A Power Balance Shifts as Europe, Facing a Gas Crisis, Turns to Africa for Help

Oct 27, 2022 · 79 comments
Dave (Toronto)
Most African leaders can’t lay claim to the moral high ground. I spent a career investing in Africa - a good part of it is a barely functioning kleptocracy and the rest is just simply dysfunctional. Is it any wonder that the Chinese have been welcomed with open arms? They don’t have to play by the same rules as Western companies, which enables them to bribe politicians with impunity. Transitioning to a post-carbon economy is very much a First World construct. But given our outsized per capita energy consumption, we can still do our part by reducing the amount of power we use. Wagging our fingers at Africa is a waste of time.
Donna Chang (NYC)
So the morally superior Europeans pay attention to us inferior races only when they need something from us?
Janice (New York)
@Donna Chang Same as it ever was!
ben (IL)
@Donna Chang isn't that the story of the past colonial era... there is always hope things can be better, but ... yea progress seems slow if any
Mark (Germany)
@Donna Chang No is saying Europeans are morally superior to any one - not inferior I would say. If Africa has something to sell then that is potentially a good thing.
Geoff Burrell (Western Australia)
Talking about double standards - why would African governments want to burn more gas when they have unlimited access to much cheaper solar and wind power?
NorthernVirginia (Falls Church, VA)
The Chinese and Europeans are not going to be dangling as concessions a water treatment plant, paved roads, or a modern power grid. They will offer trips to discos and brothels for those in charge; private school education and new cars to their children; and lethal crowd control for their military. Historically, African leaders have shown little concern for the welfare of few outside of their immediate family, although they will throw some crumbs to members of their own tribe to ensure that they can stay in power. Otherwise, its Swiss bank accounts, houses in the French Riviera, Mercedes SUVs, and shopping trips to Milan. What has changed?
Pani Korunova (Portugal)
Portugal and Spain knew this long ago!
Nadia (Brooklyn, NY)
The leaders of Africa would serve their people well by taking any opportunities to develop renewable energy infrastructure in Africa.
Eric Harold (Alexandria)
Most if not all of this effort will be fruitless. Should they manage to build the infrastructure, it will be sabotaged and out of commission 300 days a year. Lebanon and Israel fossil fuels to Europe at least has a shot at being successful.
Doug (Melbourne, Australia)
Hopefully this can help lift many people out of poverty.
Foundthecat! (Indiana)
If you want to reduce fossil fuel dependence there is only one way to do so--have an alternative in place that can go head to head on the market. Calls for cutting off fossil fuels without other energy infrastructure in place is fool's errand. See: Germany boycotting Russian fossil fuels while simultaneously shutting down their nuclear plants.
J. von Hettlingen (Switzerland)
Resentment of colonialism shapes much of Africa's posture towards Europe. African leaders have accused Europe of “double standard” when it comes to reducing carbon footprint. They say Europe hasn't done enough to help them finance the transition to green energy, while Africa has contributed the least of any continent to global warming. They insist on their citizens' right to improve living standard, and Europe’s demand could undo the little progress in development they have made so far. Now the urgency in Europe to replace Russian fuels with imports from Africa provide African leaders the opportunity to demand Europeans to finance their gas projects. Ideally the funds would create jobs and lift hundreds of millions out of poverty. Given the high-level and systemic corruption that has created multiple socio-economic grievances across the continent, African leaders can't be trusted. They are just like Putin and his oligarchs, who plunder Russia’s resources and line their pockets with revenues from energy exports. In Congo, President Félix Tschisekedi ignored John Kerry’s request and is selling 30 oil and gas drilling blocks across the Congo Basin, including some in the Virunga Park. The Basin covers 1.3 billion acres, spanning across 6 nations. Its trees absorb about 4% of the world's annual carbon emissions. While we, Europeans are relieved to find in Africa a source of gas supply, we must reduce our reliance on energy imports from corrupt, autocratic regimes.
