More than 90% of the £2bn in energy deals struck at this week’s UK-Africa investment summit were for fossil fuels, despite a government commitment to “support African countries in their transition to cleaner energy”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson opened the summit on Monday, citing the climate emergency: “We all breathe the same air, we live beneath the same sky, and we all suffer when carbon emissions rise and the planet warms.”
But the commercial energy deals revealed later were dominated by oil and gas production. The official UK government statement on the summit and a press release failed to mention these, citing only the far smaller support for clean energy. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said the “hypocrisy of the government’s position is breath-taking”.
Johnson also announced that UK taxpayers’ money would no longer support overseas coal-fired power plants and coal mining. Yet MPs on the environmental select committee reported in 2019 that “UK Export Finance (UKEF) has not supported a coal project since 2002”.
A report by Greenpeace and Newsnight also found that UKEF spent billions of pounds abroad supporting fossil fuel projects that will emit an estimated 69 million tonnes of carbon a year.
The UK will host a critical UN climate summit in Glasgow in November, at which nations must dramatically increase their pledges to cut carbon emissions to avoid a disastrous 3o-4oC rise in global temperatures.
The five oil and gas deals announced after the summit are worth £2.1bn, led by oil company Tullow investing £1.2bn in continued oil production in Kenya. The other fossil fuel contracts span the continent from Nigeria to Mozambique and Tunisia to Cote D’Ivoire. In contrast, just £161m in deals – 8% of the total – were related to clean energy, the biggest being for £80m of solar-powered irrigation pumps for Uganda and £50m to help build a solar farm in Kenya.
Before the summit, Lucas asked ministers which companies would attend, but the Department of Trade refused to reveal the names, citing “commercial interests”.
“Now we know why the government was so secretive,” said Lucas. “The hypocrisy of the government’s position is breathtaking. It boasts of its green credentials one minute, and then hosts an investment summit which sees billions being invested in carbon-intensive industries in Africa. This government’s promises on climate action are completely hollow.
“As hosts of this year’s UN climate summit, the UK needs to show international leadership and bring other countries with us. We can’t do that while UK money and business is supporting dirty energy around the world.”
A spokesman for the Department for International Trade (DIT) said: “The UK is committed to tackling climate change and supporting African countries in their transition to cleaner energy. Less than one-third [of the total £6.5bn in deals] were in oil and gas.”
At the summit, Johnson said the UK would help African nations “extract and use oil and gas in the cleanest, greenest way possible”, while also delivering “an electro-convulsive lightning bolt through our renewables industry”.
Other deals struck at the summit included a total of £170m for aircraft and airports and £224m for a new Kenyan gold mine. The biggest deal was £3.2bn for Bombardier to construct and operate two monorail lines in Cairo, Egypt.
The UK taxpayer is directly funding £50m of clean energy projects, including energy storage batteries and energy-efficient housing. “The government is stepping up our offer to work with African countries to unlock their massive renewable energy potential,” said the DIT spokesman.
Nick Dearden, director of campaign group Global Justice Now, said: “The supposedly transformative £6.5bn UK investment in Africa includes oil, gas, gold mining and airlines. So much for fostering ‘climate-friendly’ development.
“In the 19th century, the ‘scramble for Africa’ was carefully disguised as a humanitarian project. Now, 150 years later, what we saw at the UK-Africa summit was a desperate and unseemly grab for markets, dressed up as ‘development’.”