The injustice of "climate justice"

John Kane-Berman writes on the West's efforts to foist its green priorities on Africa

Lots of people have voiced outrage at the travel ban against this country imposed by the British and other governments after South Africans sounded the alarm against the Covid-9 omicron variant. Cyril Ramaphosa labelled it “travel apartheid”, while also lambasting Western countries for “vaccine apartheid”, and for having forced South Africa to “scrounge” for vaccines.

So why do President Ramaphosa and so many of those who recently attacked these governments trust them when it comes to supporting us to make a “just transition” to avoid the supposedly looming disasters to be wrought by “climate change”? South Africans have long berated the iniquities of imperialism, but it seems that we are happy to comply with Western eco-imperialism.

The policies that rich green governments wish to inflict upon developing countries, South Africa included, will do far more harm than the travel ban that has caused such an outcry. Having themselves got rich on fossil fuels, they want to stop banks from financing fossil-fuel production in poor countries. Many banks and asset managers have already blacklisted fossil fuels.

The European Union refuses to sign trade deals with countries that have not signed up to the Paris agreement to combat global warming. They are contemplating a protectionist border carbon tax on imports from poor countries. They also use foreign aid to advance green agendas rather than the interests of the countries receiving the aid.  

Africa, according to The Economist, is expected to “leapfrog” over fossil fuels to power itself with wind turbines and solar panels. This despite the fact that the continent accounts for only around 2% - 3% of global carbon emissions. While Americans and Europeans are preoccupied with carbon, Africa has major problems of poverty, hunger, malaria, AIDS, and tuberculosis – not to mention lack of electricity. Yet we are expected to make the rich world’s priority our priority – no matter that they always fail to come up with the funds they promise to finance the “just transition” to net zero.

Tragically, many South African non-governmental organisations and members of the communications media have bought into “net zero”, which is now the dominant ideology of the Western world. They habitually oppose mining development. They want to put a stop to oil and gas exploration. And, of course, they want to shut down Eskom’s coal-fired power stations.

All this in the name of a “just transition”, with promises of all sorts of “green jobs” in solar and wind, even though most of these jobs will be in other countries.

“No end in sight to harm the coal industry does to people’s health” was the headline over a recent newspaper report citing a study by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research which found that 5 125 lives could be saved every year in the coal belt on the Highveld if national air quality standards could be enforced.

Although carbon dioxide is not to blame, air pollution is a major problem, in this country and elsewhere. Outdoor air pollution from all sources causes more premature deaths than indoor pollution. Green lobbies focus on this, but what they often overlook is the problem of indoor pollution in households without electricity.

According to The Economist, each year some 2.5 million to 4 million people die prematurely because of indoor air pollution. Most of this, according to the International Energy Agency and the World Health Organisation, is the result of cooking. In India alone, according to a report by the Bloomberg news agency, “air pollution inside houses, primarily due to burning solid fuels such as wood, dried dung, and biomass, contributed to more than 1 million deaths in 2010”.

A recent article on spiked-online noted that 2.5 billion people around the world “are still cooking with wood, charcoal, or dung because they are not connected to a gas grid or cannot cook with electric appliances”.

Margatte Wade, director of the African Center for Prosperity at the Atlas Network, wrote last month in The Wall Street Journal that 700 million African homes “rely on biomass for indoor cooking”. Solar panels in the Sahara “may seem a lovely vision,” but they would not provide energy for the 700 million women to cook across the continent.

What these women needed, Ms Wade wrote, was cleaner fossil fuels such as propane, or electricity generated by natural gas, for at least the next few decades, so they can avoid the effects of burning charcoal, coal, and diesel in their small homes”. According to Akinwumi Adesina, president if the African Development Bank, natural gas is the key to the continent’s energy security and economic prosperity. It is less polluting than other fossil fuels, but because it produces methane some environmentalists want to end its use.

And the greens have power. Ms Wade notes that many African nations receive a significant portion of their budgets from foreign aid, “leaving them largely dependent on the whims of donors”. Moreover, according to The Economist, “donors in rich countries are reluctant to back investment in fossil fuels, even though the alternatives to gas – wood and charcoal – are worse for the environment, for the cook, and for their children”. The 2020 State of Global Air report published by the Health Effects Institute thus noted that 64% of all infant deaths from air pollution arose from household pollution, the problem being most severe in sub-Saharan Africa.

“As a Senegalese entrepreneur,” Ms Wade wrote, “I can tell you what is holding Africa back: lack of affordable energy.” The climate goals wealthy nations demanded at the recent COP26 conference were “not only absurd, but a death sentence for Africans”.

“That is why it was chilling when a coalition of 250 Western organisations, including Oxfam, began lobbying to halt the use and production of fossil fuels in Africa.”

“Climate justice” is a nice term for a set of arrogant, economically damaging, cynical, cruel, and inhuman policies.

* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. Readers are invited to take a stand with the IRR by clicking here or sending an SMS with your name to 32823. Each SMS costs R1. Ts and Cs apply.