The UN secretary general, António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres has turned up the heat since 2019 and been more vocal by asking that all future coal projects be cancelled, international financing for coal plants end and thirdly, the transition be made to renewable energy.
The International Energy
Agency has published in May 2021 its “roadmap for the global energy sector to reach net-zero by 2050”. It is very important to read this document and understand its impact for Africa. To the author, there is trouble on the horizon, and we must act to limit its impact on our lives and our children’s future. The UN secretary general’s call is for the “net-zero agenda” to get going and president Joe Biden has come on strong with his rhetoric of net-zero plans for the US. Many European nations are going all out on their paths to decarbonise and its big brand car manufacturers also announcing plans to not produce internal combustion-engine cars by 2035 and concentrate on electric cars. All this, in the quest to limit a rise of global temperatures by 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Primitive fuel source
Meanwhile, we here on the African continent, only producing 4% of global carbon emission, are still struggling to get wood, the most primitive fuel source, out of non-recreational societal use. In all truth, the data suggests that more people in Namibia are turning to wood than to electricity. We are still unable to supply in our own need for electricity, this while our continent has vast amounts of oil, gas, coal, uranium, water, wind and sun. We are, for now, asked ‘politely’ to primarily only use water, wind and sun for our future energy needs.
We may be very used to it but have a look at the many people in and around Windhoek gathering wood for fuel. That wood is used to cook and keep warm. In rural areas of Namibia, the reliance on wood is even more pronounced. In fact, 50% of our people use wood for cooking and heating. In 2019, lower respiratory infections (LRI) (bronchitis, pneumonia) and tuberculosis (TB), accounted for 5.7% (3.8% global average) and 3.8% (1.8% global average) respectively of all deaths recorded in Namibia. What this says is that almost 10% of deaths in Namibia are respiratory related. The poor and vulnerable use wood to cook their daily meals. One can just imagine what enormous burden this solvable problem places on the national health system, as this is the only place of care for respiratory infections the poor have. In Finland, respiratory related deaths only account for 0.6% of all deaths in that country. Three logs of wood cost N$10. This is a daily expenditure for the poor in Namibia; either buying or harvesting wood. N$10 also buys 5kWh of electricity, which will cook three meals a day. Like the supply of water is a basic human right to stay alive, 5kWh of electrical energy should be contained in a basic energy supply policy. The discussion is a life and death issue, and the aspect of health is but one issue solvable through the supply of electricity. We are really in a fight, with the wealthier nations, to get out of poverty. Abundant energy supply is the only solution.
It will not be long until we are forced to toe the line with the net-zero agenda, when penalties, taxes and bans are placed on firms and financing institutions lending money to build fossil-fuelled power stations, oil refineries and support the exploration and production of oil and gas.
Taken further, firms producing coal boilers, oil and gas infrastructure and fossil fuelled turbines may buckle as they stare penalties, increased taxes and bans or even face closure for the pursuit of the net-zero agenda.
For Africa, this means that financing costs for thermal energy technology will sky-rocket, making the cost of electricity even more expensive or making national thermal energy infrastructural projects in the face of high demand for electricity, unbankable.
As Africans we stand to lose the use of our indigenous energy resources for Africa’s development because the fuels are branded dirty and dangerous, and Africa does not produce the equipment that extract energy from fuels. We stand to lose the growing security on the Africa continent because the use of our fuel sources is being throttled (emission targets) and indirectly banned (no new financing) creating internal unrest. We stand to have our sovereignty weakened because we fail to pay attention and calculate what net-zero means to our future economic growth.
Africa’s energy policy
No nation on earth has been able to escape poverty without an oversupply of energy. None!
There should be a limit to which we can decide to accede to. As Africans, we are intricately aware of our natural environment and the land of our ancestors. We agree that we are stewards of the land to protect and preserve for our wellbeing and existence and for our descendants. This is not up for debate. We share a common position.
However, to artfully prevent Africa using all its energy resources for its own development and
future growth in the name of climate change should be unacceptable. It leaves much work for our African policy makers, who have been rather silent on the net-zero agenda. It will be in Africa’s best interest to adopt the American “all-of-the-above”
energy policy. It will require heads of state to speak up and rebut this rhetoric, underscore our set of priorities and Africa’s growth path out of poverty. Let us not forget, our president has declared us at war against poverty and we must ensure that our gains in the fight against poverty are safeguarded.
*Nortin Titus is a Namibian nuclear physicist and the views expressed in this opinion piece are that of the author and in no way related to that of his employer and affiliations.