Ghana officially commenced oil production in commercial quantities in 2010.

COP28: African nations resist fossil fuel phaseout, citing economic realities

At the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, leaders from the US and EU have backed a phasedown of fossil fuels, with some qualifications.  But many African countries say they deserve to exploit their natural resources and develop just like richer countries. 

The World

Bismark Owusu Nortey parked his truck along a road at an industrial hub in the Greater Accra region of southern Ghana, where thick plumes of black smoke poured into the sky. 

Owusu Nortey, who works with Ghana’s Peasant Farmers Association, is there to transport inorganic fertilizer to Accra, for onward distribution to some of the country’s over 3 million farmers. 

He said about 80% of fertilizers used by farmers are “inorganic,” which is mostly made from natural gas. Farmers like to use them because they are less expensive and support rapid crop growth.

At the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, leaders from the US and EU have backed a phasedown of fossil fuels, with some qualifications. But many African countries say they deserve to exploit their natural resources and develop just like richer countries.

The industrial hub of Tema, Ghana, is home to steel processing, oil refinery, processing, aluminum industries, and more.

The industrial hub of Tema, Ghana, is home to steel processing, oil refinery, processing, aluminum industries, and more.

Credit:

Ridwan Kareem Dini-Osman/The World

Owusu Nortey said he’s concerned that phasing out fossil fuels now could worsen hunger in a country where 2.5 million people are severely food insecure. Putting an abrupt stop to this type of fertilizer without viable alternatives could lead to lower yields — causing food shortages and higher prices and impacting overall availability.

“If there is a plan to phase out the use of natural gas for fertilizer, then we might be creating some problems for farming, especially in a place like Ghana where our farmers rely a lot on fertilizers,” he said. 

But extracting, processing and transporting these fuels contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, which trap the sun’s heat and exacerbate global warming. Runoff from fields treated with inorganic fertilizers can also lead to water pollution.  

At the COP28 climate summit in Dubai this week, negotiators are debating whether to sign on to an agreement to phase out or down fossil fuels. A drastic reduction in carbon emissions is the only way to keep global warming from reaching catastrophic levels. 

The International Energy Agency has found that any new fossil fuel development is incompatible with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the target temperature of the Paris Agreement.

Yet, Ghana relies on fossil fuels for more than half of its total energy supply. And it’s been producing oil and gas since major petroleum reserves were discovered in 2007. 

US Vice President Kamala Harris visited Ghana in March to pitch a green energy transition.

Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo made clear in a joint press conference that he had a different idea — to tap the country’s abundant natural resources, “with a vision of taking Ghana out of dependence on aid to a self-reliant economy beyond aid,” he said.

Ghanians debate energy options

At a bustling fuel station in the capital Accra, resident Baba Ahmed pulled up in a black Toyota Corolla to get some gas.

Ahmed said he understands the environmental impact of fossil fuels, but the country is not ready.  "A phaseout is really going to affect a lot of people, and so it is not a conversation we should be having now,” he said, adding that better infrastructure would have to be put in place.

“And the costs would also have to come down in terms of buying those electric cars. It is going to be a difficult thing to really achieve,” he said.

Rose Eshun, a  food-seller who sings to attract buyers for her boiled corn and roasted plantain has been using firewood and charcoal laced with kerosene for years to boil her corn.

Rose Eshun, a  food-seller who sings to attract buyers for her boiled corn and roasted plantain has been using firewood and charcoal laced with kerosene for years to boil her corn.

Credit:

Ridwan Karim Dini-Osman/The World

In the sprawling neighborhood of Ashaiman, food seller Rose Eshun has been using firewood and charcoal laced with kerosene for years to boil her corn.

"Ever since I was a child ‘til now, we've been using firewood and charcoal for cooking. They're easy to find, they don't cost much, and they're very effective for cooking long hours,” she said. Eshun said despite the cost to her health, switching to so-called modern fuels would collapse her business.

“The prices of clean gas and those kinds of things are way beyond my strength. Even my daily proceeds from this business cannot afford that.  No way, no way,” she said.

Eshun said any move by the government to ban charcoal or firewood should take into account the economic realities of small businesses like hers.

“We will meet any such attempts with fierce resistance. If the government wants us to stop using these traditional fuels, then the president should provide us with the money for clean fuel. It is as simple as that,” she said.

Charcoal is readily available throughout Ghana, especially in regions where access to modern energy sources is both expensive and limited. However, the widespread use of charcoal contributes to deforestation, posing significant harm to the environment.

Charcoal is readily available throughout Ghana, especially in regions where access to modern energy sources is both expensive and limited. However, the widespread use of charcoal contributes to deforestation, posing significant harm to the environment.

Credit:

Ridwan Karim Dini-Osman/The World

That’s essentially the message that the African negotiating bloc is presenting at the COP28 meeting this week: If you want a switch to greener energy sources, pay up. 

Africa is home to 18% of the global population but consumes about 6%  of the world's energy and emits an even lower percentage of carbon emissions. 

Poorer and developing countries argue that they did very little to cause the climate problem yet they’re now being asked to move away from coal, oil and gas. 

“Africa cannot be held to be responsible for this problem and if you want to get Africa to do its bit, then it’s a question of financing,” said Theo Acheampong, a Ghanaian energy economist at Aberdeen University. 

He said developed countries are more focused on global renewable energy targets while they’re still subsidizing oil and gas production domestically, in the amount of $7 trillion. 

But African countries don’t get access to the financing and technologies required to address the issue of energy poverty, he added. 

Over 600 million people in Africa lack sufficient energy. And in the next 30 years, the population of 1.4 billion on the continent will double, driving up energy demand even more. 

Acheampong believes that the goal of COP28 must also address energy security, access and affordability challenges in Africa. 

“And I strongly believe that oil and gas, as well as nuclear, as well as renewable and all these other energy forms should be a core part of the energy mix of African countries,” he said.

But Chibeze Ezekiel, who leads the Strategic Youth Network for Development in Ghana, said he favors a full fossil-fuel phaseout. 

“We can't guarantee that we will have oil and gas forever. We can't guarantee that there will be coal forever. At some point, we may run out, and then what happens?” 

It’s better to invest in renewable energy, he added.

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