Unconventional Oil in Africa
In today’s carbon and resource-constrained world, the key challenge facing industrialized and emerging economies, especially those dependent on imports of polluting fossil fuels, is how to manage the structural transition to sources of energy that both ensure security of supply and respect ecological boundaries.
For many developing countries trying to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially those on eradicating poverty and environmental sustainability, a critical challenge is ensuring the vast majority of their citizens living in energy poverty can access secure and sustainable modern energy for basic and productive use.
Indeed, “while the [MDGs] do not include specific targets in relation to access to electricity or to clean cooking facilities, the United Nations has declared 2012 to be the “International Year of Sustainable Energy for All”. Energy access, energy efficiency and renewable energy are expected to be prominent issues at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June 2012.
In the short term, the question is how to balance the need to meet growing global energy demands, particularly in the South, while tackling the environmental and social externalities of the world’s current major source of energy, fossil fuels. Sub-Saharan Africa, one the world’s poorest regions, is also one of the last remaining “frontiers” for conventional oil exploration and is also now attracting investment in dirtier forms of “unconventional” oil. The risks to the already fragile livelihoods and environments of potential host communities are very real. This short briefing gives an overview of three investments in unconventional oil currently in prospect in the context of debates about the need to mitigate global environmental threats and ensure sustainable development.