Food and fuel prices are skyrocketing globally, and Russian oil and gas supplies have been reduced since the invasion of Ukraine. In response, European governments are paving the way for massive investments in fossil fuels from non-Russian sources that jeopardize efforts to combat climate change.
Policies are designed to suit fossil fuel companies, which see Russia’s war in Ukraine as an opportunity to expand production elsewhere. Governments are missing opportunities to reduce oil and gas consumption by managing demand – insulating homes and abandoning car-based urban transport systems, for example – and accelerating the shift to electricity generation from solar and wind energy.
Government failures to address the climate crisis, exemplified by scorching summer temperatures and drought, are accompanied by inadequate responses to economic crises. Inflation and recession combine to threaten the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people. Resistance to these attacks is growing. Here in the UK, a wave of strikes looks likely to become the biggest in decades.
Activists seek to unite these protests over living standards with actions to reduce the use of fossil fuels and limit global warming. Uniting the fight for social justice and climate justice is needed, and possible, like never before.
Responses to high fuel prices
The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February accelerated already runaway increases in fuel prices. Since the start of 2021, gas prices in Europe have increased more than eightfold. Oil rose from around $50/barrel to $120/barrel in March; it has remained above $90/barrel ever since.
European governments’ “emergency” response measures, aimed at sourcing from non-Russian sources, included approving fossil fuel generation projects that will not come on stream for years.
The British government paved the way in April, with its Energy security strategywhich undertakes to authorize new gas projects — live opposition calls from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the United Nations Environment Program to immediately cease all new exploration and extraction of oil and gas. The strategy included next to nothing to improve the insulation of British homes, which energy researchers say is the most effective way to reduce gas consumption.
Instead, money was pledged for beloved tech solutions from fossil fuel companies, including hydrogen and carbon capture.
The RePowerEU package set up by the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, has committed resources to reducing the use of fossil fuels by renovating homes, reforming urban transport and accelerating the development of renewable energy. But not enough.
He has also approved billions of dollars in new gas infrastructure – “a slower, more expensive and more environmentally damaging answer to the bloc’s energy security needs” than renewables and modernization, according to a Global Energy Monitor. report show.
Brussels is also supporting a program to import “green” hydrogen, produced from renewable energies, from North Africa and, in the future, from Ukraine. opponents say it is “neocolonial greenwashing”, and that the new renewable energy capacity should rather be adapted to the energy needs of these countries.
Most dangerous of all, however, are plans backed by European governments to boost gas production in Africa, with exports to Europe displacing Russian gas supplies.
In May, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz sign an agreement with Senegalese President Macky Sall to seek gas which would be liquefied and sent by ship to Europe. In June, African Union leaders discussed launch a joint call at the COP27 international climate talks in Egypt in November, for the expansion of oil and gas production across the continent.
A corporatist offensive rubs shoulders with a political offensive. Oil and gas producers are considering new projects worth more than $100 billion in Africa, research by Reuters shows.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Italian energy group Eni has sign new agreements with Algeria, Egypt and the Republic of Congo, aimed at exporting more gas to Europe; TotalEnergies of France is considering reviving a $20 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Mozambique; and Equinor of Norway joined Shell to sign an agreement with Tanzania to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal there.
Civil society resists
African civil society reacted angrily to oil and gas investment plans. A plan presented to African Union leaders failed to explain “why current energy systems, largely centralized, largely dependent on fossil fuels and largely export-oriented, have failed to provide access to electricity. energy to hundreds of millions of ordinary Africans,” according to an NGO note. declared. The focus for each region should be on using each continent’s “massive renewable energy potential” to end energy poverty at the national level, they demanded.
Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa, said that locking Africa into “a future based on fossil fuels” would be “a shameful betrayal”. Lorraine Chiponda of Africa Coal Network said oil and gas investment plans “are not driven by Africa’s needs, but by the energy crisis in Europe”. The proposals were also rejected by climate diplomats, including those representing the Egyptian Presidency of COP27.
The focus on gas export can only increase the burden borne by Africa’s poorest people, who have little or no access to electricity or other modern forms of energy. energy. In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of people without access to electricity increased by around 4% between 2019 and 2021, to 590 million (43% of the population), mainly due to the coronavirus pandemic, lockdowns and energy prices, reversing the gains made in 2014-18. The number of Africans without access to clean cooking fuels has also increased, to more than 970 million, nearly three-quarters of the continent’s population. For cooking, most of them depend on collected firewood and agricultural and animal waste.
Russian aggression in Ukraine has aggravated the situation. Soaring food and fuel prices have pushed an additional 71 million people in developing countries into poverty since March, according to the United Nations Development Program reported in July.
Energy experts argue that developing Africa’s huge solar and wind potential is the way to fight energy poverty. Resources dumped at LNG export terminals undermine this potential.
The shadow over COP27
The approach of Europe’s biggest governments – limited action on energy conservation and renewables, plus billions for new gas, hydrogen and carbon capture projects – is comparable to that of China and of the United States, respectively the biggest and the second biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.
China, while investing heavily in renewable energy, continues to increase coal production and consumption. Its emissions trajectory is consistent with 3 degrees Celsius (3°C) of global warming, as opposed to the scientific goal of 1.5°C, Climate action tracking to research shows.
In the United States, Democratic politicians this month hailed passing the Cut Inflation Act, which included $369 billion for climate measures such as support for electric vehicle purchases, carbon capture and renewable energy – but, as activists warnedno restrictions on the development of fossil fuels.
Package could lift US emissions to 60% of 2005 level, analysts say valued – 10-12% above the target set by President Joe Biden last year. Climate Action Tracker considers this objective itself “insufficient” and compatible with a warming of 2.4°C. Moreover, the United States and other rich countries have still failed to unlock the $100 billion in climate finance promised to vulnerable countries by 2020.
All of this adds up to the prospect of COP27, like other COPs before it, of hampering and undermining efforts to tackle the climate crisis. Society as a whole must to find solutions outside the talks and the greenwash that surrounds them.
Social justice and climate justice
In Europe as in North America, rising fuel prices threaten millions of families with disaster: they will not be able to pay for heating and electricity this winter. In the UK, decades of neoliberal market reforms have removed all constraints from energy companies, which place the entire burden of rising wholesale prices on households. The market is organized in such a way that even electricity produced from low-cost renewable energies is sold at gas prices.
By January 2023, the increase in energy bills is expected tripling to over £5,000 a year for average households and pushing two-thirds of UK families into fuel poverty. In response, more than 100,000 people signed a pledge, launched by the don’t pay campaign, to refuse to pay their energy bills.
The challenge before us is to unite this wave of anger against energy companies profiting from the fight to prevent dangerous global warming.
In 2018, during France’s yellow vest movement, sparked by fuel taxes that the government called ‘green’, the phrase ‘the elites talk about the end of the world, but we worry about the end of the months” was invented.
Less well known was the slogan that responded to it: “end of the world, end of the month, same fight!” – which sought to unite social protest with action against climate change. This year, requests such as “isolate Brittany– to modernize homes, reduce both energy consumption and bills – have achieved such unity. We need to do more.
The same corporations and governments that seek to increase fossil fuel production in a climate emergency are also seeking the neocolonial subjugation of Africa and assaulting household living standards in both the North and the South.
Struggles for social justice and climate justice must be united to transform society and end their domination.