With the U.N.’s General Assembly meeting this week, I wanted to flag several comments from leaders in developing countries pushing back against recent calls to end new natural gas and oil development, or to restrict bilateral and multilateral funding.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has warned “the move towards defunding of natural gas projects…would put countries, such as ours, in a very dire situation and make the [energy] transition extremely difficult for us.” Despite warning like this, anti-natural gas rhetoric has continued from some policymakers in the developed world, including the UN Secretary General who has said he’d “welcome countries that have pledged to end fossil fuel finance.”

Natural gas is simultaneously lifting millions out of energy poverty and helping to reduce the growth of global CO2 emissions. Instead of pressuring developing countries to expand intermittent renewable energy while simultaneously working to end funding for most sources of dispatchable generation, activists should recognize natural gas enables the expansion of renewable energy.

Leaders In Developing Nations Resist Restrictions On New Natural Gas And Oil Development

Equatorial Guinea’s Energy Minister, Gabriel Mbega Obiang Lima: “We must protect the environment, but also create jobs for young people. Hydrocarbon reserves are a blessing, we will not apologize for using them, especially gas, which can enable us to electrify the continent.”

Nigeria’s Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo: “Curbing natural gas investments in Africa will do little to limit carbon emissions globally but much to hurt the continent’s economic prospects.”

Liberia’s former Minister of Public Works, Gyude Moore: “African countries can’t afford to grow their economies and lift their people’s incomes without relying on at least some fossil fuels — and it’s unfair and ahistorical for the West to ask them to do so…. Keeping Africa poor to fight climate change will do nothing to help the people most affected by it.”

India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi: “Natural gas is the next-generation fossil fuel, cheaper and less polluting…Efforts must be made to increase natural gas production whole also creating import infrastructure to meet the growing domestic demand”

Vietnam’s Minister of Industry and Trade, Nguyen Hong Dien: “Vietnam believes that LNG plays an important role in helping the world solve the problem of climate change.”  

Nigeria’s Environment Minister, Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar: “The defunding of gas projects by most financing organizations is a threat to achieving a global energy transition that is equitable, inclusive, and just, leaving no one behind.”

South African’s Minister of Mineral Resources, Gwede Mantashe: “Sometimes when you are a weaker economy you get pushed to do things that are almost like self-destruction. We are resisting that, we will do what we can do so that we give electricity to our people at an affordable price, and transition from high emissions to low emissions over a period.”

  • Mantashe: “We do not believe that the different energy sources — oil, gas, coal, and renewables — are exclusive to each other, they are complementary.”

The ten member-nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) released a joint ministerial statement in 2020 that “emphasized the continuing role of natural gas in the region’s cleaner energy future.”

In 2019, The Africa Report noted more than 20 African ministers it canvassed “strongly reaffirmed they would continue to champion hydrocarbons to promote economic development and meet their countries’ energy needs.”

Calls To Halt New Natural Gas And Oil Development Ignore Two Important Realities

Natural gas and oil, including U.S. exports, can improve the quality of life for those living in energy poverty now:

  • The Stanford Natural Gas Initiative concluded expanding power generation with natural gas was “biggest opportunity by megawatts to reduce energy poverty.”
  • An analysis by Energy for Growth, a sustainable development nonprofit, found that if a combined 48 nations in Africa tripled their electricity consumption using natural gas, the resulting increase in carbon emissions would still be less than one percent of total global emissions.
  • Breakthrough Institute: “The potential growth of natural gas in Asia resulting from expanded LNG supplies could lead to emissions reductions from power generation similar to those seen in the United States.”
  • A life-cycle analysis found U.S. LNG exports for electricity generation in developing countries like India and China produce about 50% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than coal power.

Developing nations shouldn’t be expected to forgo the benefits of natural gas and oil while waiting to ‘leapfrog’ to a 100% clean energy grid that currently isn’t technology feasible:

  • Fully zero-carbon grids exist almost nowhere in the world (Iceland is the main exception) and non-intermittent forms of electricity generation are still needed to balance out wind and solar.”
  • Stanford University’s Mark Thurber notes, “With currently available storage technologies, it is impossible for African countries to greatly expand power supply without complementary new investments in gas or other dependable backups.”
  • U.S. Energy Secretary under President Obama, Ernest Moniz: If Africa’s “standard of living is going to improve, it’ll take more than windmills and solar panels…Environmentalists in Africa and elsewhere must recognize that developing countries need access to energy and that natural gas will play an important role.”
  • Bill Gates: “To reach zero carbon emissions, however, we need to find a way to use more clean energy sources as a backstop. While I wish there could be a single, magic bullet solution to this problem, there isn’t one right now.”

ENERGY POVERTY FAST FACTS

770 million people worldwide had no access to electricity in 2019, 75% of which are in sub-Saharan Africa. Nearly half of Africans did not have access to electricity in 2018 and “around 80% of sub-Saharan African companies suffered frequent electricity disruptions leading to economic losses.”

Making matters worse, developing nations are struggling to reach a goal that keeps moving higher. The U.N. estimates the global population will grow by two billion people though 2050, reaching 9.7 billion people, with about 90% of this growth happening in Asia and Africa. EIA projects a nearly 50% increase in world energy usage by 2050.

  • An EIA estimate found Africa’s per energy consumption actually declines by 2040 because its population increases faster than energy consumption; “underscoring the difficulties the continent will have in meeting its energy needs.”

An estimated 2.6 billion people still lack access to clean cooking resulting in almost 490 000 premature deaths per year, and disproportionally impacting women and children.

  • The IEA reported in 2019 that liquified petroleum gas (LPG) “is the most cost-effective means to access clean cooking in more than half of all cases” and they emit significantly less emissions than the traditional cookstoves they replace – reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions. 
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