Oil rig, Nigeria | © Keystone/Magnum Photo/Peter Marlow

The Unchecked Fossil Boom 

BY: Patrik Berlinger - 20. September 2023
© Keystone/Magnum Photo/Peter Marlow

In view of the threat of climate escalation, the future quality of life worldwide depends on how quickly and comprehensively we say goodbye to fossil energies. Despite all promises to steer economic policies in a sustainable, climate-compatible direction, the West is currently investing massively in fossil energies in Africa. Civil society is calling for an end to this practice, since alternative models have long been available.

Over 70 oil and gas projects are scheduled to launch in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2025: In April 2022, for example, the energy company Total and the countries involved announced the start of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline, which will bring oil from Uganda 900 miles across Tanzania to the coast in four years. Environmentalists warn, among other things, of the pollution of Lake Albert, under which the oil is stored. According to calculations, the oil production is likely to result in more CO2 emissions per year than the combined annual emissions of Uganda and Tanzania to date. Uganda's president and Total promise an economic boost in return. However, it is already apparent that behind the Ugandan companies are international consortia that often skim off the profits. And while low-paid jobs are created locally, foreign workers will fill the lucrative management positions.

After a ten-year delay, Shell's Bonga North project in Nigeria is also expected to come on stream this year. The mammoth $10 billion Bonga South West Aparo project is expected to follow next year. With these projects, Nigeria is regaining its position as Africa's largest oil producer. At the same time, commodity production in Ghana is expected to more than double this year, with new fields coming on stream, including recent discoveries in the Deepwater Tano Cape Three Points block operated by Aker Energy, a Norwegian company. This so-called pecan field is located in very deep waters, 70 miles off the coast of Ghana, and has an expected life of 25 years. 

In Namibia, the government has been focusing heavily on green hydrogen for some time (for example, for export to Germany). However, since Shell and Total suspect there are immense oil and gas deposits in the middle of nature reserves such as the Kavango Basin, the country also wants to push ahead with fossil fuel extraction. While civil resistance is growing with campaigns, petitions and demonstrations against the exploitation of raw materials, intimidation and repression by the government is also increasing. 

In addition, oil from the Sangomar offshore project is scheduled to be produced in Senegal for the first time by 2024 at the latest. This $4.6 billion project is being led by global commodities company Woodside Energy in partnership with the state oil company Petrosen. The government hopes that oil exports will provide a boost to national industrialization. Additional economic growth is expected from an agreement with Germany for the production and shipment of gas to Europe. A floating liquefied natural gas terminal is to be built off the coast this year, operated by the international oil and gas company BP. The project, which is initially scheduled to run for 20 years, is intended to help Germany cope with its feared gas shortage due to the import freeze from Russia.

The high cost of subsidies

Investment for oil and gas exploration in Africa has increased from $3.4 billion in 2020 to $5.1 billion in 2022. This is fatal. After all, every dollar spent on oil and gas exploration rather than renewable technologies runs counter to the International Energy Agency's "Net Zero by 2050" global roadmap to meet the "Paris" 1.5 degree pathway. 

A recent study by leading climate scientists shows that global warming is increasing rapidly: temperatures could be permanently 1.5 degrees higher than before industrialization as early as the mid-2030s. Recently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a clearer warning than ever before, calling for drastic measures to reduce global CO2 emissions. 

So how are such projects possible in Africa? One important reason is the global subsidies for oil, gas and coal that governments use to artificially cheapen fossil fuels. At more than a trillion U.S. dollars, they are by far the highest we have ever seen – and five times as high as they were in 2020. The International Monetary Fund finds even much higher (indirect) subsidies. It warns that these lead to high environmental and health costs for the general public and delay the urgently needed sustainable transformation. A better path than subsidies for harmful energy sources would be targeted social policy support for poorer people, who are currently suffering in particular from high energy costs and inflation.   

In addition, there are open doors: At the last climate conference in Egypt, the African Union and African government representatives spoke in favor of investments in oil and gas. The governments correctly argue that the continent is responsible for less than three percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions and that Africa's responsibility is therefore negligible. They want to take advantage of economic opportunities now and deal with climate change later. At the same time, the governments affirmed that they would expand renewable energies. In the short and medium term, however, fossil fuels would play a decisive role in driving forward countries' development, but above all in satisfying Europe's hunger for non-Russian raw materials. Not surprisingly, many European companies and government leaders support Africa's expansion plans in the oil and gas sector – and are thus significantly driving Africa's fossil fuel bonanza.

The West has a responsibility 

The projects in Africa are also being criticized. An alliance of international and African NGOs released a report, "Who is financing fossil fuel expansion in Africa?" at the climate conference in Egypt. The report shows how 200 companies are exploring for and developing fossil resources or developing liquefied natural gas terminals and pipelines in 48 of Africa's 55 countries. International investors held more than $109 billion worth of stocks and bonds in companies driving fossil fuel development in Africa. Investors include banks such as Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank and UBS, as well as investment firms such as Blackrock and Vanguard, according to the report.  

With millions of people in Africa experiencing increasingly devastating droughts and cyclones, oil and gas development is short-sighted and reckless, according to the alliance. Developing new deposits in Africa and building expensive gas infrastructure now in view of the hunger and energy crisis in Europe would only benefit a few. Rather, they would cement dependence on fossil energy and delay the path toward a sustainable and equitable future for years to come – both in Africa and in the importing countries.

Developments show that European countries have failed to promote renewable energy for years. As a result, Africa is increasingly threatening to become Europe's "gas station." In addition, science has long proven that "green" investments in renewable energies and sustainable technologies increase energy security and pay off economically – in addition to slowing climate change. Promoting wind and solar energy also creates more and good jobs. 

At the conclusion of the June 15, 2023, Bonn Intermediate Negotiations for the next World Climate Summit in Dubai, climate justice movements from all sectors called for a global mobilization on September 15 under the hashtag "#EndFossilFuels." As world leaders gather at the ongoing UN climate talks in New York, millions of people in all parts of the world are taking to the streets to demand a swift, just and fair end to coal, oil and gas.

About the Author

Climate and Development

The effects of climate change are particularly severe in developing countries. Helvetas therefore calls for consistent implementation of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Advocacy in the South

Real change requires open dialog between policymakers and society. So Helvetas promotes exchange between decision-makers and those affected by their decisions.