One of Africa’s richest entrepreneurs, the telecoms billionaire Mo Ibrahim, has criticised developed countries for seeking to dissuade African nations from exploiting their vast reserves of gas.
Ibrahim told the Guardian in an interview: “We need a balanced and a fair policy for everybody. Gas can be useful to our transition … [Those who say otherwise] are hypocrites.”
Africa’s gas reserves should be used to bring power to some of the world’s poorest people, he said. “We have 600 million people without electricity. How can we even think of development if people don’t have power? How can we have education, hospitals, business, companies, social life, TVs, tablets, computers, whatever? Development is a major issue for us and power is essential.”
He added: “What you need to ensure is that Africans have some share of their own gas … but we will export, yes.”
Africa’s gas, and the question of whether and how countries can exploit it, will be a key flashpoint at the Cop27 UN climate summit next month.
The continent holds enough gas to raise global temperatures far beyond the 1.5C threshold countries agreed to target at the last UN climate summit, Cop26 last November in Glasgow. Sticking to that goal is likely to mean limiting how much of the gas is extracted, or using ways to capture and store the resulting carbon dioxide – an expensive technology that has not yet been proven at any significant scale.
Ibrahim’s charitable foundation published a report in September that concluded that for Africans to treble their energy use, through gas alone, would add less than 1% to global carbon dioxide emissions.
“These are poor people – how much power do poor people need?” he asked. “These guys don’t have air conditioning, they don’t have swimming pools to heat, they don’t have big SUVs to drive or gas-guzzling cars. They have a very small place, they only need a couple of bulbs to light.”
Using gas for cooking in place of the wood, dung, coal, paraffin and other dirty fuels now commonly used would also save lives in Africa, Ibrahim added. “Nine hundred million people in Africa suffer from unclean cooking – mainly women. What about the pollution effect of that? It’s a serious problem, a health disaster and an environmental disaster. That’s why we need gas.”
Developed countries and civil society groups have sought to discourage African governments from drilling their reserves, some of which are in threatened ecosystems such as the Congo basin.