“In Africa, exploiting our oil is a matter of survival” | COP27

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“In Africa, exploiting our oil is a matter of survival” | COP27

< p class="styled__StyledLegend-sc-v64krj-0 cfqhYM">In Niamey, Niger's capital, the government is promoting gas production to combat deforestation. The majority of the inhabitants use wood for their domestic needs. The desert has conquered two thirds of the territory. (Archives)

Is it legitimate to ask African countries to leave their hydrocarbon resources in the ground in the name of the fight against climate change? This question is on everyone's lips at COP27.

Fossil fuels have never been more discussed at a United Nations climate conference than at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Industry lobbyists are present there en masse (they are 636, according to the count made by the NGO Global Witness) and countries such as Iran and Kuwait use the platform offered by the UN, during the high-level segment of the conference, to extol the virtues of their oil.

But there is a blind spot to this story. In the negotiations at COP27, several industrialized countries are asking African countries to also make an energy transition by avoiding the exploitation of fossil fuels.

However, while experts of the IPCC and those of the International Energy Agency repeat that we must stop investing in new oil and gas projects if we want to avoid a warming that exceeds the threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius, the Africa remains a very active prospecting ground.

Projects to explore and exploit recently discovered fossil fuel reserves are underway in 48 of the continent's 54 countries.

With the energy crisis in Europe, Mozambique and Egypt are becoming very important sources of liquefied natural gas (LNG). As such, Mozambique is on its way to becoming one of the largest exporters of this resource in the world.

Pipeline projects are emerging in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger, Kenya or Angola. About 16 billion additional barrels of oil equivalent are expected to be produced by 2030.

In the context of the fight against climate change and the well-recognized need for a global energy transition, should these countries give up exploiting these resources? Many industrialized nations demand it.

In the context of the war in Ukraine, we saw many countries in Europe turn to Africa [for natural gas], and at this COP, we saw the European Union almost sign a contract with the on gas, says Sena Alouka, who chairs the NGO Young Volunteers for the Environment in Togo.

< p>“Are we serious? We come to the COP and we are told: “Keep your forests quiet, leave the gas in the basement, do not touch anything, in the name of the planet, and we can continue to live as usual. " »

— Sena Alouka, President of the NGO Young Volunteers for the Environment in Togo

Sena Alouka is an environmentalist very concerned about the devastating effects of climate change on his continent. But his point of view on the issue of fossil fuels in Africa goes beyond the environmental issue alone.

Mr. Alouka raises the question of development.

Sena Alouka, president of the NGO Young volunteers for the environment in Togo

Six percent of Togolese have access to electricity, he says. And 646 million Africans still cook with wood, and it kills! In my country, Togo, poor cooking kills 5,000 people a year: that's a lot more than AIDS and malaria combined! So, faced with this dilemma, what do we do? Do we keep oil underground or do we say to ourselves: “For our right to development, we consume it, but a little smarter”? This is a bit of a tricky question.

According to a recent report by the Rainforest UK foundation, taking into account the exploration permits that have been allocated, the area of ​​land allocated to oil and gas production on the African continent is set to quadruple.

Projects are on the rise: Mozambique is on track to become the 10th largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the world, a huge pipeline project that would cross the great rainforest of the Congo Basin is on the drawing boards and a Another major pipeline project between Niger and Benin is under construction.

Lawali Malam Karami, from Niger, is well aware that large fossil fuel projects, especially those carried out by foreign companies, are not desirable for the fight against climate change. This activist, who heads the NGO Platform Civil Society in Niger and who works closely with the government of his country at COP27, is of the opinion that the issue of hydrocarbons in Africa should not be imposed by the countries of the North.< /p>

“There is a certain contradiction between what we advocate for using renewable energies to ensure our development. But will Niger sit back and watch its people and animals perish? We do it today, this exploitation of oil, not out of joy, but out of necessity. »

— Lawali Malam Karami, leader of the Nigerien Civil Society Platform NGO

Despite his environmentalist convictions, Mr. Karami believes that for Niger, as for many other countries in the Sahel, access to hydrocarbons is not about greed.

It's to survive, he says. Because with oil resources, we only survive. We're not living: it's just to survive, really. Because the resources that oil exploitation will provide us with are not sufficient to solve the development problems in all sectors of Niger.

At COP27, one issue in particular stuck in the negotiations: the issue of loss and damage.

The most vulnerable countries demand that the rich countries, largely responsible for climate change, put on the table funds that are accessible quickly to cover the losses and irreparable damage caused by the climate in the countries of the South. They are demanding that we agree this week on the structure of a financial mechanism that would go in this direction.

In the context of these difficult negotiations, some countries, such as Niger, are brandishing the threat of the exploitation of fossil fuels: if you refuse to fix climate injustices, we will dig!

We actually expect this counterpart of the non-use of our fossil resources for our survival, says Lawali Malam Kamari. If we have this counterpart from the developed countries, then we can leave fossil energy.

A position with which Sena Alouka, from Togo, does not entirely agree .

Putting the carrot in front of the ass to get it going is not a good debate in negotiations, he says. We say to the country: "Leave your forests alone, we will pay you", and that leads to the violation of human rights.

It's the same with oil , thinks Mr. Alouka. Should we say to the Democratic Republic of the Congo: “Keep your oil in the basement”, in Chad: “Don't exploit”, “You yes, you don't”?

“I don't think that's the right thing to do. This is the wrong debate, because the real debate is a development debate. Development needs modern transport, needs that children at school in the evening do not have to light the lamp with kerosene to breathe in heavy metals. ”

— Sena Alouka, president of the NGO Young Volunteers for the Environment in Togo

The report Who finances the expansion of fossil fuels in Africa? , published on Tuesday at the COP by a group of around thirty NGOs, tells us that two-thirds of fossil fuel projects in Africa are carried out by foreign multinationals and that the majority are directed towards export.

The issues that drive African countries to want to exploit their fossil fuels are multiple and complex.

Several of these foreign firms are also Canadian, such as the oil and gas company ReconAfrica, which operates among other in Namibia, where climate activist Ina-Maria Shikongo lives, also present at COP27.

“It's petrocolonialism. Does Africa need to develop like Europe or America did? How is it that we Africans cannot develop as we want? Our leaders don't speak for us, my president doesn't speak for me! ”

— Ina-Maria Shikongo, activist from Namibia

The desire to develop fossil fuels has made many unhappy on the African continent, in part because states have little control over resources and because the benefits do not accrue to local people.

It may have been the elected president of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who arrived in COP27 on Wednesday, who best summed up in his speech the problems related to the exploitation of fossil fuels on the African continent: The fight against climate change cannot be separated from the fight against poverty.

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