Africa’s natural reserves are being exploited in the name of big fossil fuel projects that will do nothing for Africa’s fight against climate change — and we need to be talking more about it.
When we were kids we were told a lot of things that we could not do, to protect us from the daily threats to our lives: Don’t drink fabric softener, even though it smells delicious. Don’t jump off the top branch of the tree, even though it looks exciting. Don’t try to get bitten by a spider so you can become Spiderman, even though it’s really tempting. And we didn’t do those things — well, mostly. The point is, we listened to the things we were told not to do because we knew if we did them, things would end badly for us.
Now we’ve grown up, the concept of being told not to do something for the benefit of our lives should be something that’s easy to understand. So why is that not the case when it comes to the fossil fuel industry? Why, when we’re told to turn away from fossil fuels as a necessity to tackle climate change and save millions of lives, are we so stubborn to do so?
With a growing global concern for the state of the planet, and loud calls for the world to shift away from fossil fuels and focus on renewable energy, oil and gas projects should be coming to their end. However, that’s not how it is and, in fact, fresh investments are going into the future of the fossil fuel industry, and plans to explore and extract fossil fuels from Africa are being drafted, are approved, or are currently underway.
During the COP27 summit — the UN climate conference that gathers world leaders, experts, and activists together to discuss the impact of the climate crisis and plans to tackle it, and which just ended at the weekend (check out our COP27 analysis here) — three oil-and-gas deals were announced for Africa: in Egypt (where COP27 was being held), Nigeria, and in Tanzania. What’s even scarier is that an estimated 636 people that registered to attend COP27 represent the fossil fuel industry — over 100 more fossil fuel lobbyists than attended COP26 in Glasgow last year.
With major fossil fuel projects being planned for Africa, let’s dive into what they are, who is involved, and what we can do about it.
3 Key Facts You Should Know About Fossil Fuel Projects in Africa
- A new interest in Africa’s oil and gas reserves was sparked by the global energy crisis caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
- Global North countries control most of Africa’s oil and gas projects. Only 33% of Africa’s planned oil and gas projects are controlled by Africa.
- The fossil fuel industry is working to exploit 45 of Africa’s 54 countries for oil and gas.
What Are the Biggest Fossil Fuel Projects in Africa?
There are several bids for Africa’s gas and oil, most of them being financed by Global North countries in the European Union and North America. Fossil fuel companies are currently hoping to find new oil and gas reserves in 45 (out of 54) African countries — and just searching for these resources is already harmful to the planet, as they’d have to disrupt the natural environment to conduct a fossil fuel exploration.
With this scale of potential exploitation in mind, it would take a significant amount of time to list each and every fossil fuel project planned for, or currently happening in, Africa, so for now, we wanted to focus on four that activists and environmentalists have been particularly loud about over the course of this year.
The East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) is currently underway and is being funded by French oil giant TotalEnergies and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation. It’s planned to be the world’s longest heated oil pipeline, set to go through much of Uganda and Tanzania. The project is set to contribute 379 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to global emissions, which is more than 25 times the current annual emissions of Uganda and Tanzania combined.
The impacts will include the displacement of thousands of families and farmers from their land, which is detrimental as agriculture is a crucial source of income for a large number of people living in East Africa, and the pipeline could potentially impact food production as a result. There’s also the significant risk of it polluting vital water resources and wetlands, including the Lake Victoria basin, which over 40 million people rely upon for drinking water and food production.
2. Okavango River Basin
Canadian company ReconAfrica is currently drilling for oil in the sacred Okavango Basin, in an area inhabited by 200,000 people that is sacred land for the Indigenous San people of Southern Africa. The Okavango river is the fourth-longest river system in southern Africa, and as it reaches northern Botswana, it spreads out into the Kalahari desert to become the Okavango Delta, a wetland that serves as a vital water source for over one million people. The Okavango Delta is also a UNESCO Heritage site.
Since 2020, there have been protests calling for the immediate halt of this oil project, and as a result, ReconAfrica has committed to forgo fracking as part of its exploration, and UNESCO plans to investigate the potential impacts of oil and gas explorations — this is despite ReconAfrica having claimed to have already been working with the UN organization on the project. However, drilling has begun on Namibia’s end of the Delta and the country’s energy minister has said that the government is prepared to give ReconAfrica a 25-year production license if the exploration results in the finding of oil.
You can download the Global Citizen app and take our Save the Okavango challenge, to join activists and community leaders in their fight to protect the vital biodiversity area.
3. Mozambique LNG
We see TotalEnergies’ fingerprints again on this major African oil project worth $20 billion. The Mozambique Liquefied Natural Gas project (LNG) began in 2011, led by TotalEnergies and invested in by seven other companies, and is up and running as of late 2022. It sees the extraction of gas from beneath the ocean for it to be transported to a place where it will be liquefied, stored into tanks, and exported to countries mostly outside of Africa.
4. African Renaissance Pipeline Project (ARP)
This is a proposed pipeline that connects the aforementioned Mozambique LNG with the rest of the Mozambique region and across the border to South Africa. The pipeline is a venture that came as an agreement between oil companies in Mozambique, South Africa, and China. If the $8 billion project goes ahead, it will span across eight Mozambican provinces and at least two provinces in South Africa. It’s projected that the project will be complete by 2025.
How Does This All Impact the Mission to End Extreme Poverty?
Fossil fuel explorations and extractions are extremely harmful to the environment, both on land and under the sea — impacting our global ability to achieve United Nations’ Goals 13, for immediate climate action, 14, for the conservation of life below water, and 15 for the protection of life on land.
Drilling for oil or gas underground and extracting it from beneath the earth’s surface or beneath its waters means disrupting natural ecosystems and biodiversity, polluting immediate surroundings, and causing long-term damage through subsequent carbon emissions.
Who Are the Key Players in Tackling the Issue?
A huge number of activists, communities, and organizations are raising their voices to stand up against the fossil fuel exploitation of Africa, combating both ongoing projects and those planned for the future across the African continent.
These include (but are not limited to) Don’t Gas Africa, Greenpeace Africa, StopEACOP, Rise Up Africa, BankTrack, and Power Shift Africa. Notable activists against these projects include Nakabuye Hilda Flavia, Omar Elmawi, Vanessa Nakate, Evelym Acham, and Camille Etienne.
You can find out more about how fossil fuel expansion is impacting Africa and her people by reading our interview with Don’t Gas Africa; this op-ed from Greenpeace Africa’s climate and energy campaigner, Thandile Chinyavanhu; and our recent exclusive interview with activist Vanessa Nakate.
What Action Can We All Take?
You can join us by downloading the Global Citizen app, signing up to become a Global Citizen, and taking our actions and app challenges to call on world and business leaders to tackle climate change immediately. These actions include taking a quiz to learn more about how fossil fuels impact Africa, helping us raise awareness about what is happening in the Okavango River Basin, and sending an email to African leaders calling on them to move away from investing in fossil fuels, among many others.