Speaking during the Oxford Business Africa Forum this week, AEC Executive Chairman NJ Ayuk called for a pragmatic approach to the energy transition, one that addresses African countries’ economic and energy needs.
Following the release of his third bestselling publication, A Just Transition: Making Energy Poverty History with an Energy Mix, African Energy Chamber (AEC) Executive Chairman, NJ Ayuk delivered a strong gas-focused speech during the Oxford Business Africa Forum, which took place under the theme, Africa’s Case for Energy and a Just Energy Transition.
In his address, Ayuk made clear the need for a pragmatic approach to the energy transition, in which the path that will get African countries to net zero emissions should not, cannot, and must not be the same path that European countries travel. Citing natural gas as the best way forward, Ayuk brought attention to Africa’s biggest challenge: energy poverty, while putting forward a strategy that would enable the continent to transition to a cleaner energy future, however, not at the risk of socioeconomic development.
Kicking off his presentation, Ayuk emphasized that with over 600 million people without access to energy in Africa, it only makes sense that the continent harnesses all of its natural resources to alleviate energy poverty, and more specifically, its natural gas. According to Ayuk, “Natural gas, affordable and abundant in Africa, has the power to spark significant job creation and capacity-building opportunities, economic diversification and growth. Why shouldn’t Africa capitalize on those opportunities?”
As noted in his book, Ayuk recognized that the climate crisis represents a major challenge worldwide. In fact, Africa faces the worst impacts of the crisis, with environmental disasters threatening the livelihoods of populations. However, immediately transitioning away from oil and gas will not bring the economic relief the continent needs.
“I am not saying that African nations should continue oil and gas operations indefinitely, with no movement towards renewable energy sources. I am saying that we should be setting the timetable for our own transition, and we should be deciding how it’s carried out. What I’d like to see, instead of Western pressure to bring African oil and gas activities to an abrupt halt, is a cooperative effort. Partnerships, relationships rooted in respect, open communications and empathy. What does that look like? It begins with the belief that when African leaders, businesses and organizations say the timing is not right to end our fossil fuel operations, that we have a point. That when we are discussing our own countries, we know what we are talking about.”
Throughout his presentation, Ayuk provided in-depth insight into energy poverty in Africa, detailing how lack of energy triggers challenges regarding cooking, air pollution, health, education, employment and many more. However, Africa has the solution to addressing energy poverty: natural gas.
“A comprehensive approach to battling energy poverty, one that includes gas-to-power initiatives, is absolutely necessary. And we are seeing movement in that direction. More than a dozen African countries are already using natural gas they produce themselves or import from other countries to generate electricity. And new projects are on the way. Ghana, for example, is preparing to launch sub-Saharan Africa’s first LNG-to-power plant before the end of the year. Cameroon plans to convert an oil-fired power plant at Limbé to a natural gas-fired facility and expand production capacity. In Ivory Coast, a new combined cycle power plant is coming to Jaqueville. These projects will change African lives for the better. Reversing direction now would be a serious mistake.”
In addition to energy poverty, Ayuk went on to describe the economic benefits associated with oil and gas utilization in Africa. While renewable energy resources have and will continue to play a role in electrifying the continent – particularly across remote areas of the continent where grid connection is not feasible – oil and gas is the only way to kickstart industrialization. In this scenario, Ayuk proposes an alternative solution to the trend evident in investing in Africa. Rather than continue with financial aid, Ayuk emphasizes that investment and partnerships represent the only way of addressing energy poverty and driving economic progress.
“We don’t need help or quick fixes. We don’t need aid. We need partners and investors. We need free-market solutions that contribute to long-term stability and economic growth. Strategically harnessing our oil and gas resources, natural gas in particular, puts those objectives within our reach. The idea is to use our natural gas as a feedstock to create other value-added products, like petrochemicals, from fertilizers to ammonia. Then we take the revenues to build infrastructure, from pipelines to ports and roadways. And we open the door to economic diversification.”
As such, Ayuk made a strong case for an African-focused approach to the energy transition, citing energy poverty, economic development and investment as primary concerns. By establishing its own path to transitioning, Africa will be well equipped to make energy poverty history, mitigate climate change while at the same time driving long-term and sustainable socioeconomic growth.
“Why not, instead, take a strategic approach to Africa’s energy transition? Why not set aside a portion of fossil fuel revenues to help fund the infrastructure we need? Why not continue investing in African oil and gas projects, natural gas projects in particular, to move Africa closer to achieving a successful energy transition? And why not share your technologies with us, so we can employ solutions like carbon capture, to keep carbon emissions to a minimum? Africa needs an energy transition that takes a pragmatic approach to resolving energy poverty: by making our natural gas resources part of the solution.”