The West’s Standards on Energy Policies
While wealthier nations are on a fast track to clean energy financing, they have not extended this same commitment to their own energy consumption. These nations, including G7 countries, have pledged to end financial support for oil, gas, and coal projects overseas by 2022, aiming to support exclusively clean energy. However, this dedication to clean energy doesn’t seem to apply to their domestic energy consumption. Their concern for energy security and affordability often takes priority over decarbonization efforts.
For instance, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, these nations have contradicted their own commitment, seeking to finance oil and gas production abroad to replace Russian supplies. In another example, the Biden administration approved the Willow oil drilling project, and the UK government will resume licensing projects in the North Sea. Yet, such flexibility hasn’t been extended to African countries, which continue to face pressure from their development partners to pursue intense decarbonization strategies, shunning all fossil development, including downstream gas.
An Unequal Transition: The West’s Domestic Green Investments vs Africa’s Struggles
Unfortunately, support for low-carbon development in Africa, intended to compensate for fossil fuel divestment, has been significantly limited. The scale and access to financing, technology transfer, and capacity building for climate change mitigation and adaptation in Africa falls well short of what is needed to establish thriving low-carbon economies. According to an estimate by 51 African countries, about $250 billion of climate finance per year is needed from international public and private sectors. As of 2020, however, just 12% of this requirement is being met.
Contrastingly, wealthy nations are implementing massive investment and subsidy packages to support their own green industrial development. For instance, the US Inflation Reduction Act and EU Green Deal Industrial Plan are offering substantial public spending, tax incentives, local content requirements, and other supportive measures to bolster domestic green manufacturing.
Such domestic investment and policies could potentially disadvantage developing economies that could see reduced green foreign direct investment. Many African countries, which heavily rely on aid from the US and EU, could find themselves at the losing end. The African Climate Foundation predicts that the European Union’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism will cause Africa’s GDP to shrink by 1.12%.
Charting Africa’s Own Energy Transition Path
It’s crucial to recognize the unique position and needs of African countries in the global discourse around energy transition. The continent contributes a mere 4% of the world’s energy-related emissions, despite accounting for 17% of the global population. 5 It’s unjust and inequitable to force Africa to bear the brunt of policies designed to solve a problem it has minimal responsibility for.
African nations should be allowed the freedom and agency to determine their own paths towards sustainable development, based on what’s most effective for improving their people’s livelihoods. Pressure from wealthier nations to adopt specific decarbonization strategies – through investment bans or carbon border taxes, among others – denies African countries this crucial agency.
Moreover, the path to industrialization via clean energy alone remains largely untested and unclear for many African countries. Developed nations, with their existing infrastructure, are in a much better position to explore this path with minimal disruptions to their economies. In contrast, African countries lack legacy infrastructure to fall back on and often struggle to attract adequate support and funding for green projects.
The concept of climate justice shouldn’t be limited to subsidizing Africa’s climate action. Instead, it should also encompass the freedom for African countries to decide what those actions should look like. Africa must be allowed the same agency that the COPs’ non-binding nature grants to countries that can dodge honouring climate action commitments without any significant repercussions.
As we stand on the cusp of a new era in energy consumption, Africa finds itself at a unique crossroads. Striking the right balance between accelerating economic growth and committing to proactive climate action is its most pressing developmental challenge. As we prepare for COP28, it’s essential for African negotiators to champion a fresh perspective on climate justice. This paradigm should emphasize agency, wealth creation, and development impact, rather than solely focusing on reducing or avoiding emissions. For an effective alignment with global climate initiatives, we propose the following key considerations:
Broadening the Scope of Development Financiers
Development financiers should adopt a more holistic approach to energy infrastructure, incorporating national development objectives such as poverty alleviation and job creation alongside emissions reduction. Proposals for support that disregard the host nations’ aspirations risk fostering resentment, potentially impeding climate change cooperation.
Granting Exemptions for Developing Nations
Countries in Africa that fall below agreed-upon development thresholds should receive exemptions from stringent climate policies. For instance:
- No restrictions should be imposed on financing oil and gas projects in countries where per capita electricity consumption falls below the Modern Energy Minimum.
- Trade penalties, such as carbon border taxes for emissions embedded in exported goods, should not be applied to low-income countries.
Embracing a “Do No Harm” Climate Policy Approach
Multilateral forums like the COP, G7, and G20 should formally adopt a “do no harm” climate policy objective. Criticisms about Western inconsistency on climate change have largely fallen on deaf ears, underscoring the need for a significant shift in our approach.
Diverting Fossil Fuel Investments to Support Clean Energy
When necessary, divestments from fossil fuel projects should be redirected to support the expansion of the clean energy sector within the same regions. While renewable generation alone might not be able to fully absorb these investments due to the scarcity of bankable projects, investment in other infrastructure, such as enhanced electricity networks and critical mineral exploration, can help fuel sector growth.
As Africa seeks to close income and energy use gaps with the rest of the world, we need to rethink our approaches to climate justice and energy development. By focusing on national development goals, granting policy exemptions for developing nations, adopting a “do no harm” approach to climate policies, and effectively diverting fossil fuel investments, we can build a more equitable future where African countries are partners in climate action, not just passive participants.
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