Climate and energy experts from sub-Saharan Africa have dismissed a new report that argues fossil fuels are the solution to energy poverty in the region.
The report, titled Heart of Darkness: Why electricity for Africa is a security issue, is the latest publication from the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), the UK’s most prominent climate science denial campaign group.
It argues that groups that give international aid and financing, like the World Bank, are stymying energy development on the continent by imposing rules that prevent continued investment in fossil fuels. The report, which leans heavily on experts from the University of Witwatersrand’s clean coal centre, argues that clean coal is the solution to African electrification.
Amos Wemanya, a campaigner at Greenpeace Africa, said the GWPF’s history of spreading misinformation on climate change means the group is not well-placed to advise on the continent’s energy policy.
“Africa does not need advice from the so-called experts, like Lawson, on how to make its people access energy,” he said.
“International climate deniers cannot pretend to know Africa better than its people. We have local African experts who appreciate the situation we are in as a result of climate change, we will not listen to anything deniers say.”
Eddy Njoroge, a Kenyan entrepreneur, member of the investment committee at the African Renewable Energy Fund (AREF), and Board Member of UK-Africa power company Globeleq agreed that the report’s claims were “misleading and untrue”. “Fossil fuels will not help Africa,” he said.
“Renewables are better priced, cheaper, and quicker to install, and thus they are far more scalable than fossil fuels,” he added. “We have a huge solar potential with an average of 320 days of sunshine a year across the continent”.
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The GWPF’s paper was published alongside the launch of the group’s new Energy Justice website, which says it seeks to “highlight how reliable energy access is central to the problems of people and businesses in the developing world”.
But Mohamed Adow, Founding Director of Nairobi-based thinktank Power Shift Africa, suggests this is an uninformed view of the continent.
“Africa is blessed with renewable energy and does not need fossil fuels to help people access energy and create growth,” he said. “The cost of renewables has come down significantly and is much lower than that of fossil fuels, so we Africans need to ignore such voices and increase investment in clean energy”.
Adow told DeSmog that the continent will not be “misled” by climate science deniers. Increasing energy access to build resilience can “only be done through sustainable energy”, he argues.
A 2017 study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), found that Africa has huge untapped resources for renewable energy, which must be used to meet increased demand.
The GWPF’s report is authored by Geoff Hill, a Zimbabwean journalist who spent a large portion of his early career working for Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian, a newspaper known to spread misinformation about climate change. Hill doesn’t appear to have an academic background in climate science or energy policy.
The report cites various academics that appear to have a vested interest in the solution they propose. Three of the names that Hill introduces to support his claims – Dr Rosemary Falcon, Dr Samson Bada, and Dr Jacob Masiala – are connected to the Clean Coal Technology Research group at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg.
Falcon, who pioneered the research group, is also the Director of Technical Events at the Fossil Fuel Foundation (FFF), founded by her husband Lionel Falcon. The FFF is a non-profit that advocates for coal to be retained within the energy mix in South Africa and the surrounding region.
The foundation’s mission is to create “a strong network within the coal, alternative fossil fuels and related energy sectors and those in the mining, production, heat and power generation, metallurgical and petrochemical industries”, according to its website.
The GWPF’s Energy Justice website also hosts another report that promotes clean coal, titled Kicking Away the Energy Ladder. The report is authored by Mikko Paunio, a Finnish epidemiologist.
The GWPF‘s foray into African energy policy matches the group’s campaigns in the UK, which regularly cast doubt on the potential of renewable energy.
The GWPF’s Energy Editor, John Constable, used to Chair the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF), an anti-renewables campaign group. The REF is now chaired by Michael Kelly, a GWPF trustee. Hereditary peer and GWPF advisor Matt Ridley, who regularly argues that the risks of climate change are overstated, also has a coal mine on his family estate.
The GWPF did not reply to a request for comment.
Disclaimer: Mohamed Adow is a Director of DeSmog UK.
Main image: Flickr / DFID (CC BY 2.0)