R (Texas)
It would seem Western Europe should inherit a degree of responsibility for sub-Sahara Africa. Prior colonialism should demand it. By 2030, one in five people living on the planet will be concentrated in sub-Sahara Africa. And by that year, nine in ten people, living in extreme poverty, will be from that area.
ben (IL)
its still probably not cost effective, but its better to burn gas if you have your own supply then coal, but i don't know why you would want to build a new gas plant when new sources are much cheeper, and compared to many plants i have heard described, pretty much as reliable (mostly coal plants, don't remember were, but there was an article here about it) natural gas has the wealthier nations in the world by the neck, so yes, poor nations should be free to profit from it, but its not a good path to start down
That Gals (Neither Here Nor There)
So these conversations are happening in tandem with the reparations conversations? How can countries argue that wealthier countries need to compensate them for not causing as much climate change while selling us more & more fuels?
carolus (northeastern, usa)
At our insistence !
michael (hudson)
Here's a bet on international chaos following a race to the bottom between nations
Blanche White (South Carolina)
This doesn't sound like a good solution and definitely not a good partnership with those who are upfront about their hostility to Europe and the feeling they have been abused. ....not a good basis for mutual benefit. On the other hand, there are already Russian pipelines in place that could be used with no need for additional environmental destruction. So, even with current supplies at a premium, it seems more practical to weather the storm over the coming months. Hopefully, there will be cooler heads that will prevail in Russia as they see their war going badly. An arrangement for a peacekeeping force over territory around the lines that would secure supply could be out in place with proceeds, after Ukrainian restitution, going into a fund for the Russian people and administered by a non profit. It may seem like a fantasy but the African "solution" is just another can of worms that will unleash more destructive elements. Frankly, rather than this, nuclear power is preferable.
Not Pierre (Houston, TX)
It’s painful for Africa to watch the US drilling the heck out of Texas, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, and seeing that open holes in Texas are allowed to remain uncapped as long they don’t emit over a certain amount methane according to Texas law, and then get lectured on having to control their rainforest and go green. It’s not about just “infantilizing”, it about controlling the market price and finance. In the past, the oil and now gas are generally schedule to be shipped out of Africa from offshore platforms without any benefit reaching the citizens of those countries on shore, who are burning down sticks from trees to cook with and whose countries have only a 25 or 37 percent electricity coverage with frequent blackout. And the African presidents often taking a big cut (I’m looking at you Equatorial Guinea Teo with you back account across from the Congress building in DC). Of course it looks like hypocrisy to Africans. Condescension is not a new form of colonization.
Woollfy1 (Florida)
This is positive in an otherwise horror story of Russian war crimes against Ukraine. It could help break the energy dependence on Saudi Arabia and Russia, until alternative energy becomes universal.
Joseph Lagaud (Fullerton (CA))
I found it interesting how the war in Ukraine affecting western countries as far as energy use which lead them to turn to African countries. I’m curious to know how our African leaders now and in the future will set the tone for a partnership with those countries in a way that we as Africans can benefit from those investments for the good of our economies.
Thomas Renner (New York City)
This whole climate thing is full of double talk. Here in the US our midterm elections are based on the price of a gallon of gas. In Europe they want cheap natural gas from a place where many people don't have running water or lights. If a politician here or in Europe should suggest cutting back on our standard of living they are thrown out of office.
Bob555 (NY)
We could throw trillions into our economy without knowing how it was utilized. Yet we can't afford $100 billion a year for Africa and other poor countries?
Jason (Los Angeles)
@Bob555 Correct. People who want to donate money to Africa and other impoverished regions are welcome to do so, along with their churches, temples, and mosques.
ben (IL)
@Bob555 because at some level, they need to make their own choices, throwing aid money blindly leads to corruption and a single group using it to maintain power, and giving with tons of strings attached is not always effective the "most efficient " way might just be having the devolved nations directly build the energy infrastructure for them, but thats very unrealistic, unrealistic from the payment pov, as well as unrealistic from the choices pov, i highly doubt a colonized nation would welcome such direct control by someone else, just as they were slowly starting to get away from it in some ways from my view, the only realistic way to help is to try and ensure they can have access to the materials they may need, but of course, thats a long shot
John Hynde (Montreal)
The real question is, why did Europe boycott Russian Gas while buying oil for decades from Saudi Arabia?
Teddi (Portland Oregon)
@John Hynde Because Russia invaded a neighboring country. The US only gets 5% of its oil from the UAE, but they depend on them to keep oil prices down to keep the world economy stable.
