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Africa, the energetic hope: the impact of Ukraine’s war on the continent

It was a continent to which the world had turned its back, but in the aftermath of the war in Ukraine, all eyes fell on Africa. The war was shaking the energy board around the world, and the oil and gas reserves of the African continent came to the fore.

Russia’s assault to Ukraine has shaken the energetic markets worldwide and has turned upside down the conversation about the climate policy. To date, the attention has mostly been focused on the European energy security and how the crisis could change that region's decarbonization plans. The issue is that the war will have an important impact on the energy sector, and it will reverberate in every corner of the world.

Africa’s energetic transition could impact the whole world. In Europe, the interrupted gas exportations of Russia, the second-biggest producer, threatens the economic activity and people’s capacity of warming up their homes. When populations that usually take energy security for granted suddenly finds it threatened, they will do anything to protect it. But what happens to the populations that have never had the privilege of energetic security?

Chronic energy poverty, widespread and worsening in Africa and parts of Asia, is at least the most extreme form of energy insecurity. African leaders will rightly argue that this crisis must be addressed with the same degree of urgency and resources.

Given such restrictions, the rush by the United States and Europe to secure natural gas supplies following the Russian invasion in Ukraine has highlighted disparities in both politics and rhetoric. On the other hand, when Africans have expressed their own need for a mix of transitional energy resources - such as gas - they have been met with denial and lack of urgency. This requires dramatically increasing the support for clean energy markets and developing clear and consistent ways of evaluating projects that enable development finance.

Africa doesn’t import Russian oil, but like the rest of the world, it faces huge price hikes. In many African countries, the price of oil has also had a big impact in electricity generation. In the case of West Africa, diesel generators are more than the 40% of the consumed electricity in total. This represents huge economic impacts: as fuel prices soar across the continent, businesses in countries like Nigeria, which has seen the cost of diesel rise by more than 200%, are struggling to stay afloat.

Solar, wind, and battery storage are heavily weighted towards upfront capital expenditures, meaning the cost is driven largely by interest rates.

Europe’s urgent need to diversify and stop depending on Russian oil and gas could bring new opportunities for some African exportation markets. A European Commission official confirmed the meetings in Brussels with African energy delegations, highlighting the region's efforts to secure alternative gas supplies, including from both West and North Africa. Furthermore, Nigeria’s vice-president confirmed months ago that since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, it has approached their country to potentially export more gas.

The current energy crisis underscores in the starkest terms the many reasons why global decarbonization is crucial, not only to address climate change, but also to bolster peace and security. But it also shows how complicated the energy transition will be and the inevitable tensions between urgent needs and long-term goals. Achieving a zero-carbon global energy system capable of meeting the needs of all will require treating energy poverty as the crisis it is, abolishing double standards in financing development, and managing the new geopolitical vulnerabilities created by the shift to a global economy low in carbon.

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