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African leaders told to stop proliferation of coal, oil, gas

No fewer than 25 organisations, networks and community resistance groups from Africa and around the world have called on African leaders to prevent the proliferation of coal, oil and gas on the continent and to ensure efforts to address fossil fuels match those which have helped reduce the danger from nuclear weapons.

African Union
Leaders at the 33rd African Union Summit

The leaders are gathering from February 9 to 10 for the 33rd African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

In a  communique, the groups 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 African governments were avoiding scrutiny from civil society groups and even violently targeting environmental activists and human rights defenders in some places.

Representatives from the different NGO groups who attended an Africa Energy Leaders Summit on Climate Change, Energy, and Energy Finance in Addis Ababa last week included MELCA-Ethiopia, Oil Change Africa, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Oxfam, Friends of the Earth, the deCOALonize Campaign and Power Shift Africa.

The rise of fossil fuels as a major threat to human wellbeing and safety was reflected in last month’s 2020 Global Risks Report from the World Economic Forum which, for the first time, saw environmental dangers fill the top five places on the list. Weapons of mass destruction used to feature highly but is now classed as much less likely 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.

The group specifically called on African leaders to: “Put an end to fossil fuel development; to manage the decline of existing production of oil, gas, and coal; and to rapidly initiate a transition to clean and safe renewable sources of energy that fully supports access to energy for those who currently lack it.” They also ask them to “publicly condemn and reject the double standards advanced by fossil fuel companies and their allied interests, which result in the discriminatory treatment of Africa and her peoples.”

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Nnimmo Bassey, Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Nigeria, said: “Africa is being trashed by destructive extraction of fossil fuels across the continent. The Niger Delta has become a tragic metaphor of how natural resource and human exploitation can go wrong. Now Africa is exposed and challenged by extreme weather events and their socio-economic consequences. Floods, desertification, ocean acidification, water stress, violent conflicts and climate refugees are the new normal.

“Although Africa is least responsible for the climate crisis, the continent cannot afford to toe the path of destruction simply by playing an ill-advised catch-up game. It is time for Africa to take the lead and force the world to pursue an alternative pathway to progress that is not hinged on continued extraction and burning of fossil fuels couple with the reckless exploitation of Nature and Peoples.

“It is time for Africa to promote and recognise communities and nations that decide to keep fossil fuels in the ground and hold them up as the real, essential and needed climate action.”

Mohamed Adow, Director of climate and energy think tank Power Shift Africa, said: “The fossil fuel industry represents an existential threat to Africa and the world – and to have chance of meeting the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to below 1.5C degrees, international cooperation is required to prevent the proliferation of coal, oil and gas, at the scale and speed required to stabilise the Earth’s climate.

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“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 a sustainable future.

“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 in order to advance the interests of our continent and its people.”

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. Coal and other fossil fuels has 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.”

Nthabiseng Matsoha, Earthlife Africa’s Researcher and Energy Policy Officer: “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. Its high time the continent’s renewable energy potential benefitted ordinary people. 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 but empower.”

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Ms. Diana Nabiruma from Uganda’s Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO): “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.”

Francesca de Gasparis, Executive Director of the Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute, SAFCEI, said: “As a continent, the opportunities for Africa to create community-centred, 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 inequality. 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.”

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 to 1.5 degrees. Any natural gas or other fossil fuels must require strong environmental and social due diligence measures, and only if there is clear benefits for poor people, such as funding for essential services or clean energy access provision.

“Any such fossil fuels should only be in the short-term, if there are no viable clean alternatives, and must be part of eventual phase-outs to low carbon energy. No new coal power plants should be built anywhere, and the last existing plant needs to be closed in wealthy countries at the very latest by 2030 and in all countries by 2040.”

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