African Climate Summit: An opportunity to decolonise Africa’s energy

African leaders should use the gathering in Nairobi to chart the course for a renewable energy revolution that would deliver a sustainable future powered by clean energy.

A worker walks past an Africa Climate Summit logo during preparations ahead of the Africa Climate Summit 2023 at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Nairobi, Kenya on September 2, 2023. - The inaugural Africa Climate Summit will be held in Nairobi and aims to address the increasing exposure to climate change and its associated costs, both globally and particularly in Africa. (Photo by Luis Tato / AFP)
A worker walks past an Africa Climate Summit logo during preparations ahead of the Africa Climate Summit 2023 at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Nairobi, Kenya on September 2, 2023 [AFP/Luis Tato]

African and international leaders will attend the African Climate Summit from September 4 to 6 in Nairobi, Kenya. They will deliberate on Africa’s unified position on the climate crisis ahead of COP28, the global climate talks, in December and develop the Nairobi Declaration for green growth, a blueprint for Africa’s green energy transition.

COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber, who serves as CEO of the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Co (ADNOC), will also be in attendance.

Oil Change International data shows the growth in oil and gas production in the United Arab Emirates is poised to be among the world’s largest in the next few years and ADNOC is expected to see the second biggest growth among fossil fuel companies. Because of this, all eyes will be on Al Jaber to ensure he will set aside the short-term interests of the oil and gas industry and deliver transformative action at COP28 as promised.

To us, that means a just and equitable energy transition for Africa, phasing out all fossil fuels and bringing an end to the exploitation of our land, resources and communities by Global North countries.

This year, African civil society organisations sent letters to the CEOs of BP, Chevron, Exxon and Shell, among others, warning these companies against investing in the drilling activities of Reconnaissance Energy Africa (ReconAfrica) in the Okavango Basin in Namibia and Botswana.

ReconAfrica’s projections of 120 billion barrels of recoverable oil could produce a “carbon gigabomb” of 51.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to one-sixth of the world’s remaining carbon budget – an amount we simply cannot afford to extract. The drilling operations have already caused significant legal, social and environmental issues, including destroying forests and crops and risking the destruction of one of the richest biodiversity hotspots on earth. Biodiversity hotspots sustain livelihoods and critical ecosystems. Extraction in these hotspots threaten livelihoods and species survival across the continent.

BP’s big new gas plans in West Africa pose climate and biodiversity threats in Senegal, and lucrative contracts with ENI, ExxonMobil, BP, Shell and Total threaten Mozambique.

Africa’s leaders must take heed that our communities cannot risk a repeat of the devastation the fossil fuel industry brought to the Niger Delta. The neocolonial model of extracting and exploiting Africa’s resources at any cost must stop.

The African Climate Summit should be an opportunity to chart the continent’s direction towards an equitable and sustainable future that protects our people and communities, and to prepare a coordinated front from African leaders to call for a fast and fair phase-out of all fossil fuels at COP28.

Yet the summit agenda appears to have been hijacked. The focus is on fossil fuel promotion instead of clean energy solutions and carbon credits instead of a just transition towards renewables. Pushing for fossil fuels will continue to allow Global North countries to exploit our continent’s resources and threaten our future.

More than 500 civil society organisations issued an urgent call to reset the focus of the Africa Climate Summit from Global North and corporate interests to one of African priorities, such as a just and equitable phase-out of all new fossil fuel projects.

Every new fossil fuel project is incompatible with a liveable future. According to the International Energy Agency, respecting the 1.5C warming limit and securing a liveable future means there can be no new coal, oil or gas.

It is a myth that fossil fuels support development. Fossil fuels neither equal energy access nor do they equal jobs or profit. The resources and profits from fossil fuel extraction in Africa have always been exported to the richest countries, leaving our communities with nothing but pollution, increased inequality, eroded governments and growing militarisation.

Africa – the continent suffering the worst of the climate crisis but having the highest renewable energy potential – does not need new fossil fuels or false and unproven technologies that allow rich countries to continue to burn fossil fuels. African leaders must listen to the African people, who want a just transition to 100 percent renewable energy.

With 600 million Africans lacking access to clean, modern energy, we say scaling up cheap, decentralised, renewable energy is the fastest and best way to end energy exclusion and meet the needs of Africa’s people.

Shifting to renewable energy and phasing out fossil fuel reliance will permanently bring down soaring energy costs and increase energy security. Renewable technologies are more affordable, can be scaled up more rapidly and do not introduce further volatility through increased climate damage, fiscal instability and stranded asset risks as global gas demand drops. They can also be community-led and -owned and can better reach rural communities.

This is the only effective route to achieving a more secure, prosperous future – for Africa and the world. As African leaders gather at the Africa Climate Summit and head towards COP28 talks in Dubai, they must act with the integrity and leadership required to ensure a sustainable future powered by clean energy.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.