Net Zero? Not for Africa. Not Yet. – Africa must fight energy poverty with oil and gas development

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NJ Ayuk | Executive Chairman | African Energy Chamber | mail me |


On May 18, 2021, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released ‘Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector’, which outlines plans for the global energy sector to reach ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Achieving net zero emissions means the amount of greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere would equal the amount being removed. Achieving this balance, the IEA maintains, would require more than aggressive carbon-capture measures: It would call for a swift and immediate shift from petroleum energy sources to energy provided through naturally replenished sources like wind, water, and solar power.

From an environmental standpoint, this is a great concept.

But we live in reality. And today, in real-world Africa, this goal is not feasible. Nor is it advisable. While I agree with their data on many topics, the IEA’s conclusion is flat-out wrong on this issue. Africa needs oil and gas.

Unreasonable objectives

Some of the critical steps in IEA’s roadmap include:

  • No new investment in new fossil fuel supply (including oil and gas) after 2021
  • No new sales of fossil fuel boilers after 2025
  • No new internal combustion engine (ICE) car sales after 2035 globally
  • 60% of car sales are electric by 2030, and 50% of heavy truck sales are electric from 2035

These steps assume a lot about the state of the world – assumptions that are faulty, especially for Africa. For one, it will require universal energy access by 2030, meaning that everyone has access to electricity and clean cooking. And with approximately 592 million Africans currently without this access, we’re going to be hard-pressed to flip that switch in less than 10 years.

The IEA’s roadmap to net zero also relies on unprecedented investments in renewables – a substantial boost in clean energy investments from the $1 trillion made over the last five years up to $5 trillion annually by 2030 – and cooperation from policymakers who are unified in their efforts. In this idyllic partnership, our Western counterparts talk a good game. But the fact is, to date, these same Western countries have invested little to no funding into Africa’s renewables space. To our dismay, even the International Oil Companies that have tried to accept the IEA’s publicity stunt have little or no renewable projects in Africa.

‘For many developing countries, the pathway to net-zero without international assistance is not clear’, OPEC wrote in response to IEA’s roadmap release, issuing a ‘critical assessment’ on the very same day. ‘Technical and financial support is needed to ensure deployment of key technologies and infrastructure. Without greater international co‐operation, global CO2 emissions will not fall to net zero by 2050.’

As I have stated in the past, demonising energy companies is not a constructive way forward, and ignoring the role that carbon-based fuels have played in driving human progress distorts the public debate. We cannot expect African nations, which together emitted seven times less CO2 than China last year and four times less than the US, according to the Global Carbon Atlas, to undermine their best opportunities for economic development by simply aligning with the Western view of how to tackle carbon emissions.

Creating new problems

China, meanwhile, appears


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1 COMMENT

  1. This is not nearly as clever as it purports to be. Nowhere in Africa has the discovery and exploitation of oil and gas benefited the general population, the elite and big capital always win, but the poor, never. In addition, if Africa goes the fossil fuel route, it is condemning itself to stay behind the wave, permanently. Africa must develop green energy quickly and creatively if it is to get ahead of the game.

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