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West ‘unfair’ to stop Africa using fossil fuels, says Qatari minister

Reuters//Naseem Zeitoon
Saad al-Kaabi agrees with African leaders that they should be able to exploit their resources to lift their people out of poverty and raise living standards
  • Green goals are essential, Al Kaabi says, but people must be realistic
  • Africa should be able to use oil and gas for ‘national growth’, he argues
  • Energy capacity in sub-Saharan Africa 20 times less than in the US

Barring Africa from exploiting its fossil fuel riches is “very, very, very unfair” despite the urgency to cut global greenhouse gas emissions, Qatar’s energy chief has said.

Saad Al Kaabi, Qatar’s minister of energy and CEO of state-owned QatarEnergy, told a panel at the Atlantic Council Global Energy Forum that people needed to be realistic about what is achievable.

At the Cop27 negotiations in Egypt last year African leaders pitched for funding and support to produce, use and export the continent’s vast gas reserves, in order to develop their economies and provide power to millions of their people who still lack access to electricity.

The International Energy Agency (IEA)’s 2022 projection predicted that, even if Africa developed all its known gas reserves, the continent’s contribution to global emissions would rise from 3 to 3.5 percent – the equivalent of a small European economy such as Greece.

However, advocates for renewables claimed that this would make the critical goal of slowing the global temperature rise more difficult.

The IEA has warned investors not to fund new oil, gas and coal supply projects if the world wants to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

“On the investment side, it’s very, very, very unfair of some in the West to say that African countries should not invest in oil and gas, while this is God-given wealth that they can create for their national growth and for their prosperity,” Al Kaabi said.

The minister also rebuked leaders of developed economies for using unrealistic climate targets to further their political agendas rather than achieving concrete green goals. 

“We are the hottest place in the world, so climate change affects us more than most,” he said.

“So, for us, it’s very important that we head in that direction. It’s very important that we achieve these goals.

“But we need to be realistic about what we can and cannot achieve, and we can’t be driven just by political agendas of people wanting to be elected.” 

The minister also hit back at the “demonising” of energy producers.

“I think we need to take very serious action and coal is the biggest emitter by far. I see a lot of [attacks] on oil and gas companies. I don’t see the same attack on the biggest polluter on the planet.

“You can’t have coal at record highs and say that we are going to achieve our targets,” he said. “All the countries that were calling for coal to be stopped are using it at record levels today.”

African leaders have argued that wealthy nations have long benefited from dirtier fuels, so African nations must be allowed to exploit their resources to lift their people out of poverty and raise living standards on the continent.

Waterfront, Water, Factory
It would cost in the region of $1.9 trillion for Nigeria to get to net zero by 2060. Picture: Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas company, Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye

“When we’re talking about a just transition, we forget that a lot of people don’t even have sufficient energy,” Damilola Ogunbiyi, special representative of the UN secretary general and CEO of Sustainable Energy for All, told the panel. 

“So when we talk about the developing world and my continent, Africa, the just transition to them is getting enough energy to survive and getting enough energy to live a dignified life,” he said.

“We’re starting at a scenario where, per capita, the average African with installed capacity has barely 404 kilowatt hours in sub-Saharan Africa. That is about 20 times less than the average American.

“So a just transition is really important. There’s no way in our climate promises where you can go ahead and hit net zero and leave a billion people in energy poverty. It just doesn’t happen that way.”

In its State of the Climate in Africa 2019 report, the UN said that African temperatures in recent decades have been warming faster than global mean surface temperature.

Consequently, prolonged heatwaves and extreme events such as crop failures are increasingly being felt in the continent and contributing to food insecurity, population displacement and stress on water resources.

Ogunbiyi said the technology to help get more African people on the grid and away from more harmful fuel alternatives like coal and wood already exists.

“Everything we need to provide power to the people who don’t have it – electricity and clean cooking – exists today,” she said. 

“What doesn’t exist is the financing to do it. There’s no scenario where you can actually achieve net zero without having energy development and climate action together.

“For a country like Nigeria, for example, to get to net zero with perfect policies, perfect political stability between now and 2060 will cost in the region of $1.9 trillion,” she said.

“We need to really be realistic when we talk about the numbers, when we’re asking countries that are easily spending 80 percent of their revenue on interest-only debt servicing how exactly they’re going to do it.” 

Both financing and efficiency are at the heart of the entire energy transition, Ogunbiyi said, and she added that using dirty fuels like the rest of the world is not the answer.