Morgan (Alberta, Canada)
I’m still wondering what the deal was for Trump to kibosh the Iran nuclear deal? Europe was going to be buying Iran oil but..,
ben (IL)
@John Hynde because russia did things outside their borders, they invaded a recognized nation directly with the intent to destroy it SA has not been as open, yes they support fighting, and that is something we should be careful of when selling them weapons, but they are not a nation saying "i have nukes give me want i want or i will kill your population " although, a pessimistic view of this is that the boycott of russia is also because russia is a power that has an agenda against those boycotting
Baboulas (Houston)
Ha, ha. After a 42 year career in the oil bidness, I can tell you for a fact that Europe must import as much oil and gas as possible from Russia and the Middle East in order to remain competitive industrially. Sure, Algeria will continue producing gas and LNG but that's a pittance. US LNG is at a premium and has always been at a premium than pipelined gas. It's understandable that Korea, Japan and, to a lesser degree Indonesia, must import LNG as pipelines are out of the question and so exporters enjoy a premium. But Europe cannot afford to keep paying the artificial premium that the US is enjoying.
Bill (FL)
Russia’s gas cutoff, a foreseeable response to sanctions imposed by the US and European countries (not to mention the billions of dollars in aid and weaponry to Ukraine), has created a real and pressing need for temporary and near-term revival of non-green energy sources in Europe and elsewhere. Unfortunately, these multi-billion-dollar deals between European and African countries will inevitably lead to vast sums of money being siphoned into the pockets of corrupt African leaders, with little benefit trickling down to the citizens of these countries. Especially troubling is the fact that the new energy resources will be sent to European countries, not utilized in the African countries where they are produced. I believe this is referred to as neo-colonialism.
Bah (Paris)
@Bill First: Africa is a vast and very diverse continent; these kind of sweeping generalized statements about 54 different countries is of poor taste and misguided: many African countries have guardrails against corruption; they don’t eliminate corruption but mitigate its impact. Second: America is also very corrupt; bribes are legal and the siphoning of public good to private hands is very common (see PPP loans, Infrastructure bill, etc.) Third: I would rather see investment money flowing into the continent with a small portion of it embezzled than nothing. Four: it is explicitly said in the article (4th paragraph) that African leaders want to set up local infrastructure to also serve local needs. Finally, enough with this infantilizing nonsense!
Teddi (Portland Oregon)
@Bill That may be the case, but it will still mean thousands of jobs for Africans. So let's talk about workers at Walmart, Amazon and all the companies owned by billionaires. What is the difference? The workers get minimum wage, which is too low to live a decent life, while the owners roll in more money than they could ever spend. They buy yachts for their yachts. No difference.
Bill (FL)
@Bah I didn't say America wasn't corrupt; having lived and traveled extensively in Africa, and studied its history and development, I stand by my statement about Africa's many corrupt governments and leaders.
Jsailor (California)
How will countries like the Congo get their gas to Europe? The article mentions a pipeline from Algeria to Italy. Is this accessible to Mozambique and Senegal? I assume LNG is out of the question.
no thanx (bay area)
@Devin the real price of natural gas is not what eu pays russia. the real price must include supply interruptions, political instability, climate change, cultural repression, and blackmail costs. the same applies to oil. we have to stop buying our energy from "evil" countries. i think the west should consider "nationalizing" the oil supply in the middel east. i know this is evil but supporting the evil regimes in the middle is worse. all of this is predicated on a swift move to green energy.
Not Pierre (Houston, TX)
Same way as Senegal, Cameroon, Ghana— the LNG plant will be put on a ship next to the offshore hole, and once drilled 25 miles offshore it will be liquified on the ship. A second LNG tanker will pull up where the LNG will be directly store on and then once filled, the tanker will float away to Europe.
@Devin LNG is not expensive to process and relatively cheap to transport. The bottleneck is the availability of ships that can carry LNG. And “we” blew up Nordstream? Do you have any evidence to support this?
Too bad that Africa doesn't have a vast desert that could be used for solar farms.
Baboulas (Houston)
@JG Sounds like a miracle, doesn't it? Well it's too good to be true! Having worked for Fluor Engineers for many years including in places like Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait I know what sand does to equipment. A sand storm would obliterate photovoltaic cells, particularly in the countless square miles of them required to produce sufficient electricity to justify a mega project. Good idea but not practical. Next!
