COP26, Africa and the Inequity in Energy Transition

Climate crisis contrarians couldn’t help but break into a guffaw when it was reported that President Biden cruised around in an 85- car motorcade during the G20 summit in Rome. Including his trip to Scotland for the COP26 will sum up the amount of carbon generated to be 2.2 million pounds. Adding to the list the carbon emissions from other world leaders numbering above 100, who came for the climate summit and made unrealistic promises regarding carbon neutrality, should make one entertain doubt about the aims of the summit. This is because emitting so much carbon in the process of going for a climate summit which seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions appears very contradictory. In this instance, actions and words are completely out of sync.

You don’t need to be a clairvoyant to predict the turn of events at COP26. It’s just virtue signaling and putting on a facade of meaning well and doing enormous good for the world. Past climate summits had world leaders resonate impending doom for the world if emissions are not drastically reduced. This year’s summit is no different from others. President Biden reiterated his stance about climate change being an existential threat to humanity by saying that “Climate change is already ravaging the world. We’ve heard from many speakers. It’s not a hypothetical threat. It’s destroying people’s lives and livelihoods and doing it every single day”. Never mind that his plea with OPEC+ to increase oil production to compensate for high energy prices in Europe and Asia was rejected. The White House’s appeal with the U.S. oil industry to curb rising gasoline prices possibly suggests that Mr. Biden had forgotten that pausing the leasing of federal lands for oil and gas development was one of his early actions as the President.

Despite the absence of the Presidents of China and Russia at the climate summit, both countries didn’t commit to any new pledge of emission reductions. Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister had already given a fore taste of that while answering media questions following the G20 summit. Not only did he discountenance the magic figure and non-negotiable status of 2050, he frowned towards a consensus date for attaining global net-zero emissions and affirmed the right and freedom of every nation to chart their decarbonization pathway.  President Modi announced 2070 as the year his country plans to go carbon neutral but didn’t mention the time emissions in India will peak. His statement about climate finance that “India expects developed countries to make $1 trillion in climate finance available as soon as possible”     covertly insinuates that energy transition for developing countries is contingent on availability of climate finance. Considering that rich states have fallen short of the annual $100 billion climate finance promised to poor nations, President Modi’s new climate finance ceiling is anything but realizable.

If we’re in agreement with science that the earth’s climate system can undergo multiyear variations in the absence of any external forcing except a steady component of the sun’s radiation, going with the scientifically unsubstantiated claim that human’s influences (burning fossil fuels and land use act) are primarily responsible for the rise in global mean temperature within the last 2 centuries and also account for the frequency of extreme weather conditions is weak.

Thanks to paleoclimatology that make us to understand that what’s happening now is not unusual in the geological history of the earth. Before human’s influence on the climate was pronounced, climate has always changed. The last interglacial period, which happened about 120,000 years ago called ‘the Eemian’ was 2C warmer than today and the sea level was 6 meters higher while carbon dioxide concentration was close to 300 ppm,  similar to pre-industrial era. Linear global temperature correlation to carbon dioxide level hasn’t always been the standard. Sometimes, both are out of phase with each other, corroborating a very valid proposition that natural forcings (solar radiation levels, volcanic eruptions, climate oscillations) and are potent in affecting weather and climate than anthropogenic forcings. The book ‘Inconvenient Fact’ written by the geologist Gregory Wrightstone pointed out that the current earth geological period (quaternary) has the lowest CO2 levels in the history of the Earth. William Harper, Professor of Physics Emeritus at Princeton University was direct and unapologetic in his conversation with Stuart McNish when he said that the world is currently in a CO2 famine.

It is indisputable that there is an overrepresentation of the poor among people displaced and affected by extreme weather occurrences. Africa’s state of climate which is majorly characterized by temperature and precipitation variations affect agriculture, food security and living health conditions of African societies. For the sake of mitigating climate change, African economies are sold the urgency to embrace transition to clean energy sources. But the emergence of the E3F coalition and the adoption of climate laws by the European Union indicate that Africa is obligated to embrace energy transition to green. Non-compliance by African economies will have serious economic consequences.

Even though both the Presidents of Ghana and Nigeria supported the fight against climate change, they were unequivocal in their insistence to develop their economies through natural resource exploration that can help their economies become climate-resilient. President Buhari of Nigeria canvassed for gas projects financing. Nigeria, he said could keep using gas till 2040 without derailing from the Paris Agreement. If China (the biggest carbon emitting country) agrees to 2060 as its net-zero emission year and India (3rd biggest global emitter) wants to work with 2070, the announcement of Nigeria (a country that emits 1% of global greenhouse gases) to reach net-zero by 2060 through her president shouldn’t be welcome by the global community. To welcome and ensure Nigeria keeps to her promise of net-zero should is an act of unfairness against Nigeria.

The United States and Europe, crusaders of the 2050 net-zero emissions deadline, developed and industrialized through low-cost fossil fuels. Now that social progress has been recorded in these climes, both economies could double down on their green energy policy implementation and have their citizens continue to bear astronomically high energy prices. Africa, on the other hand accounts for less than 4% of global emissions, has low socio-economic development, and majorly trades primary commodities. That simply means that until it attains economic development, which fossil fuel is an enabler, pressing the energy reset button should be considered an unjust act. Therefore in the spirit of climate justice, sub-Saharan Africa should jettison any deadline for net-zero emission.

President Akufo-Addo’s presentation struck a chord in me, albeit it may have upset the collective applecart of the west. He recognized that demanding Africa to abandon the exploitation of fossil fuels considered very crucial for economic development, climate change adaptation and resilience is great injustice. One of the principles of climate justice includes supporting the right to development-the more reason why poor economies must prioritize socio-economic development. Nothing could be more unjust than to treat human progress as an afterthought and make environmentalism the absolute priority. Both must be pursued in ways that create balance. To that end, any environmental, energy and climate policies that must be adopted for implementation in low-emitting and energy poor countries must address energy poverty and support economic development; otherwise they must be consigned to the trashcan.

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