COP27 Needs to Address Decolonising the Energy Transition: Here's Why

01 Sep 2022
01 Sep 2022

Climate change reports tell us annually that the world is burning, and that African countries are not doing as much as they should toward the global goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This blog opines on why African countries are not participating as actively as they should (and want to) in the energy transition.

It has become a 2030 imperative to decolonise the Paris Agreement by including a plurality of views. The Paris Agreement, as it stands, reflects the realities and capabilities of developed nations. African countries and institutions, and other developing nations across the globe, have been hesitant about actively participating in the energy transition. By decolonising the energy transition and enabling developing countries to participate in it in a manner that reflects their realities and capabilities, the world will see less hesitancy and more active participation.


African countries still rely heavily on their extractive industries for both economic gains and energy production. As such, the feasibility of partaking in the energy transition and legislating the commitments made in the Paris Agreement has been heavily (and rightly) criticised.

The economic importance of mineral and petroleum extraction and use on the continent cannot be denied and does not justify a drive towards carbon neutrality. It has become clear that the Paris Agreement, the energy transition, and the sustainable finance movement do not fit the mould of the developing world because they do not necessarily consider the realities, externalities, and possibilities on the African continent.

To be sure, in 2021 the Africa Energy Chamber’s Executive Chairman made it clear that although the Chamber is not a climate change denier it will not be taking any drastic steps to help African countries move away from fossil fuels. Similarly, in 2021 the South African Minister of Natural Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe, called on African countries to unite against the coercion of the West and the climate change agenda.

This coercion has been felt in many different forms across the continent. As divestment from hydrocarbons and coal projects continues to climb and renewable energy sources developed to fill the gap; the cost of an ill-prepared workforce and thinly stretched budget are leading to increased unemployment and over-indebtedness.

For example, in Nigeria – where crude-oil accounts for over 80% of export earnings and a third of government revenue – the steady decline in investment in the hydrocarbons industry has led to a significant decline in petroleum production which, in turn, has exacerbated unemployment and inequality, especially in industries related to or dependant on the hydrocarbons industry. Nigeria's Minister of State, Mr. Timipre Marlin Sylva posits that the “lost production [i.e., the production that could not take place due to divestment] could have helped contribute to global supply as the world now seeks alternatives to Russian oil after buyers halted purchases over its invasion of Ukraine”. This consequence, combined with the price hikes in the food and retail industry brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent Russia-Ukraine conflict will most certainly lead to a widening inequality gap.

The energy transition and in particular the sustainable finance movement was drafted and is being implemented by the developed world with tunnel vision. This tunnel vision hinders developed nations from recognizing and addressing the plethora of issues that stem from this approach for developing countries. These issues include the fact that the African continent accounts for only about 4% of global greenhouse emissions; about a third of the African population does not have access to modern electricity; intellectual property rights of and funding to technologies of clean energy remain a barrier – this fact is compounded by the huge debt crises that the majority of African nations find themselves in.

In some cases, the electrification of single cities in developed nations accounts for what singular countries in the developing world consume. Although this blog does not address this issue in detail, it is noteworthy to mention the irony that after advancing their economies and countries on one set of development criteria, developed countries decided to change that criterion and require developing countries (the majority of whom are developing due to the historic actions of developed countries) to advance on an entirely different set of rules, as economist Ha-Joon Chang explains in his book Kicking Away the Ladder.

One argument is that the justification for this pressure on developing countries comes from research that shows developing countries “hold the most potential for renewable energy and that electricity demand is projected to double in the near future in these regions”. However, this position does not take into account that although the potential exists the ability is sorely lacking; at least as far as achieving net-zero by 2050. Achieving net zero by 2050 is a wholly unrealistic goal to set for a continent where firewood and candles still play a part in people’s lives as a need and not as part of a vacation in a camping resort.


Developed countries set these so-called international agendas that only reflect what is possible in developed countries. These agendas do not cater to the realities of developing countries but yet are imposed (by trade wars, loss of Foreign Direct Investment, and now divestment under the guise of sustainable finance) on developing countries; this is the fallacy of developmentalism.  A copy-and-paste approach with the energy transition will not achieve the desired results within the prescribed time frame.

Decolonising the energy transition simply boils down to accepting and incorporating a plurality of views and methods toward achieving a similar goal. Each country or continent cognizant of their specific realities, externalities, and possibilities.

Empowering countries at different stages of development to participate in the energy transition based on targets that they have set and believe in is the only solution to ensuring that all countries are actively working towards reversing the effects of climate change. This does not mean the developing world must draft these decolonised energy transition agendas in silos. The United Nations and the African Union can work together on this for the African continent. Regional blocks in Africa may also participate in the exercise as they are better informed regarding their member’s capabilities.

Decolonising the energy transition is important and should take centre stage at this year’s COP. For the reasons discussed herein, and because historically, policy underpinned by a strong theoretical framework - where theory is rooted in existing values and ideologies - enjoys a higher success rate and greater political will when it comes to implementation and follow-through.

Written by Leezola Zongwe.