This Southern African Oil and Gas Conference (13 &14 Sept 2023) is part of an upsurge of interest in exploring for oil and gas in southern Africa and absolutely nowhere is off limits – not even the celebrated Okavango Delta in Botswana. In South Africa, interest centres on searching for shale gas in the Karoo Basin, gas in the Wits Basin, coal bed methane in the Waterberg, among many other projects. Many companies have also obtained licences to explore for oil and gas offshore. The huge extent of the exploration and production activities is shown in the map below from the Petroleum Association of South Africa (PASA).
Governments in southern Africa are inviting oil and gas companies to search for oil and gas in their countries with the dream of creating great economic wealth. It is true that oil and gas have brought wealth to countries. The prime example is Norway, which created a sovereign wealth fund, invested the money widely and has used it to fund all manner of public goods. However, we also have examples where finding oil and gas has resulted in a resource curse. Nigeria is a prime example where the Niger Delta has become a dangerous and polluted place of hell with crude oil even in the drinking water, while the country also remains poor and with low levels of electrification.
Mozambique’s gas find led to an insurgency in northern Mozambique where the gas was found, and a corruption scandal.
But even if South Africa and Namibia, which are now dreaming of oil and gas bonanzas, escape such tragedies, these dreams demonstrate a wilful blindness to the perilous situation we find ourselves in as a world in 2023. Thirty years ago, in 1992, the United Nations Climate Change Convention agreed that the burning of fossil fuels was causing greenhouse gas pollution that was dangerously affecting the climate. Since then scientists have sounded the alarm louder and louder and yet we have dramatically increased the amount of CO2 that we are putting into the atmosphere to the point where we are now reaching dangerous tipping points (the chickens are coming home to roost!)
Arctic and Antarctic sea ice is melting, the Boreal forest in Canada and Siberia is burning, the oceans are dramatically heating and acidifying, and the Amazon forest may no longer be acting as a protective carbon sink. This year, 2023, brought heat domes, extensive wildfires, floods, marine heatwaves and continued desperate drought in Somalia. And July 2023 was the hottest month on record. To quote Peter Carter, who
is Director of the Climate Emergency Institute, “we’re on a rapid trend of a biosphere collapse”
Setting out to burn more oil and gas is therefore delusional and suicidal.
Of course, southern African countries need energy but we need to massively invest in safer, renewable energy which is maturing fast and getting cheaper all the time. Scientists have warned us that if we do not start to sharply reduce emissions in the next year or so, we may be locked into an irreversible unraveling of the systems that support life on our planet. We cannot pass such an evil legacy to the next generations!
Oil and gas companies have shown over and over that they cannot be trusted. They have spent billions on discrediting the science, downplaying climate danger and lobbying politicians to weaken climate legislation. They have recently made bonanza profits but are walking back on their promised contributions to the energy transition. They have talked up carbon capture and storage as the great panacea to our climate ills when they know very well that this technology is still in its infancy. They peddle the lie that gas is a transition fuel in denial of the fact that gas production and transport involves methane flaring and leaks and methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. They would not even be able to make a profit if they paid the true cost of the pollution which they externalise to the environment.
It is unjust that the North benefited economically from fossil fuels and southern Africa will not have the same opportunity. But to demand that Africa be allowed to burn fossil fuels to contribute its own GHGs makes no sense given the world’s dire situation and the fact that climate change is hurting Africa very badly with, for example, drought greatly increasing food and water insecurity on the continent. Economically, investing in oil and gas infrastructure only makes sense if you are driven by short term gains, but soon Africa will be burdened by stranded assets as the global North will transition away from dirty energy. Yes, we should fight for fairness and justice but the justice we demand is as outlined by the Climate Justice Charter Movement and the other organisations that are behind this protest today:
1. Ambitious just transition plans from all carbon corporations and polluters so we accelerate the realisation of net-zero emissions;
2. No new investments in oil, gas and coal;
3. All governments to withdraw subsidies from fossil fuel industries and redirect this money to socially owned renewable energy transitions;
4. The UN establish an “End Fossil Fuel Treaty” which ensures that fossil fuel corporations pay the world a carbon debt for the harm they have caused, that poor countries, including those with fossil fuel reserves, are compensated for suffering a problem they did not create, and that all oil, coal and gas industries are shut down in the next 10 years or sooner;
5. We demand the government place the country on a climate emergency footing given scientific forecasts of a dangerously hot summer;
Read the full press release with images here.