African nations expected to make case for big rise in fossil fuel output

Exclusive: leaders expected to say at Cop27 they need access to their oil and gas reserves despite effect on global heating

Leaders of African countries are likely to use the next UN climate summit in November to push for massive new investment in fossil fuels in Africa, according to documents seen by the Guardian.

New exploration for gas, and the exploitation of Africa’s vast reserves of oil, would make it close to impossible for the world to limit global heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

However, soaring gas prices have made the prospect of African supplies even more attractive, and developed countries, including EU members, have indicated they would support such developments in the current gas shortage.

The Guardian has seen a technical document prepared by the African Union, comprising most of Africa’s states, for the “second extraordinary session of the specialised technical committee on transport, transcontinental and interregional infrastructure and energy committee”, a meeting of energy ministers that took place by video conference from 14 to 16 June.

The five-page document, and accompanying 25-page explanation, indicates that many African countries favour a common position that would inform their negotiating stance at the Cop27 UN climate summit, scheduled for this November in Egypt, which would entail pushing for an expansion of fossil fuel production across the continent.

The document states: “In the short to medium term, fossil fuels, especially natural gas will have to play a crucial role in expanding modern energy access in addition to accelerating the uptake of renewables.”

Member states of the African Union will meet again, in Addis Ababa, this week to confirm the stance to be taken. They are expected to argue that Africa must be allowed to benefit from its fossil fuel reserves, as rich countries already have done, and that developed countries by contrast must take the lead on sharp cuts to their emissions.

However, environmental campaigners from across the continent fear that the exploitation of gas and oil in Africa would bust global climate targets, prevent the development of renewable energy in Africa, and instead of being used for the benefit of ordinary people, would enrich multinational corporations, investors and the elite in some countries.

Mohamed Adow, the director of the thinktank Power Shift Africa, said it would be a mistake for Africa to opt for fossil fuels instead of moving straight to renewable energy. “Africa is blessed with abundant renewable energy, in sun and wind. Africa should not be shackled to expensive fossil fuels for decades,” he said.

Lorraine Chiponda, the coordinator of the Africa Coal Network, said: “The prospect that African leaders are presenting and pushing for gas developments and investment is overwhelming and reckless given the climate impacts that threaten the lives of millions of people in Africa having seen worsening droughts and hunger, recurring floods and cyclones. Fossil fuel projects have neither solved energy poverty in Africa where 600 million people still live in energy poverty nor brought any socio-economic justice to African people.”

The International Energy Agency warned last year that no new fossil fuel developments could take place if the world was to stay within 1.5C of pre-industrial levels. Recent extreme weather, including heatwaves and wildfires in Europe and North America, has intensified fears that the climate crisis is progressing faster than had been anticipated.

African countries are also expected to be among the most damaged by the impacts of the climate crisis. Drought is already afflicting a large swathe of the Horn of Africa at present, and millions of people are “marching toward starvation”, the World Food Programme has warned.

But the soaring price of gas, driven by war in Ukraine and the recovery from the Covid pandemic, has spurred many countries to see a potential bonanza in the unexploited reserves remaining in Africa. Research by the Guardian earlier this year revealed scores of “carbon bombs” – fossil fuel reserves that if exploited could put the global climate targets well out of reach.

Fatima Ahouli, regional coordinator of Climate Action Network Arab World, said leaders seeking new fossil fuel exploitation were contributing to a new form of colonialism.

“Calling for more and new exploitation of fossil fuels in Africa is driven by the same hungry countries who only see Africa as a goldmine,” she said.

Gas in Africa is set to become of the flashpoints of the Cop27 climate talks. The EU has indicated it would support the production of gas in Africa, as it urgently seeks new sources of gas following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent threats to gas exports from Russia.

Sign up to First Edition, our free daily newsletter – every weekday morning at 7am BST

Mary Robinson, the chair of the Elders group of former statespeople and high-ranking business leaders, has also weighed in on the issue, controversially telling the Guardian earlier this year that African countries must be allowed to use their gas, though she insists it must be for domestic use, for electricity and as a clean cooking fuel, rather than being exported to the EU.

About 580 million people in Africa still lack access to electricity and modern energy.

Adow said exploiting gas in Africa would merely lock countries into a high-carbon future. He called for rich countries to make funds and support available for poorer countries to move to renewable energy instead. “There is plenty of opportunity for renewable energy in Africa, but countries need help to construct the infrastructure.”

The Guardian has approached the African Union for comment.


Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Fossil fuel firms ‘have humanity by the throat’, says UN head in blistering attack
António Guterres compares climate inaction to tobacco firms dismissing links between smoking and cancer

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent

17, Jun, 2022 @1:00 PM

Article image
G7 nations committing billions more to fossil fuel than green energy
In spite of green rhetoric, money has piled into aviation and car industries since start of pandemic, report finds

Sandra Laville

02, Jun, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
Half world’s fossil fuel assets could become worthless by 2036 in net zero transition
$11tn fossil fuel asset crash could cause 2008-style financial crisis, warns new study

Jonathan Watts, Ashley Kirk, Niamh McIntyre, Pablo Gutiérrez and Niko Kommenda

04, Nov, 2021 @4:00 PM

Article image
What is the fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty?
Initiative aims to stop expansion of fossil fuel exploitation, but who supports it and how would it work?

Damian Carrington

11, Nov, 2022 @2:12 PM

Article image
Fossil fuel industry gets subsidies of $11m a minute, IMF finds
Trillions of dollars a year are ‘adding fuel to the fire’ of the climate crisis, experts say

Damian Carrington Environment editor

06, Oct, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Concerns as EU bank balks at plan to halt fossil fuel investments
Last-minute lobbying forces delay to ambitious move by European Investment Bank

Jonathan Watts Global environment editor

15, Oct, 2019 @2:09 PM

Article image
Just 10% of fossil fuel subsidy cash 'could pay for green transition'
Redirecting small portion of subsidies would unleash clean energy revolution, says report

Damian Carrington Environment editor

01, Aug, 2019 @8:20 AM

Article image
How dash for African oil and gas could wipe out Congo basin tropical forests
Third of Congo basin’s tropical forests are under threat from fossil fuel investments, undermining climate action, report warns

Nina Lakhani

10, Nov, 2022 @9:30 AM

Article image
G7 nations pledge to end fossil fuel subsidies by 2025
Leaders of the UK, US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the EU urge all countries to join them in eliminating support for coal, oil and gas in a decade

Karl Mathiesen

27, May, 2016 @2:33 PM

Article image
‘Grotesque greed’: immoral fossil fuel profits must be taxed, says UN chief
António Guterres urges governments to introduce windfall levies and use money to support vulnerable people

Matthew Taylor

03, Aug, 2022 @4:50 PM