Asking Africa to Leave Oil in Ground Sparks Debate

Asking Africa to Leave Oil in Ground Sparks Debate
Oil ministers from across the continent, in Cape Town for Africa Energy Week, encountered small protests by environmental groups asking them to leave their oil in the ground and turn instead to renewables.

On the waterfront of Cape Town in South Africa this week, one of the thorniest parts of the debate about climate change has been playing out in real time.

Oil ministers from across the continent, in town for Africa Energy Week, encountered small protests by environmental groups asking them to leave their oil in the ground and turn instead to renewables. The activists argued that the energy industry should spare Africans from the adverse health effects of burning fossil fuels, and insist on compensation from rich nations to help them do so.

Attendees at the conference questioned the fairness of this campaign. Inside the auditorium, speakers noted repeatedly that Africa accounts for about 3% of global emissions, and crude oil exports support a significant share of government budgets in many poor countries. 

Nations including Uganda and Kenya are on the brink of becoming first-time producers and counting on petroleum revenues for their development plans. 

“None of us is against renewables, but a transition must be inclusive and just,” South Sudan’s Oil Minister Puot Kang Chol told the conference. His counterpart from Namibia pointed out that one in three Africans still lack electricity. 

Erik Prince, founder of the security firm Blackwater Worldwide, who has business interests across the continent, was less diplomatic when he spoke at the conference. 

When people driving Teslas tell Africa “to turn away from hydrocarbons --- it’s immoral, it’s wrong,” Prince said. “We have real energy poverty across the continent.” 


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