Machiavelli (Firenze)
And the other article says there is for now glut of gas for Europe
Willis (TX)
African nations must harness the power needed to develop their economies and mitigate migration. Power is the magic ingredient This requires use of indigenous gas, oil and renewables. This is long overdue. The rest of the globe has been using FF to develop since the 1860’s, much imported from Africa in the last 100 years. It is “we” who brought the globe to the CC abyss. Yet, how dare “we” say you can’t use your resources to improve lives of your people? Gas should be exploited for the people of Africa and, to the extent possible, exported to the more developed countries. Ultimately, Africa will also need to transition to renewables. But, in the interim, their own resources - if developed and managed properly - can make a huge difference to so many. This is true irrespective of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,
Ivermarkt (Pasadena)
Excuse my whiplash, but the same morning I’m reading in another story that the war in Ukraine is pushing Ukrainians to go solar and geothermal which is good for climate change, but here I read the same is pushing the EU to resume its old colonial ways in Africa when it comes to gas and oil development and production which is bad for climate change. Does anyone at the paper look at it before it goes out or is the message these days supposed to be total mixed up confusion?
B D Duncan (Boston)
That article (in the first paragraph) specifically noted that there will be a spike in fossil fuel usage in the immediate term but the war will push for a faster transition away from it going forward. To meet the immediate spike in demand they’ll need to seek out new sources of fuel from places like Africa.
Upstate New Yorker (New York)
@Ivermarkt Well, the world is a mixed up confusion, so perhaps on the whole it makes for accurate reporting.
Nelson Cabello (California)
cui bono? Actually, who owns the oil sources in Africa, is it the people or the usual transnationals?
James Brotherton (DC)
I'm still wondering why the UK and others in Europe refuse to tap their own natural gas reserves. It seems somewhat hypocritical to ban domestic drilling for environmental reasons yet buy that same product from a country that doesn't have the same regulatory protections in place.
Bruce Williams (Chicago)
@James Brotherton Also here. Our environmentalists want to stop production here but turn away when it's somewhere else.
Jesse (World)
@James Brotherton they tried this in The Netherlands and cause a series of earthquakes in the north and protests by the general population. Unfortunately due to their disadvantaged positions, some folks in Africa will never have the luxury that we have to protest. Instead, we just turn a blind eye to allow our countries exploit the continent once again.
ben (IL)
@James Brotherton pretty much... i some ways, they can take advantage of this to profit, its way to optimistic to think all the funds would be used productivly and not be funneled to a few(often case with these fuels), but an economic link benifits a nation, and if they cannot sell it in the future, they can use it themselves, to some extent, or as a plan b if they cannot build newer systems i am not sure if its the case, but they might still have easy reserves that can be accessed without fracking, meaning its less harmful
Federalist (California)
The purchase of more gas from countries with massive corruption will not have beneficial effects. Wishful thinking at work.
David (Florida)
The countries might have more power but its likely that just means more corruption and profiteering by those in charge. They will sell out their nations resources for their own benefit leaving the populations to starve and suffer to the point that we will have to be constantly providing aid to the citizens while the powerful factions fight over the spoils.
PeateBe (Florida)
@David. Corruption and profiteering are not the purview of Africa only. Motes and beams.
Thomas (Europe)
Its appalling that the West invested in North Stream 2 despite having at least already North Stream 1 and a pipeline through Ukraine and not into Africa, instead telling them that oil+gas and the environment don't mix. I fear they are rightfully complaining about the West's double standards. Worse, in the current situation, them seemingly becoming an irreplaceable energy supplier to Europe, we are not in a position to "berate" them about human rights. Had we helped them develop their fields earlier, we would have had better chances on the human rights side. And don't get me wrong about human rights, a find them important but I find it futile to berate somebody you are dependent on about them, it will not change anything but come across as arrogance.
Bruce Williams (Chicago)
@Thomas Human rights never meant much in OPEC either and we protect them.
Frank Larsen (North America)
@Thomas Nord Stream 1 was established because Russia and Germany wanted a connection that no one could steal from. None mentioned none forgotten. Nord Stream 2 was established because Russia and Germany (and others) realized that Nord Stream 1 did not have enough capacity and they still wanted that no one could steal gas. At the time of decision both Poland and Belarus had become liabilities.
