African countries need to convey to the Cop 28 global conference that climate change should not be weaponised against countries that have energy poverty, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe said.
Speaking at the Energy Africa conference in Cape Town yesterday, Mantashe said there were countries in sub-Saharan Africa where electrification reached only 12% of the population. An energy transition did not mean the same thing in this country, as it did in a country where there was 100% electricity accessibility.
He said de-emphasising energy poverty in favour of decarbonisation was bad for the environment, as poverty would degrade the environment in the longer term.
He said African countries needed to convey to Cop 28 that the use of gas, a less damaging fossil fuel, needed to be fast-tracked in Africa.
He said recent sizeable discoveries of oil in Namibia and Côte d'Ivoire, and gas in South Africa were proving to be “a game changer” and had intensified the need to step up exploration campaigns on the African continent.
Mantashe said there were elements of hypocrisy in the global decarbonisation debate, as South Africa was being told to reduce its reliance on coal, but Europe increased by eight-fold its coal imports from South Africa and coal mines were reopened in some European countries when Russia cut gas supplies to Europe.
Last year, 43 new coal power stations were completed in China and more than 20 in the US, and yet these were the two biggest polluting countries in terms of carbon emissions. South Africa only has 14 power stations.
He said while electricity access in South Africa was about 93%, the high price of electricity meant most users only used power for lighting, and they used wood, coal and paraffin for heating and cooking.
Dr Omar Ebrahim, the Secretary General of the African Petroleum Producers Association (APPO) said at the conference that developed countries should rather use climate adaptation funds to develop CDR (carbon dioxide removal) technologies, and they should “clean up their own mess”.
He said African countries needed to adopt a different approach to the Cop28 conference, instead of adopting climate change targets that they would be unable to meet in an effort to gain access to climate adaptation funds.
He said using CDR technology to reduce carbon emissions by just 25% would allow African countries to have the same opportunity to industrialise as developed countries had, using the same fossil fuels.
He said it was not as though developed nations had only discovered the negative environmental effects of burning fossil fuels in the last 50 years, as the science of greenhouse gases had been discovered in the 1800s, and these studies had been “carefully hidden from the public” in the interests of industrial development.
NJ Ayuk, the executive chairman of the Africa Energy Chamber, said delegates needed to use the “three words of freedom ‘drill baby drill'”.
He said countries like Uganda deserved their right to use their resources as it hoped to produce some 200 000 barrels of oil a day, which was equivalent to only 1.8% of a large oil producer in the US.
He said it was important for African governments to stand behind oil companies when they did seismic exploration.
Conference delegates heard that while there were still substantial oil and gas deposits to be exploited on the continent, it has become difficult to obtain finance for these projects, often due to the ESG requirements of funders.