Climate change is the talk of the hour, taking over a major share of every news channel, newspaper, online website, and social media. This change obligates everyone to review the use of traditional energy sources and consider using alternative and renewable energy resources, as well as adopt policies to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Some countries are abandoning the use of traditional energy altogether, or bringing new resources into the mix. European countries- according to Euronews including Ireland, Spain, Belize, Denmark, Greenland, and France, have even started to ban fossil fuels exploration and production. Nevertheless, there is a crucial question to ask: is now the right time to ban the fuels that have been a key ingredient for the industrialization and advancement of developed countries to be where they are today? Is it fair for developing countries to find that the world is restricting their energy use, when they still have so much to achieve on the economic development agenda? Moreover, at the time commodity prices are soaring and leaders around the world are concerned about energy shortages and prices of gasoline, millions of people in Africa still lack access to electricity, according to World Bank Blogs. West Africa has one of the lowest rates of electricity access in the world; only about 42 percent of the total population, and 8 percent of rural residents, have access to electricity.
In addition, the African Development Bank Group says that over 640 million Africans have no access to energy, corresponding to an electricity access rate for African countries at just over 40 percent, the lowest in the world. Per capita consumption of energy in sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) is 180 kWh, compared to 13,000 kWh per capita in the United States and 6,500 kWh in Europe.
Alex Epstin, philosopher and energy expert, has interesting yet controversial opinions on this issue. He presented his views during a seminar at the AUC School of Business in June. Epstin believes that the end of climate change does not have to be at the expense of emerging economies. “I believe that African countries should stand up for their rights to pursue the same policy that most developed nations have, which is to use all cost-effective sources of energy, including fossil fuels.”
“I believe that African countries should stand up for their rights to pursue the same policy that most developed nations have, which is to use all cost-effective sources of energy, including fossil fuels.”
Epstin states three points to support his argument. “First: wealthy countries have overwhelmingly developed using fossil fuels and continue to dominantly use fossil fuels, whether or not they have fossil fuel resources.
Second point: the attempts of wealthy countries to even partially replace fossil fuels with solar and wind energy following net zero policies, are leading to skyrocketing energy costs and now a global energy crisis. On his website “Energy Talking Points”, Epstin explains that anti-oil politicians around the world have artificially restricted the supply of oil with massive restrictions/threats. These restrictions on fossil fuels have prevented supply from keeping up with demand, and the natural result was the prices going way up.
Third point: Fossil fuel development has not caused a climate crisis, it has actually made humanity far safer”.
Fossil fuels are lifting billions of people out of poverty, and in turn improving health. “The most fundamental attribute of modern society is simply this,” writes historian Vaclav Smil in his 2003 book on energy: “Ours is a high energy civilization based largely on combustion of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels, and coal in particular, provided the energy that powered the Industrial Revolution. Today, coal plants still produce most of the electricity that powers high-tech manufacturing equipment and charges mobile computing devices, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Epstin insists that developed countries are still greatly dependent on fossil fuels, and are trying to unfairly discourage developing countries (that still need these same fuels for their development) from relying on them. He argues that alternative energy sources should only act as a backup and would never be enough for real development. “They’re still costly, and unreliable,” he said, referring to alternative energy resources.
In March of this year, at the annual global energy conference known as CERAWeek, hosted in Houston, Texas, leaders from Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and Malaysia reiterated that their countries are least responsible for climate change, and that expecting them to transition to clean energy at this point would be unfair and detrimental to their economies’ development, according to Inside Climate News. “We are still in transition from firewood to gas,” Timipre Sylva, Nigeria’s oil minister, said at the conference. “Please allow us to continue with our own transition.”
“They want all of us, including those of us without food, to carry the burden of transition,” Bala Wunti, general manager of the country’s state-owned oil company, added. Nigeria, like several other developing nations in Africa, Asia and South America, is highly dependent on fossil fuels for revenue.
Interestingly, oil, natural gas, coal, and other fossil fuels accounted for more than 70 percent of total energy consumption within the European Union, according to a report last year from the European Commission. Moreover, fossil fuels accounted for about 79 percent of total U.S. primary energy production in 2021, according to the USA Energy Information Administration (EIA).
At the other end of the spectrum during the debate hosted by the AUC School of Business was Moataz Darwish, energy consultant lecturer and facilitator in strategy and entrepreneurship, who adopts the more conventional views in terms of handling climate change and managing energy resources.
“The argument of favoring one type of energy over another shouldn’t be based on the cost only. There are other aspects to consider like the accessibility of energy resources, not just their cost,”
“The argument of favoring one type of energy over another shouldn’t be based on the cost only. There are other aspects to consider like the accessibility of energy resources, not just their cost,” Darwish says. He adds, “I think it’s fair that Africa becomes part of this transition, as long as it is done in a just way, where its efforts are funded by the West who are mostly responsible for climate change”. He also excluded the chances of nuclear energy becoming an effective alternative in Africa, giving the example of Egypt attempting to build Dabaa plant for 15 years without any tangible results.
UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa underlined the critical importance of a swift transition to sustainable energy to tackle the global climate crisis while setting out the deliverable of COP26 back in 2021. Based on the information provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), approximately two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to CO2 from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes, says UNFCCC.
“Energy is at the heart of the climate change emergency and it must be at the heart of its solution. A swift and broad transition to renewable energy will be essential to achieve the emission reduction goals laid down by the Paris Agreement,” Espinosa said.
Whether or not developed countries continue to use fossil fuels or ban their use and try to apply the net zero policies on the rest of the world, many figures still support the fact that the planet is certainly paying the price for the excessive use of these fuels over the past century. “CO2 emissions from energy use are a major contributor to global warming and account for some 75 percent of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions in the EU,” says Eurostat website.
While the debate continues, it remains crucial to better understand our planet and what causes more harm than good to keep it both a safe and developed place for humans and the next generations for the years to come.