Time to reflect as fossil fuels run amok

Wednesday March 18 2020

Environmental activists in Nairobi on June 5, 2018 demonstrate against the proposed Lamu coal power plant. Young people are stepping up as leaders in the fight against climate change. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Events have been organised across Africa today and tomorrow to demand climate justice and the end of fossil fuels investments, which are causing a climate crisis on a planetary scale.

Under the slogan #AfrikaVuka (Vuka means “to awaken” in isiZulu), the demonstrations coincide with Saturday’s celebration of Africa Day as a symbol of the aspiration of Africans to self-determination and fight against the looting of natural resources.

Throughout the continent, fossil fuels business, particularly coal, continues to grow at a high rate with coal-fired plants being projected from South Africa to Senegal, Kenya to Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo to Cote d’Ivoire.

In recent years, Chinese banks have become the last resort for African coal projects when other financial institutions refuse to finance these dirty fuels, the main source of carbon emissions.

South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Ghana, Kenya and Madagascar are among the countries where Chinese investments in coal projects are envisaged.


In the space of two months, two powerful cyclones shook southern and eastern Africa. Cyclone Idai alone has officially taken the lives of 843 people, with dozens of others missing.

The United Nations estimated that Idai and subsequent flooding caused damage worth more than $1 billion (Ksh101bn) in infrastructure only.

More than 100,000 homes have been damaged with at least a million hectares of crops smashed. The city of Beira in Mozambique is, by far, the most affected, with 80 per cent of it destroyed.

Extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones Idai and Kenneth have been particularly devastating in Africa, where the means of prevention and adaptation are weak and the response capacity rather limited.

They could become more frequent and deadlier due to climate change in countries that are historically the least responsible for global warming.


As the most affected continent, African countries must have a strong interest in limiting the temperature below 1.5° Celsius, as prescribed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last October.

For millions of Africans hard hit by the impact of global warming, it is a question of survival.

For sub-Saharan African countries that have experienced more frequent and intense climatic extremes over the past 10 years, a global warming scenario above 1.5°C would be particularly drastic.

South Africa, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the continent, recently faced one of its severest droughts and water shortages, pushing the government to declare the crisis a national disaster.

Africa is at a crossroads, faced with a crucial choice: follow an outdated dangerous energy model that could drastically increase its climate vulnerability or turn resolutely towards a 100 per cent renewable economy.


A rapid transition without coal is technically and economically feasible.

However, it will require strong political leadership, abandoning the proposed coal-fired power plants, clear plans to phase out existing power plants and a rapid and unprecedented rollout of efficiency measures in the energy, agriculture, industry and transport sectors.

Refusing to cross arms and helplessly watch these natural disasters without taking action, the African civil society is organising and resisting.

In Kenya, popular resistance has delayed the construction of the Lamu coal-fired power plant since 2014.

The same story obtains in Bargny, Senegal, and San Pedro, Cote d’Ivoire, where popular pressure and opposition against proposed coal-fired power plants are growing.

In South Africa, banks that finance coal projects are under fire from critics to change their energy investment choices.


Young people are stepping up as leaders in the fight against climate change.

Since the beginning of this year, there has been an increased number of mobilisation in high schools, universities and public places, with the youth refusing to be condemned to a future polluted by greenhouse gas emissions that only benefit a handful of immoral investors and leaders.

In Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, students from 20 secondary schools will march to parliament to ask MPs to finally pass the climate bill and put the country on the path to climate justice.

Beyond requiring national leaders and financial institutions to engage more concretely in the fight for climate justice based on renewable energies, African civil society and environmental activists are sending a strong message that Africa is not for sale.

Africa doesn’t have to rely on fossil fuels to satisfy its energy demand. We can, instead, lead the world into a just energy transition powered by low-cost renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar.

Mr Ninteretse is the Regional Team Leader for 350Africa.org. [email protected] , https://afrikavuka.org/