Give Africa the green light to exploit natural gas reserves, says former UN climate envoy

Mary Robinson says 'some use of gas' should be allowed as the continent is being urged to cut emissions

Fuel pumps in Ogun State, south-west Nigeria. AFP
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African countries should be given the green light to use their vast natural gas resources, former UN climate envoy Mary Robinson said, despite the global need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In comments likely to irk delegates gathering for high-level climate talks in Bonn, Germany, this week, Ms Robinson suggested African nations’ huge need for energy could be a justification for exploiting their gas reserves.

Africa is richly endowed with gas, with half of the continent’s 55 nations sitting on natural reserves. BP has predicted the production of natural gas on the continent will grow by 80 per cent by 2035.

Ms Robinson highlighted statistics showing that 600 million people on the continent have no access to electricity and about 900 million regularly use biomass or dirty oil cooking stoves to get by. The chairwoman of the Elders group of former world statespeople and business leaders said natural gas could be used as a less polluting alternative in Africa.

“Africa is trying to get its voice out about its need for just, equitable energy, and of course that implies some use of gas as a just transition,” she told The Guardian.

“There has to be a certain leeway to tackle the energy poverty in Africa, and give Africa a faster capability to move,” she said.

In contrast, Ms Robinson, who served as Ireland’s first female president from 1990 to 1997, emphasised that developed nations had an obligation to phase out their use of gas to save the planet.

Her stance is likely to be at odds with many of the policymakers gathering at the Bonn Climate Change Conference this week.

Cop26 President Alok Sharma on Tuesday said the gathering would lay the groundwork for the Cop27 summit scheduled to take place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, in November.

While some decision makers see Africa’s need for energy as reason enough for it to exploit its gas reserves, others consider the continent’s race for gas as a hurdle in the global fight to reduce the use of fossil fuels in favour of greener alternatives.

Nigeria, the largest African country by population, also has the biggest proven gas deposits of any nation on the continent ― 206.53 trillion cubic feet in total. The West African country is the 12th largest producer of petroleum in the world and its oil sector comprises 20 per cent of its GDP and 95 per cent of foreign exchange earnings.

Updated: June 08, 2022, 9:57 AM