe was trying to make Africa its "gas station" but not giving enough money for renewable energy.

"We cannot allow Africa, which has missed out on fossil fuel-driven industrialization, to now become the victim of short-sighted, selfish colonialist interests, especially from Europe."  

Short-term profit, long-term risk? 

Oil and gas exports are a major source of revenue for many African countries, accounting for 50% to 80% of total government revenue in some countries. Most of the gas produced in Africa is exported.

Still, African countries contribute minimally to global warming. The continent's share of climate-damaging greenhouse gas emissions is less than 4%. The US, the EU, and China together account for more than 50% of global emissions. 

The EU declared fossil gas a transition fuel this year, describing it as "sustainable" in regulations that guide investments. This should also apply to African production, said Abdallah. "Our per capita consumption of fossil fuels or petroleum products in Africa is only one-third of the global average. To say that those who contribute so little should save more is simply not fair." 

Appetite for gas 'fizzling out' 

In light of plans to clean up its economy, "Europe's appetite for gas from the global South, in this case Africa, will fizzle out," said Kofi Mbuk, cleantech analyst at the think tank Carbon Tracker. Investments worth billions in new African gas pipelines run a high risk of losing value within a few years.   

The LNG projects under construction or planned across the world would — if implemented — consume 10% of the remaining carbon budget, according to a report published Wednesday by Climate Action Tracker, a research project by two environmental research institutes. By 2030, there would also be an oversupply of LNG equivalent to nearly five times the EU's Russian gas imports in 2021.

Data visualization: LNG export capacities in 2021 of African nations

"The energy crisis has replaced the climate crisis," said Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics, one of the organizations behind the tracker. "Our analysis shows that the LNG facilities proposed, approved and under construction far exceed what is needed to replace Russian gas." 

The African Union expects gas exports to decline in the medium term as rich countries move away from fossil fuels. Gas should be used on the domestic market to drive electrification for the approximately 600 million Africans who still live without electricity today, it found. 

Juan Pablo Osorio, the head of the climate diplomacy program at climate think tank E3G, said fossil fuels are not needed for this. "Electricity from renewables is the cheapest in the world and is well suited for rapid access to power in remote areas. In the short term, it can lift millions of people out of energy poverty."

This article was adapted from German.

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