The author is the CEO of The Africa Center
COP26 in Glasgow has come and gone with much fanfare and revived rhetoric about our last chance to tackle the climate crisis.
Perhaps most important is an announcement by 20 countries, including the US and the UK, that they would end funding for all fossil fuel projects abroad.
While this may initially seem like a step in the right direction, it is particularly disturbing that the rich nations that are pursuing policies that will block funding for fossil fuel-powered energy generation in poorer countries are actively building and financing similar projects on their own soil.
Not only does it condemn a significant portion of the world’s population to continued energy poverty, it is also in the face of the gospel of climate justice that many leaders of rich countries are preaching.
A financial ban that only applies to poor countries is a textbook example of what Robert Bullard, the academic known as the father of environmental justice, called “environmental racism” – “any policy, practice or regulation that affects or harms differently ( whether it is intended) or unintentional) individuals, groups or communities based on race. ”
You could also call it a form of global “red line”. In the US, this is the name given to the systematic refusal of mortgages to potential black home buyers.
Historically, the practice has prevented black people from building wealth by blocking home ownership and investing in black neighborhoods, while making the same opportunities available to white people in white areas.
Contemporary racial inequalities can be traced back to policies that are being re-aligned. White Americans have greater wealth, lower unemployment, higher life expectancy, better nutrition and feel safer in their communities as black Americans.
Global energy red line is already taking place. As fossil fuel financing routes close for Africa, Belgium has just announced that it will brings 2.3 gigawatts of new gas-powered power online, Germany plans to continue to use coal up to 2030 en Norway intends to continue to produce oil and gas.
In the US, the Biden administration praised public commitments to put environmental and economic justice at the heart of everything it does. But while gas-fired plants still produce 40 percent of America’s electricity, the government announced plans to phasing out investment in gas for poor countries, which has the global gap between and which does not, will widen.
The US has also joined the Europeans in putting pressure on institutions such as the World Bank, which has a mandate to promote growth in capital-restricted countries, to get out of all fossil fuels. And who are these capital-limited countries? The majority are Africans.
As the US found out far too late with red line, poorer economic and social outcomes for one group generally mean lost opportunities for all. We need to tackle carbon emissions generated by fossil fuels and get to net zero. But Africans should not tolerate a system that asks us to “carbon-finance” the lifestyles of whiter, richer countries.
African leaders must therefore continue to make it clear that international development finance institutions must provide flexible funding for gas projects where they replace dirtier or more expensive fossil fuel options. They must demand that rich countries use their wealth – which was partly gained through colonial exploitation – to find a quick way to reduce their own share of carbon emissions.
After all, as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson put it: “It is vital for all of us to show that this is not all about some expensive, politically correct, green act of bunny hugs.” It is about concrete action for climate justice that will benefit the whole world.