Gandhian (NJ)
Thomas, it seems Europeans keep forgetting that they ruined the Nations in Africa and Asia with colonialism. Thank God Rishi now runs UK
GLC (BCS, Texas)
"More than 600 million Africans do not have access to power and nearly a billion use firewood and charcoal, fuels that are causing significant respiratory problems and death, to heat their homes and to cook." Help them help you. Go fast. Why? Africans, especially the poor, deserve the same energy benefits we drive from natural gas. It is a great transition fuel as we shift to cleaner fuels. And finally, enabling Africa to provide more gas to Europe hastens the failure of Putin's strategy. PS: Utilizing natural gas to create electricity for EV's is far better than burning coal for the same goal.
MikeG (Left Coast)
@GLC Utilizing solar PV to create electricity is already cheaper than using natural gas. African countries have plenty of sun. No need to burn natural gas for energy.
no thanx (bay area)
@david the us should step in but the R's prevent this. instead china is stepping in thru belt and road.
Leslie (SoCal)
@no thanx Why should the US step in?. We should focus on our own neighbors to the south if we're going to get in the business of upgrading developing nation's power grids. BTW our own power grid isn't so great either. Maybe we should work on that before overloading it with millions of electric cars and all electric homes.
cdisf (SF)
I hope former European colonies in Africa make EU countries pay through the nose for the opportunity to destroy the environment there. As for investing $8.5 billion in South Africa, why isn’t the EU also pressuring coal chugging EU countries like Germany to go green? Instead, Germany is firing up more coal fired plants. The Paris Agreement fell apart rapidly once Europeans began to feel the tiniest pain at the pump. Their hypocrisy is staggering.
Richard Karcich (Centennial, CO)
i wish you would explain the seemingly absurd reasons how in reading these stories we are to swallow our impending incineration thru irreversible climate change?
Jay (Indiana)
I get so tired of rich people in America who lecture others on climate change while they rebuild and remodel huge homes, drive giant cars, and fly everywhere. Even the liberal environmentalists in America are giant consumers. We have absolutely no business telling Africa how to live.
Bruce Williams (Chicago)
@Jay So abolish the Peace Corps? End aid?
@Jay Sounds like you are talking about our Climate Envoy John Kerry.
Mostovnik (Santa Cruz, CA)
@Jay The answer lies not in helping Africa carbonize their economies but in greening them, just as we must do here. Your cynical view of America is justified but not an excuse to destroy the planet's climate.
JDS (Santa Fe)
African nations should exploit this opportunity just as they have been exploited by white Europeans for centuries. Charge three time the current pricing for centuries of imperialism.
jeffrey (oberhofen, austria)
Imagine if Europe could import solar energy from Africa instead of gas from Russia. Win-Win par excellence.
Baboulas (Houston)
@jeffrey Are you kidding? Do you know what it takes to produce 10 MW from solar cells, let alone 1 GW to make the project viable? It would cover half of Morocco. Might as well use Spain, Greece or Italy for that matter but they already use solar and wind for much of their electric power.
@Baboulas A 10MW solar plant needs somewhere around 100 acres. Morocco’s area is 175 million acres. Even a gigawatt plant is a small dot for Morocco.
JDS (Santa Fe)
Happy the African leaders stand up to the West. They should double the price for the centuries of colonialism and racism brought into their countries by white Europeans. No triple the price.
Atwork (Southwest)
So they can send the new wealth to numbered Swiss bank accounts instead of spending it on infrastructure at home? Never saw that pattern either, correct?
no thanx (bay area)
@JDS 3x the current price probably reflects the "real" cost of energy.
Diane wilson (Australia)
@Artwork...that comment is the most accurate i have read today....the poor very rarely benefit from any aid that is given to them...the poor in Africa are getting poorer!
B. Rothman (NYC)
Would anyone be surprised when and if the Europeans discover as they “move towards Africa” that the Chinese have been investing there for a while and just might have more than a little political and economic sway on decisions?
Practical Thoughts (East Coast)
@B. Rothman Europe has deeper cultural ties to Africa. Especially with the sordid history and more recent emigration. Look for African nations to extract some concessions from Europe that China could not realistically provide.
Walter (Chicago)
Preach brother!✌️❤️
See also