More than three dozen progressive advocacy groups implored East African leaders this week to stop funding fossil fuel projects and instead ramp up investment in renewable energy production and other green economic initiatives.
"The promotion and/or further development of oil, gas, and coal should have no space in African countries," says a new open letter from 41 East African civil society organizations to the region's heads of state. "We need to shift to clean energy projects that are people-centered and would benefit local communities first and foremost. We need to promote approaches that strengthen energy access and land rights for all Africans, while ensuring the protection of nature and our common goods."
The letter came amid the 10th East African Petroleum Conference and Exhibition (EAPCE). The theme of the three-day summit, held from Tuesday through Thursday in Kampala, Uganda, was "East Africa as a hub for investment in exploration and exploitation of petroleum resources for sustainable energy and socioeconomic development."
"Instead of seemingly doubling down on fossil fuels, we urge East African leaders to prioritize the adoption of safe and sustainable renewable energy."
In their letter, published on Wednesday, local climate justice campaigners wrote that "while we appreciate your efforts to promote energy access and socioeconomic development for East Africans, we are worried that your focus on exploiting the region's petroleum resources stands to undermine your goals."
Signatories drew attention to the connections between fossil fuel extraction, on the one hand, and ecological disasters, violent conflicts, and increased impoverishment and unemployment in affected territories, on the other.
"It has been variously demonstrated that oil and gas exploitation is more harmful than useful to local communities," the letter states. "Oil exploitation harms nations' ecological balance through causing forest loss, biodiversity destruction, as well as air, water, and soil pollution. This destruction hurts livelihoods, increases poverty, worsens climate disasters, and increases public as well as household expenditure on health, disaster management, and others."
"This does not translate into socioeconomic development, especially for the oil and gas host communities," wrote the signatories. They also expressed concerns about "the conflicts that arise due to natural resources exploitation by multinationals in Africa."
Furthermore, "the exploitation of oil and gas has economic impacts as it causes land loss with insufficient compensation being given to local communities and Indigenous peoples," the letter continues. "It also accelerates land grabs and negatively impacts economic sectors such as farming, fishing, tourism, and others through the pollution of soils and waters, stopping fisherfolks' access to fishing areas, degradation of national parks, and others. In addition, international oil companies take advantage of the naivety of local communities and rarely respect their commitments to ensure prosperity."
"While oil companies often make big promises about creating jobs for locals, available evidence indicates that the oil, gas, and mining sectors only employ about 1% of Africa's labor force," notes the letter. "Meanwhile, the continued investment in oil and gas stands to result in job losses in the agriculture, fishing, clean energy, tourism, and other sectors."
"Oil and gas exploitation, and the climate change it is fueling, is a threat to 60-70% of Africa's workforce," the signatories wrote, alluding to the vast majority of people who are employed in agriculture. "We request that you protect these workers by investing in renewable energy instead of oil and gas."
"Africa has significant renewable energy potential, which if developed, can position the continent to lead the global green energy transition."
Continuing to prioritize investment in oil and gas over wind, solar, and other green sectors threatens to leave East Africa riddled with environmentally hazardous stranded assets, the groups warned, citing the International Energy Agency's "projections of declining demand for fossil fuels" in the coming years.
"No African country has addressed energy poverty by investing in coal, oil, and gas," the letter points out. "Nigeria, which is one of Africa's largest oil producers, has the highest number of people in the world without access to power."
Signatories argued that more of the same can be expected if the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to sell huge tracts of land in the Congo Basin rainforest to fossil fuel giants or if the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) is built. Shipping the region's petroleum resources abroad, the letter observes, enriches corporations such as France's TotalEnergies while failing to meet the energy needs of local residents.
The letter also stresses that Africa's "immense renewable energy potential"—including abundant solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal resources—remains largely "untapped," with just 9% of the continent's power generated from those sources in 2020. One reason for this is that "investments in renewable energy in Africa are limited." According to the letter, only 2% of the clean power investments made globally over the past two decades have focused on Africa. "This needs to change," the signatories emphasized.
"To enhance sustainable energy access and promote socioeconomic progress," the groups made the following recommendations:
- Abandon any investments in oil and gas projects such as the EACOP and the auctioning of oil blocks in the DRC. This is very important as East Africans also need to avoid the risk of stranded assets, a threat that is imminent due to the just energy transition plans of some of the countries that are the biggest markets for oil and gas.
- Redirect private and public investments into renewable energy through working with your governments to put in place enabling policies, increasing budget allocations to renewable energy, and lobbying investors to invest in renewable energy.
- Promote green economic alternatives that employ the majority of East Africans such as agriculture, fisheries, and tourism.
"It's concerning that regional leaders should meet to discuss how to build new oil projects when the world is transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy," Dickens Kamugisha, CEO of the Uganda-based Africa Institute for Energy Governance, said Friday in a statement. "In its 2021 World Energy Outlook report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicated that oil demand is expected to level off in the mid-2030s and decline in 2050."
"Yet East African countries are borrowing huge amounts of money to invest in oil and gas," said Kamugisha. "How will they recoup the monies that are invested? East Africans are poor and should not be straddled with assets that could become stranded. Governments should avoid investing in coal, oil, and gas."
Despite bearing little historic responsibility for the climate crisis, East Africans are also particularly vulnerable to extreme weather disasters, as Jimmy Ufoy from the Ituri region in the DRC lamented.
"The Congolese Red Cross says that at least 411 died in the Democratic Republic of Congo following the flooding" this week, said Ufoy. "It was, therefore, disturbing to see the DRC speak of bilateral engagement with Uganda to develop hydrocarbons and access to the EACOP to transport crude oil."
Last June, African activists urged officials to reject the IEA's call for nations across the continent to swiftly extract and export their fossil gas reserves before the world scales up its shift to clean energy sources.
Rather than follow the IEA's recommendation—which came just months after the Paris-based agency said that expanding coal, gas, and oil production is incompatible with maintaining a livable planet—African policymakers should focus on "implementing sustainable renewable energy solutions" as quickly as possible, the activsts said.
On Friday, Charity Migwi, regional campaigner at 350Africa.org, reiterated that "Africa has significant renewable energy potential, which if developed, can position the continent to lead the global green energy transition."
"Instead of seemingly doubling down on fossil fuels, we urge East African leaders to prioritize the adoption of safe and sustainable renewable energy," said Migwi.
This content originally appeared on Common Dreams and was authored by Kenny Stancil.