What if Africa were to  strand its fossil fuels?
Fossil fuels burning

What if Africa were to strand its fossil fuels?

Today is Earth Day. It comes this April amid record temperatures worldwide and a recent heat wave in Ghana that has prompted warnings about air pollution and a rise in the reporting of conditions such as heat rash and poor sleep.


Rapid urbanisation in Ghana and the creation of “urban heat islands”, as 58.62% of the population now live in urban areas devoid of many trees, is compounding the effect of global warming.

The Paris Agreement on climate change commits countries to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. It is feared that above 2ºC, climate effects will become so extreme that life on Earth could become increasingly unsustainable. 

To achieve the 1.5ºC limit, greenhouse gas emissions must peak before 2025 and fall 43 per cent by 2030.

Fear of the consequences of not achieving this is beginning to intensify the debate over stranded assets in Africa.

‘Stranded assets’ are assets that suddenly lose their value or become unusable, causing big financial losses to countries or companies. 

In the context of climate change, fossil fuel assets become stranded because of the fear that their continued use will increase global warming to unsustainable levels. 

Global warming is the long-term heating of Earth’s surface while climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperature and weather patterns.  

While these shifts may be natural, human activities are almost universally believed to be the main driver of change since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s. 

This is primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels, like coal, oil and gas, which increases the levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) in Earth’s atmosphere. Warming is compounded by the cutting down of forests. 

“Since fossil fuel expliotation hasn’t yet contributed significantly to Africa’s prosperity, the continent can seize the opportunity to add value to its subsoil assets for economic growth,” says Dr Fatima Denton, Director of the United Nations University’s Institute of Natural Resources in Africa, based at Legon. Denton is the main voice speaking on stranded assets currently in Africa.


In the climate change debate on stranded assets, African countries have argued that they should be allowed to develop their fossil fuels while the more economically advanced areas of the world move to renewable energy.

The idea is that Northern countries that came first to the Industrial Revolution and polluted the earth through the unrestrained use of fossil fuels should now adopt mitigation strategies to reduce carbon emissions.

By contrast Africa, whose tiny carbon footprint means it is not counted among Earth’s major polluters, should be allowed to focus on adaptation strategies to reduce the risks from climate change, for example through water harvesting and sea defence against rising tides.

A very strong voice for this position is Senyo Hosi, the Executive Chairman of Kleeve and Tove, who says it is not just a matter of climate justice. “Africa has a moral responsibility to exploit its fossil fuels for the good of its people and also for the transformation of its economy,” Hosi said.

“The world economy has too many moving parts. Those who run it have a responsibility to advance their own interests and we are responsible to advance ours,” Hosi, who is an advisor to African governments on energy transitions, told the Graphic’s Your Ghana, My Ghana.

But in sinking our resources into first industrial revolution technology to develop our fossil fuels, Africa is inadvertently creating a problem of “lock-in” to old technology. 

Lock-in is often the downside of being a leader in technological developments. The classic example of lock-in is the narrow-gauge railways built by the originators of the Industrial Revolution. Given the massive cost of building railways, Britain could not tear up its narrow-gauge railways and replace them with broad-gauge once that technology was developed during the American industrial revolution. 

Similarly, by proceeding with the development of its newly discovered fossil fuels, Africa could be mortgaging its future to dependence on old, unsustainable technology that may one day come to choke our continent.

But what if there were another, cleaner and more beautiful way to prosperity that would save us from lock-in to backward-looking technology and allow us to take advantage of other natural resources we have in abundance to propel us forward and maybe even leapfrog us to a new technological age?


What if Ghana could make more money and create more jobs by keeping its forests pristine and its water bodies pure?

Vision vs business

What if green energy, green jobs, the blue economy (ocean economy) were not just a vision of the perfect earth, but also a wholly viable business model?

These are not just dreams but the arguments of a small but growing number of voices, many of them the voices of the youth now leading climate change activism globally and in Africa.

According to Joshua Amponsem, Executive Director and Founder of Green Africa Youth Organisation (GAYO): “Though we’re not the pollutuers, failing to act is digging your own grave.” 


Amponsem explained: “If your house is burning down, do you blame the one who set it on fire and wait for them to put it out or do you put out the fire yourself while waiting for help?”

With the alarming rate at which Ghana’s forests are being hewn down, with galamsey destroying our water bodies and gradually replacing our cocoa industry, today’s Earth Day should give us a moment to pause for thought, to scratch our heads and to crunch some numbers as we reflect whether we really want to give up our God-given lush forests and replace them with soul-destroying, man-made oil rigs and platforms.

But the answer depends on a broader question. Are governments in Ghana and Africa willing to invest in the kind of innovative technology that will drive down the cost of renewable energy, for example by harnessing the sun, which we have in abundance in Africa? 

Or will we continue to lock ourselves into fossil fuel technology, even if it means destroying our environment in the process, while we wait for northern countries, led by Germany currently, to drive the green economy only for us to jump on board at the tail end when the profits have already been made?


For a discussion of these issues with expert studio guests, join us on Your Ghana, My Ghana at Graphic Online TV on Thursday, 10am.

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