The UK-Africa Summit is a sign of the green economy conundrum

The UK-Africa Summit, held last January in London, proved to be a policy conundrum. On the one hand, Boris Johnson’s opening speech stated that the country will refrain from investing in coal projects in Africa, a decision whose first implementation actually goes back to 2002. On the other hand, Green MP Caroline Lucas and the […]

The UK-Africa Summit, held last January in London, proved to be a policy conundrum. On the one hand, Boris Johnson’s opening speech stated that the country will refrain from investing in coal projects in Africa, a decision whose first implementation actually goes back to 2002. On the other hand, Green MP Caroline Lucas and the Guardian revealed that 90% of the deals concluded during the summit will fund fossil fuel projects. Today Global Witness reports that the Private Infrastructure Development Group, a group raising funds in large part from the Government, has committed over three-quarters of its receipts to similar infrastructure. As the UK carbon budget gets more and more stretched, the two stories point at a systemic issue with advancing knowledge and investment in truly transformative energy solutions.
The decision shows an inherent bias in the government’s perception of Africa’s energy needs, at a time in which mitigation and adaptation strategies against climate change should be the priority. The International Energy Agency data clearly shows that coal will be the least demanded form of primary energy by 2040. On the other hand, highly polluting biomass, oil, and gas remain significant in a continent where an estimated 600 million people have no access to electricity. The outcome of the Summit implies that there is no political will to strengthen the energy network in Africa for the benefit of people living there. Neither is there a long-term plan to invest in alternative energy sources, in line with carbon neutrality targets established through the UK’s cooperation with global partners.
Even when considering increased demand to justify fossil fuel extraction, it is inconceivable to enable dependence on resources whose extraction is detrimental to the social and economic well-being of entire populations. Oil spillages and natural gas flaring in the Niger Delta are only one example of how the scramble for oil and gas is causing ecocide and furthering inequality. Scientific evidence shows how infant mortality has drastically increased in sites affected by spilling, even when accounting for other potential factors. Moreover, 95% of casualties related to climate change events are found in poor and underdeveloped territories such as Sub-Saharan Africa. The UK’s continued engagement with the root causes of degradation on multiple levels is not simply misrepresentation, but an active contribution to social and environmental injustice.
Some critics see the exploitation of Africa’s fossil fuels as the fast track for economic growth at the cheapest price in countries with little support in capital. Such was the reasoning of an annual meeting in the latest World Economic Forum. However, as 2030 approaches, we can no longer believe that industrialisation in such strict terms is the safe bet for all. The devastating impact of the West’s unsustainable economic growth is now visible and mainly concerns the most economically marginalised individuals. Rather than imposing a UK paradigm dating back to the earliest stages of technological progress, it would be worth considering the potential of countries most hit by the climate crisis. Togo and Niger are just two of many nations investing in hybrid systems to electrify villages, and many local authorities in Africa are developing solutions adapted to the surrounding ecosystem.
The fact that only 8% of the funding dispensed during the Summit last week was dedicated to clean energy is a sign that old-standing interests are paramount to the spread of an out-of-date conception of progress. All of that is defended at a time when collective solutions should hold on to reducing inequality and showing sensibility to the specificity of each community. Community projects across the continent, such as CHOICES in South Africa, are a testament to African citizens’ will to reduce their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. They also prove that relevant ideas and ambitions on energy are embedded in an awareness of the local context, to produce tangible outcomes for involved populations.
If the traditional West does not take the lead in financing green ambitions, it will fail in being a trailblazer and defending Africa from what is coming in the future years. Most importantly, it will continue to perpetuate a cycle of impositions and unresponsiveness to the pressures caused by its own choices. Africa can be the field for the politics of innovation. However, it needs a responsible financial effort emanating from those who emit far more than 4% of the world’s emissions, yet are pursuing a design meant to damage everyone in the long term.

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