The European Commission has laid out its criteria for approving gas projects in Africa, a move aimed at averting a potential confrontation at a meeting of world leaders next month. In prerecorded comments presented at a webinar, Frans Timmermans, the European Union’s executive vice president in charge of climate policy, said that gas is “a road to climate neutrality, however only when it makes sense.” “Can you tell me when that is the case?” If there is no other choice if it succeeds coal, and if investments are hydrogen-ready – since clean gases are the actual solution to our future energy needs.”

The heads of EU agencies have talked openly of their aim to support renewable energy in African nations with their 2021-2027 budget. The word “green” appears 19 times in the March 2020 commission plan for Africa’s 18 pages. However, others have cautioned of “green colonialism,” as Vijaya Ramachandran, director of the Breakthrough Institute’s energy and development program, wrote in Foreign Policy magazine in the month of November.

Ramachandran argued that shutting off donor funding for gas projects would “practically stop support for the crucial energy infrastructure necessary to enable economic development and enhance living standards,” pointing out that Sub-Saharan Africa possesses enormous offshore gas resources. Around 600 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are among the 800 million people globally who do not have access to electricity.

Researchers aren’t the only ones who are concerned. President of the European Council, Charles Michel, attended a preparatory meeting last month ahead of the 6th summit of European Union and African Union leaders, which will take place in Brussels on February 17-18. According to one diplomat present, Senegalese President Macky Sall emphasized that renewable energy investments could not meet all of Africa’s energy needs.

According to an unfinished copy seen by Devex in the month of December, the primary investment package to be announced at the February conference includes an “Africa-EU Green Energy Initiative” aimed at “[raising] renewable power capacity and proportion in the energy mix, squeezing out fossil fuels.” The debate was reignited last month when the European Commission opened public consultations on its new sustainable finance taxonomy, which may include nuclear power and gas as green energy sources.

Ramachandran expressed cautious optimism that Africa would be permitted to profit from natural gas investment opportunities as a transition fuel, though she cautioned that the EU may continue to oppose funding for similar ventures in Africa via multilateral development banks. In mid-2021, a spokesperson for the European Commission told Devex that the bloc’s sustainable finance taxonomy is meant to assist investors in identifying sustainable investment prospects in Europe and that it “is not intended as a development policy instrument.”

The commission-financed Friends of Europe think tank hosted a webinar on Thursday to allow the EU side to clarify its position and air worries ahead of — instead of during — the February summit. During the webinar, Sall emphasized that Africa’s carbon emissions are overshadowed by those of rich nations, which have built their economies on nuclear power, coal, and now gas. “But Africa must have an energy foundation that secures its economic progress,” he added, citing hydroelectric power, wind, and solar, as examples of important inventions.

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