Energy a Crucial Pillar of Sustainable Development

Published on 23rd October 2023

Energy is crucial to the three intertwined and mutually supportive pillars of sustainable development: economic growth, social progress, and environmental protection. 

Energy drives progress across all sectors of society. From powering industries that bolster economies, to providing the means for essential services such as healthcare, education, and clean water, reliable energy sources are paramount. 

The last four years have further emphasized this significance. The convergence of the coronavirus pandemic, economic and financial stresses, and geopolitical shifts has propelled the energy trilemma to the forefront of policymakers' agendas: how to simultaneously ensure energy security, energy equity, and environmental sustainability. This intricate balancing act is demanding for all nations, but it holds particular complexity for Africa. 

Looking to the future, the dichotomy deepens as global demand for more energy coincides with the need for reduced greenhouse gas emissions. According to the latest GECF Global Gas Outlook, global primary energy consumption is expected to rise by 22% in the period to 2050, underpinned by a projected global population increase of 1.7 billion, primarily in developing countries, and an expected doubling of the global economy, surpassing 200 trillion US dollars. 

Meeting this varied energy demand while safeguarding the environment underscores that there is no universal solution or one-size-fits-all model. Achieving sustainable development goals requires a nuanced integration of diverse energy sources and technologies, tailored to the unique circumstances, capabilities, and priorities of each country.

Yet, in this intricate tapestry of energy pathways, one prominent thread stands out: natural gas. 

Available, clean, flexible, versatile, natural gas emerges as a catalyst for an equitable energy transition — one that champions inclusivity and ensures no one is left behind. 

Natural gas presents a sustainable alternative to traditional fuels such as wood and dung, effectively mitigating the adverse impacts of indoor pollution and helping to combat deforestation. 

Transitioning from the use of traditional biomass to cleaner cooking solutions like LPG can significantly contribute to reducing the staggering death toll associated with indoor pollution, which the World Health Organization estimates to be around 2.3 million per year. 

Moreover, natural gas not only improves air quality in densely populated urban areas but also bolsters the resilience and reliability of power grids that depend on intermittent and variable energy sources like solar and wind. 

Equally important is natural gas instrumental role in global food security as it is a key component in fertiliser production. 

GECF projections paint a compelling picture of natural gas' ascent, with a remarkable 36% increase of demand over the period to 2050. 

For Africa, blessed with a young demographic and abundant natural resources, yet plagued by energy poverty, socio-economic development is an overriding priority.

With 40% of the continent’s population without access to reliable electricity, the energy needs are staggering. They are projected to more than double by 2050, supported by a population rise from 1.4 billion today to 2.5 billion in 2050 and an almost tripling of GDP. 

Of particular note is the remarkable growth of natural gas in the African energy mix, which has increased from 10% in 2000 to a significant 17% in 2021 and is projected to steadily rise to 23% in 2050. This demonstrates continuous growth, unlike other energy sources, especially to meet the continent's electricity generation needs, which are set to more than triple by 2050. 

Africa's natural gas reserves are huge, exceeding 17 trillion cubic meters. Natural gas resources are even higher, estimated to be around 45 trillion cubic meters. Africa remains underexplored.

However, converting gas reserves into reliable supply requires substantial investments in exploration, development, infrastructure, and human capacity building. 

The notion that natural gas investment is incongruent with climate change mitigation is misguided. African nations, bearing no historical responsibility for climate change and contributing only a mere 3% to global greenhouse gas emissions, should not be penalised for using their natural resources to lift their people out of poverty. We call upon international financial institutions, and notably the African Development Bank, to extend their support to natural gas development projects in Africa. 

HE Eng. Mohamed Hamel,

Secretary General, Gas Exporting Countries Forum

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