Opinion: Europe finds itself in a double-bind over African gas

Europe needs to make sure that it does not unfairly exploit the area and it does not unduly oscillate between advocating for renewable energy while at the same time looking for fossil fuels in Africa, writes Alexandra Dumitrescu in this op-ed for commonspace.eu. Europe should also take into consideration the risk factors of possible terrorists strikes, and address the problem at the roots rather than on surface level.

In response to sanctions, Russia has turned off their pipelines forcing Europe to rethink their gas suppliers. In May, the leaders of Germany and Poland visited the western coast of Africa, where a new liquefied natural gas (LNG) project near Senegal and Mauritania’s coastline is 80% complete and, although production is projected to start only by late 2023, it is expected to yield around 425 billion cubic metres of gas. It will not solve the energy crisis triggered by Russia’s war in Ukraine, however, and while production will not start immediately, it will help Europe reduce its reliance on Russian gas in the long-term. In other developments, Egypt and Israel also signed a memorandum of understanding with Europe on 15 June to boost sales of LNG. According to the memorandum, the EU will encourage companies to participate in Israeli and Egyptian exploration tenders and bids while shipments of LNG from Israel and Egypt will increase. Other countries are not idle too: on 18 July Italy sealed an agreement with Algeria to start the development of gas fields in the Berkine perimeter.

These developments, while easing the pressure caused by the disruption of Russian gas imports to the EU, should be approached with a healthy caution, for there are aspects to consider which Europe, desperate to find new energy markets, may overlook, unwittingly or otherwise. Firstly, African leaders may export more gas to boost their finances, curtailing the domestic supplies, leaving their citizens without gas and electricity. For example, Egypt claimed that it will regulate air conditioning in shopping malls and lights on streets to save energy in order to export it instead. Egyptian prime minister, Mostafa Madbouly, also claimed that they are ready to reroute 15% of its domestic gas usage for export. According to the General Assembly resolution adopted in 1962, the EU cannot impose rules on how the African governments deal with the administration of gas as it is a matter of national sovereignty. Not taking any measures to dissuade African leaders from prioritising foreign markets over domestic consumers, however, will mean that Europe is unfairly exploiting the situation. Thus, the EU could impose a cap on the agreements on the amount of gas imported, that would not disturb African domestic usage.

Secondly, critics have pondered whether the full-scale invasion of Ukraine will be used as an excuse by the EU to not keep up with its mission in reducing carbon pollution, threatening climate targets. Although the European Commission presented the REPowerEU Plan to support the acceleration of renewable energy on 18 May, Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands have turned to coal as backup. In addition, although the EU supports the transition to renewable energy, the EU turned to Africa for its LNG ignoring the effect it will have on climate change. Furthermore, on 6 July European lawmakers classified gas and nuclear energy as “green investments”, a decision defended by Ursula von der Leyen as she was “deeply convinced” it would help transition to clean energy in the long run. Critics have pointed out that in the past, financing from institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Investment Bank have stopped for gas projects (ex. Mozambique’s Central Termica de Temane power station) due to climate reasons; given the critical situation it has once again been normalised. 

The president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari responded to this policy by saying that “We need long-term partnership, not inconsistency and contradiction on green policy from the UK and European Union… It does not help their energy security; it does not help Nigeria’s economy and it does not help the environment. It is a hypocrisy that must end.” Moreover, the former head of UN Economic Commission for Africa, Carlos Lopes, stated that a short-term gas fix is “patronising and hypocritical”, adding that it is “outrageous to say to the Africans that they should basically not look into the options that they have in front of them, and at the same time accelerate the request for gas for Europe because of the Russian-Ukraine war”. 

Climate change is already affecting the continent in sometimes critical ways; the Horn of Africa is experiencing some of the worst droughts in four decades while sea erosion eats away at coastal territories. Besides, Africa’s only three glaciers will likely see total deglaciation by the 2040s, while increased flooding will continue to affect agriculture in equatorial countries and parts of East Africa. The World Bank has stated that the African continent will be most impacted by climate change as it will have an effect on mass internal migration which in turn will lead to an increase in poverty, fragility, and conflict. Hence, the EU needs to take a decision: either support the development of green projects such as building wind turbines and solar panels in Saharan Africa, or allow and help finance African governments to make use of their natural resources, trying to limit the impact on climate change as much as possible.

Thirdly, risks of energy thefts may place the EU in a face-to-face combat with terrorists and insurgents. In 2009 Nigeria signed an agreement to build a gas pipeline that connects Nigerian gas to Algeria through Niger, however due to security reasons it was not implemented. This year on 18 July the agreement was re-signed by the three countries given the increased demand for gas after the Russian attack on Ukraine. However, Nigeria has been battling with ongoing crises of mass abductions, jeopardising the project’s implementation. In September 2022, armed men kidnapped more than 80 Christians, while since December 2020 there have been 1440 children and 17 teachers kidnapped. Kidnappings in Nigeria take place because of high unemployment and harsh poverty conditions, and abductions became a source of income. The EU should invest in developing the area in order to diversify income opportunities. The EU could further help the Nigerian government monitor these attacks better via drones and by providing finances for defensive equipment such as oversight mechanisms that could help prevent attacks. 

Europe should take all these aspects into consideration; it needs to make sure that it does not unfairly exploit the area and it does not unduly oscillate between advocating for renewable energy while at the same time looking for fossil fuels in Africa. Furthermore, it should take into consideration the risk factors of possible terrorists strikes and address the problem at the roots rather than on surface level.

source: Alexandra Dumitrescu is a Junior Research Associate at LINKS Europe and commonspace.eu
photo: Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa/picture alliance via Deutsche Welle
The views expressed in opinion pieces and commentaries do not necessarily reflect the position of commonspace.eu or its partners.

 

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