Gas – Busting Myths and Creating Real Alternatives for the Global South

  • Gas is not the future for Sub-Saharan Africa. It is neither a clean nor cheap alternative source of energy.
  • Despite being lauded as a cleaner energy option, gas is a fossil fuel like oil and coal.
  • Fossil gas is mostly methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas.
  • Over a 100 years time horizon, it is about 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide, but over 20 years it is 85 times more potent.
  • The world is now approaching a number of tipping points with natural feedbacks threatening runaway climate change so this shorter term impact is now what matters. 

The E3G Gas and Development Report states that gas is a leading contributor to increases in global emissions. Despite evidence of the negative impact of gas, low and middle-income countries are seduced by international public finance that encourages gas projects and pays little attention to renewable energy opportunities.

Supporters and funders of gas energy production have dominated the public sphere with claims that gas is a cleaner energy option, and an opportunity for significant economic development in countries in the region. The African Coal Network counters this position as simply false prophesying and busts three commonly believed myths, as follows:

Gas is a cheap energy source

A significant myth relating to gas is that it is a cheaper energy source with greater opportunities for leading economies out of the economic downturn than oil and coal. This is untrue. Often extracted for export, gas is expensive and a driver of higher global electricity costs (International Energy Agency). Further, gas requires high quantities of clean water from extraction to production and combustion. The strain exerted on water resources works against water conservation and necessary ecosystem strategies to build climate resilience. Renewable options remain the cheapest energy source at current costs and lower prices are projected in the future.

In addition, cases from across the continent, including the conflict and destruction in the Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, and the Niger Delta, Nigeria, reveal the damage that has been done to communities and degraded environments, by the violently extractive nature of oil and gas corporations. Gas exploration has resulted in many people paying the ultimate cost – community members and children have died – and thousands of people have been displaced due to the conflict, inequality and environmental crisis created by the gas industry.

Gas production creates jobs

A general absence of data and information on the number of jobs supported by the African fossil fuels industry makes it difficult to estimate the number of jobs supported by gas production. The entire fossil fuels sector is estimated to employ less than 1% of Africa’s workforce (UNCTAD). In addition, exploration and production often favour foreigners due to the skills and expertise needed (K4D).

According to the Senior Manager of the Climate and Energy Justice Campaign Manager at groundWork, Avena Jacklin, the renewable energy sector with local content prioritises local employment and creates more decent jobs for communities. A recent brief by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) affirmed a positive job creation effect from renewable energy, due to longer and diverse supply chains, labour intensity, increased net profit margins and less hazardous working conditions.

Gas ensures a secure energy supply

Africa experiences approximately 4,300 hours of sunshine, the greatest global average. Most parts of Africa have an excess of 2000 kWh (Solar Photovoltaics in Sub-Saharan Africa), making the continent favourable for solar energy production compared with other regions.

Energy producers can better resolve Africa’s energy requirements with the quick and efficient implementation of renewable energy that connects to existing grid infrastructure, and building additional infrastructure and storage capacity (Meridian Economics Report).

Gas is finite. Infinite resources such as the sun’s radiation, wind and wave action are sustainable due to their ability to replenish naturally. Renewable energy provides greater opportunities for a secure supply of energy.

Forging real pathways for the Global South 

Dean Bhekumuzi Bhebhe, Campaigns Lead for Power Shift Africa, dismisses gas production as a real solution to the region’s energy poverty. In most of Africa, the grid infrastructure to take power from large gas generators to the people does not exist. In contrast, renewable energy can be generated right where people are living and distributed through local mini-grids. The dash for gas is really motivated by one thing – increasing the profits of the fossil fuels industry. Bhebhe asserts that the Global South should adopt its own path and reject old ways of development, which have been largely extractive and exploitative, resulting in a dirty and sullied environment.

A collective of civil society organisations is pushing for clean energy and opposing the risk of locking fossil fuels into Africa’s long-term energy mix (Don’t Gas Africa) by advocating against the African Union’s support for the fossil fuel industry to “play a crucial role in expanding modern energy access” (African Union). Increased gas investment risks locking countries into further dependency on fossil fuels, resulting in additional debt, substantial losses and environmental harm – hampering the advancement of the region’s energy and development goals due to wasted expenditure.

Leapfrogging to Renewable Energy 

A move to renewable energies can create new jobs, provide energy for increased economic activity and development, and reduce emission levels in the region. Developing energy infrastructure in the region will come with substantial capital investment because large sectors of the population do not have any energy or power, or the start-up costs for renewable energy capacity. Countries in the Global North installed their infrastructure when costs were high. However, solar and wind prices have reduced by 80% in the last decade.

Improvements and rapid scaling of technologies have resulted in better performance, storage capacity and materials and improved access and affordability. Additional opportunities for increased savings exist if African governments can leverage current fossil fuel subsidies to incentivise a shift to renewable energy. These can create a positive ripple effect by increasing the use of cleaner energy, increasing local production, stimulating local economies and encouraging circular economic policies, which will result in reusing, reducing, and redesigning material waste.

Africa is endowed with resources and well positioned to resolve its energy problems by investing in and utilising renewable energy. Increased communications and education will respond to current information gaps regarding the opportunity for cheaper and cleaner energy. Engaging and communicating with communities using their languages, with messages that resonate, such as job opportunities, health advantages, and cost-saving, will contribute to increased uptake.

Conclusion 

As a result of rapid global change, the importance of resilient and just economies continue to be a high priority for developing countries. The general constraint of economic resources requires strategic thought and the allocation of public funds to build the backbone of an energy sector that is enabling, sustainable and equitable for countries in the Global South.

Gas is a hazardous and resource-heavy energy option. It is also expensive. Furthermore, it destroys lives and ecosystems and accelerates climate change. Countries in the region should forge pathways to capitalise on cost-optimal wind and solar energy, which will meet energy supply gaps, achieve a just transition and respond to climate change.

Author: African Coal Network

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