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Africa Not Ready to Give Up on Oil

Workers offload pipes at a construction site of Dangote oil refinery in Ibeju Lekki district, on the outskirts of Lagos, Nigeria August 7, 2019. (REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja)
Africa Not Ready to Give Up on Oil
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Protests against climate change have been taking place in many countries throughout the year. Yet energy officials from one area appear unlikely to support calls to suspend use of fossil fuels, such as coal and oil.

That area is Africa, south of the Sahara Desert.

Burning oil releases carbon dioxide into Earth’s atmosphere. Scientists blame increasing levels of the gas for rising temperatures worldwide.

“Under no circumstances are we going to be apologizing,” said Gabriel Obiang Lima, energy minister of Equatorial Guinea. He added that African countries need to use their oil resources to create jobs and increase economic development.

“Anybody out of the continent saying we should not develop those fields, that is criminal. It is very unfair,” he said.

Obiang Lima spoke last week at a meeting of energy officials in Cape Town, South Africa.

Less tension on climate issues

Unlike energy conferences in Africa, oil meetings held in Europe often have heated debates between delegates and environmental activists. Investor and government pressure to deal with climate change has caused many oil companies and government officials to take note.

But at the three-day event in Cape Town, there was little debate on the issue of climate change.

No oil-producing country has ever stopped developing fossil fuel resources. Yet some countries have made major promises to limit their use. For example, Norway has established a national carbon tax. And, Britain has promised to be carbon neutral by the year 2050. It plans not to add to the amount of carbon it already releases into the atmosphere.

In Cape Town, however, African leaders expressed support for the good that oil, gas and coal can bring to Africa. They estimated that about 600 million Africans lack electricity.

“Energy is the catalyst for growth,” said Gwede Mantashe, South Africa’s energy minister. He also is national chair of the ruling African National Congress.

“They even want to tell us to switch off all the coal-generated power stations,” he said. “Until you tell them, ‘you know we can do that, but you’ll breathe fresh air in the darkness’.”

Africa is rich in mineral resources. For years, African countries have shipped oil around the world. African countries, however, do not create large amounts of the gas emissions linked to climate change.

The British-based website CarbonBrief reports on climate change issues. It says that, since the 1800s, all African countries have produced seven times less carbon dioxide than China, 13 times less than the U.S. and 18 times less than all of Europe.

For this reason, climate activists are pressuring developed countries to cut emissions more aggressively than developing countries.

FILE PHOTO: An armed member of the South Sudanese security forces is seen during a ceremony marking the restarting of crude oil pumping at the Unity oilfields in South Sudan, January 21, 2019. (REUTERS/Samir Bol/File Photo)
FILE PHOTO: An armed member of the South Sudanese security forces is seen during a ceremony marking the restarting of crude oil pumping at the Unity oilfields in South Sudan, January 21, 2019. (REUTERS/Samir Bol/File Photo)

A need for power

African ministers speaking in Cape Town noted their countries’ needs for fossil fuel money and power in order to develop and expand their economies.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that nearly half of Africans had no electricity last year. It also said that about 80 percent of sub-Saharan African companies suffered electricity disruptions that cost them money.

The IEA said that it expects renewable energy sources will account for two-thirds of worldwide gains in providing electricity by 2030. It also warned that changing forces around the world meant that nations could no longer depend on oil for future earnings.

Some ministers, including Mantashe and Irene Muloni of Uganda, spoke about a need to develop renewable energy resources.

In Kenya, about two thirds of electricity comes from renewable sources like hydropower and energy made from the Earth’s internal heat. The government aims to generate 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources by the end of next year.

But few officials at the meeting in Cape Town were prepared to limit fossil fuel development.

Gabon’s minister for hydrocarbons Noel Mboumba noted that oil is a major driver of development.

“We will do all in our power to develop it,” he said.

I’m Mario Ritter Jr.

Mario Ritter Jr. adapted this Reuters story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

circumstance – n. a condition that affects a situation

catalyst – n. something that causes a change or an another action

switchv. to change the position or direction of something

disruption –n. to interfere with the normal process of something

account – v. to consider; to think of as

hydropoweradj. of or related to the production of energy from flowing water

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