By Everjoice Win and Mark Correnti
Although at times contentious, the Europe-sub-Saharan Africa relationship is highly-intertwined and dependent, particularly in the quest to solve fossil fuel energy dependency, development, climate adaptation and energy poverty needs. For a while now, Europe has been suffering both an acute energy crisis as well as a chronic energy poverty. Russia, which supplied 40% of the European Union’s (EU) fuel needs in 2021 has only exacerbated the precarious situation with its aggression on Ukraine. Also, by claiming to run maintenance on the Nord Stream pipeline, Russia created an energy crisis through significant reduction in gas supply. As a result, benchmark gas prices surged 30%, inflating the price of goods and deflating industrial activity. Countries such as Germany may lose upwards of 13% of economic productivity in this half of the year.
What is said less often, however, is that Europe suffers from chronic energy poverty. According to an Enerdata Report (prior to the current energy crisis), 50 million EU “households” are living in energy poverty. Some researchers estimate that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 80 million Europeans could not adequately heat their homes. With Europe’s current energy crisis, the energy poverty gap is likely increasing, comprised primarily of low income households, including those residing in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Lithuania and Portugal.
But there are other, longer lasting climate and renewable energy ramifications. Brussels, for example, wants the EU to claw back increased revenues from renewable energy sources, including solar, wind and biomass. Individual European countries are scurrying to find additional African fossil fuel sources. German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, was recently in Senegal and Italy. He has already struck agreements with Algeria, Angola and the Republic of Congo. Soon after his appointment, South Africa was one of the very first countries he visited in Africa. Germany has also reversed direction on previous energy plant closures and is firing up its antiquated coal plants. President Sergio Mattarella of Italy recently visited Mozambique. EU representatives, as well as France, Portugal and Spain have visited or are already in negotiations with Nigeria, among other African countries. Meanwhile, Britain, Norway and the United States have all announced increases to oil and gas production.
No Turn to Pollute
Yet, African countries are crying foul. In an effort to curb carbon emissions, the EU has historically urged a cessation in fossil-fuel investment to poorer countries by multilateral lenders (i.e. the World Bank) to curb carbon emissions. In a recent op-ed, which appeared in The Economist, Nigerian Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, pointed to Europe’s “naïve belief in leapfrogging, the assumption that, like skipping landlines for mobile phones, Africa can ‘leap’ to new energy technologies.” Senegalese president, Macky Sall, emphasized this point at the 2021 United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), stating: “our countries cannot achieve energy transition and abandon polluting patterns of the industrialized countries without a viable, fair and equitable alternative.”
While some call-out Europe’s recent posture, describing it as “gas for me, but not for thee,” climate and environmental activists on the African continent argue new fossil fuel exploration and extraction will only cause more harm and human misery. An open letter by advocacy groups described a recent decision by the African Union (AU) to include natural gas in their energy access and transition plans as “dangerous and short-sighted.” Pulling no punches, the advocacy groups insisted the African continent’s ambition to develop through oil and gas sales amounted to, “enabling small powerful elites to extract rents and maintain economic and political control, while their populations lack access to energy, food and other essential services and remain impoverished.”
Yet, Africa is responsible for only 3% of global carbon emissions. This figure is far less when excluding South Africa, where 90% of the country’s energy is supplied by coal plants. Over the last decade, per capita electricity usage in sub-Saharan Africa has, in fact, declined. While Europe utilizes six times (6x) the amount of energy per capita than Africa, the United States, utilises ten times (10x) more. Interestingly, the state of California (US) uses more energy electrifying video games than the entire energy usage of countries like Kenya or Nigeria. It is anticipated that in the next few years, per capita electricity usage in sub-Saharan Africa will continue to decline, even in countries such as South Africa, which are already implementing consistent supply reductions dubbed as ‘load-shedding’.
In fact, 55% of sub-Saharan Africa is without access to electricity. This amounts to 600 million people or 75% of the world’s 800 million people living without electricity. Only 15% of the continent has access to clean cooking. Most recently, funding for countries with the lowest electrification rates has declined. Current energy financing levels are only at a third (1/3) of what is required to reach UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG7, Affordable and Clean Energy). According to SEforALL, only 1.2% of total energy finance targets off-grid solutions (the 600 million above). The overwhelming vast majority of funding targets the grid (renewables and fossil fuels), followed by transmission and distribution funding. Research estimates that under current funding conditions, 660 million worldwide will be without access to electricity by 2030.
 See: https://dont-gas-africa.org/open-letter
Climate Change and Geo-politics
Quite alarmingly, temperatures are rising in Africa much faster than global averages. The world’s top ten climate vulnerable countries are in sub-Saharan Africa. These same countries comprise 20% of the continent’s population. Women and children are especially vulnerable, with half of the 10 countries having the lowest gender equality indicators and highest poverty levels in the region. 60% of workers from the 10 countries are employed in the ‘climate sensitive’ agriculture sector. But here comes the kicker — almost 75% of sub-Saharan African countries have achieved SDG13 (combating climate change) goals, as compared to all EU and North American countries.
