By Lungelo Ndhlovu
Renewables such as solar, hydro, gas (bio-gas) will power Africa’s energy future, but the
spread of coal’s usage is still rising, energy experts worry.
The rise of fossil fuels as a major threat to human wellbeing and safety was reflected in the
January 2020 Global Risks Report from the World Economic Forum which for the first time,
saw environmental dangers topping the five places on the list.
Weapons of mass destruction used to feature highly, but that is no longer the case, thanks
in part to nuclear non-proliferation treaties. Now, the fossil fuel-driven climate crisis which
disproportionately affects Africans, is listed as the world’s major threat.
“African countries investing in fossil fuels risk creating stranded assets and an unmanaged
and disorderly transition from fossil fuels. We can either intentionally develop new ways to
meet our energy needs without increasing our emissions or altogether lose the window of
opportunity to ensure a safe climate and sustainable future,” said Mohamed Adow, director
of climate and energy think tank, Power Shift Africa.
“That’s why African civil society are calling for African states and institutions to take a lead
in the creation of a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty … to advance the interests of our
continent and its people.”
Prior to the African Union meeting held on 9-10 February 2020, more than 25 organisations
networks and community resistance groups from Africa and around the world, had called on
African governments to prevent the proliferation of coal, oil, and gas in Africa, to ensure
efforts to address fossil fuels.
The communication signed by the group criticised the deliberate proliferation of coal, oil and
gas in Africa, contrary to scientific evidence and highlighted the contradiction between
planned fossil fuel expansion and globally agreed climate targets.
They also condemned the way some Africa governments were avoiding scrutiny from civil
society groups and even violently targeting environmental activists and human rights
defenders in some places.
Representatives from different non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who attended an
Africa Energy Leaders’ Summit on Climate Change, Energy and Energy Finance in Addis
Ababa, Ethiopia, in February included MELCA-Ethiopia, Oil Change Africa, Health Mother
Earth Foundation, Oxfam, Friends of the Earth, the deCOALonize Campaign and Power
Omar Elmawi, coordinator for the deCOALonize Campaign said: “The abundance of
renewable energy like wind, solar and geothermal make it possible for Africa to leapfrog dirty
fossil fuels like coal that countries in the West had to rely on for their development.”
According to Elmawi, coal and other fossil fuels have lost the war to renewable energy on
both environmental and economic grounds. It’s the reason developed countries, including
China, are now shutting their coal plants in favour of clean energy.
“That is why Africa should tap into its vast renewable energy resources that can power the
continent without harming its people or the environment,” he added.
Energy experts claim, Africa has long been pillaged and exploited for its resources with little
benefit to its people.
“Now, as the world embraces the energy transition away from fossil fuels to low-carbon
solutions, there is potential to disrupt existing power dynamics. It’s high time the continent’s
renewable energy potential benefitted ordinary people,” said Nthabiseng Matsoha, Earthlife
Africa’s researcher and energy policy officer.
This is especially important as we move towards a ‘just transition’ to a decarbonised world.
Community ownership models should be explored, to not only benefit power.
Ms Diana Nabiruma from Uganda’s Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) said
some countries kill, intimidate and enact repressive laws and restrictions that make it hard
for environmental activists to do their work.
This is dangerous as shutting down environmental activists puts environmental
conservation, climate change mitigation and community livelihoods at risk,” she said.
According to Francesca de Gasparis, executive director of the Southern Africa Faith
Communities Environmental Institute (SAFCEI) as a continent, the opportunities for Africa to
create community-centered, accessible, affordable and clean energy, are immense.
“Yet we find our leaders signing up to expensive and environmentally devastating fossil fuel
and nuclear energy projects that will bring few benefits to their people and will maintain vast
“We are appealing to the African Union to take a visionary stance and use its collective
weight and influence for the benefit of all and to address the climate crisis in a decisive
rejection of fossil fuel extraction,” she said.
Alvin Munyasia from Oxfam International said: “All coal must end immediately and all other
fossil fuels phased out by 2050 – with rich countries ditching them fastest to limit global
heating of 1.5 degrees.
“Any natural gas or other fossil fuels must require strong environmental and social diligence
measures and only if there are clear benefits for poor people, such as funding for essential
services or clean energy access provision.’’
Munyasia added: ‘’Any such fossil fuels should be in the short-term, if there are no viable
clean alternatives, and must be part of eventual phase-outs of low carbon energy. No new
coal power plants should be built everywhere, and the last existing plant needs to be closed
in wealthy countries at the very latest by 2030 and in all countries by 2040.”