Recent opportunities for dialogue between Europe and Africa appear to have been wasted. At a recent climate adaption conference in Rotterdam, intended to break a deadlock in funding commitments, attendees included the AU, African Development Bank (AfDB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and presidents from DRC, Ghana and Senegal. Only the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, was present and no other Europeans countries were in attendance. Macky Sall, the Senegalese president, remarked: “I cannot help but note, with some bitterness, the absence of leaders from the industrial world. I think if we made the effort to leave Africa to come to Rotterdam, it would be easier for the Europeans and others to be here.” Speaking via a video link, Ethiopia’s President Sahle-Work Zewde summed it up thus: “sometimes, we should not appear to be talking to each other while those who should be with us are not present.
This does not mean that opportunities for change are not on the horizon. Mozambique, considered the world’s third most impoverished nation, is about to realise a US$100 billion “windfall” in liquified natural gas (LNG) exports from previously untapped reserves off the coast of Cabo Delgado. The Italian energy conglomerate, Eni is Mozambique’s first LNG buyer. Other players include France’s Total Energies. Challenges persist, however. Cabo Delgado itself is the site of a war that appears to have no end in sight. Thousands of civilians have been displaced by militants, some of whom argue their natural resources are being extracted without particular benefit in the area. Such conflict has also paved way for violent extremism which has led to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) deploying a military mission to combat the violence. While opinions differ “strongly” regarding natural gas exploration and use, Mozambique possesses the potential to set the example for how energy revenues are allocated in the future, and whether last-mile and women-led solutions will comprise a meaningful component of countries’ energy transition plans.
The case for Solidarity
The European Commission’s Frans Timmermans believes that moral arguments (regarding others) in the time of your own crisis is not compelling and that European citizens are not moved by the “…moral point that those suffering the most consequences are not responsible for creating the crisis.” He says: “Let’s be frank, many of our own citizens in Europe will not buy this argument today because their worries are linked to their own existence… .” Yet, Timmermans believes that “…without success in Africa, there can be no success in Europe – our destinies are so intimately intertwined that if we are not collectively responsible for development in Africa, for Africa being able to use the opportunities it has… we will sink together in an ocean of despair.” Therefore, EU-Africa energy solidarity requires immediate activation, mobilization and the influencing of current negotiations, decisions that will be made in the very near-term.
To prevent both Europe and Africa from sinking, it is crucial to activate and mobilise people-to-people solidarity. Such solidarity must necessarily enable progressive movements and governments to inform and shape the climate, energy and gender agenda. Hence, energy access solidarity can help: (1) minimize Europe’s reliance on gas/fossil fuels and accelerate the transition to renewables; (2) address our planet’s climate crisis; and (3) drive development with a ‘just energy’ transition. Martha Myers from the Right to Energy Coalition aptly articulates the current opportunity: “although a tragedy, energy poverty gives us the opportunity to reimagine what we need to not only fight the climate crisis but to actually create a better world for people and planet.”
Thus, the first steps toward building solidarity can be achieved in the following three areas:
- Climate Adaptation Funding. Improve the US$100 billion climate finance pledge with a $40 billion annual commitment for climate adaptation. This needs to be grant capital (much harder to come by) versus (current climate finance commitments that are almost exclusively),
- Loss and Damage Finance. Separate funding for “loss and damage” from other commitments to cover negative impacts that have already transpired as a result of climate change. This will reduce countries from overstating and double-counting current commitments. Denmark, for example, has become the first country to fund ‘loss and damage’. Analysis of ‘loss and damage’ should also include a framework that allows us insight into the extent to which women and other marginalised groups such as indigenous peoples have also been affected.
- Sovereign Wealth Funds. Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWFs), especially those of gas and oil producing nations, should be required to invest in energy access. Recently, SWFs have increased their allocations in green energy. In 2021, state-owned investors (SOIs) allocated US$23 billion to green energy investments, tripling their deployments from 2020. SWFs account for US$11 trillion, or a third of the US$33 trillion managed by SOIs. For example, in the case of Mozambique, the plan is for a portion of LNG revenues to be placed in a SWF, “…with a robust regulatory framework to ensure hydrocarbon revenues are used in a transparent way,” president Filipe Nyusi has said. Regarding opportunities like this, last-mile, energy access investment should be a mandated and meaningful allocation within the fund.
Clearly, poor European and African communities are experiencing the same energy poverty, despite varied nuances. Popular rhetoric on energy access and climate change has not quite caught up with such realities, as evidenced by the lack of consideration and representation of these groups in current interventions. Ahead of COP27, and for posterity’s sake, people-to-people solidarity is key in advocating for change. To be sure, such solidarity should be based on the common ethos that insists oil and gas are not the solution. Indeed, both in Europe and in Africa, the rallying call should be one that agitates for a move away from oil and gas to clean, renewable energy.
Finally, Europe must lead by example and mobilise funding for clean energy. The fallout from Russia’s war on Ukraine is evident and it should be enough to jolt Europe into more productive and practical energy access solidarity with Africa. There is no more time to waste, the time is now!
Everjoice J. Win is Executive Director at The Shine Campaign
Mark Correnti is Managing Director (Impact Investments) at The Shine Campaign