Fossil fuels are derivatives of plant and animal fossils that are millions of years old.
They are formed from the remains of the decayed plants and animals of the carboniferous era. The three fossil fuel sources are coal, natural gas and oil/petroleum that the world uses to meet its energy demand. But their over-consumption has led to serious environmental hazards.
“Fossil fuels account for about 50% of total primary energy supply and one-third of energy consumption (excluding contribution to electricity generation) in Africa” said by International Electrification for Africa.
Africa has large potential and reserve for fossil fuel which serves as a source of government revenue. For example, oil exports account for about 80% of government revenues in Libya, Nigeria and Angola while natural gas exports account for about 60% of Government revenues in Algeria.
According to BP Statistical Review of World Energy,”Africa has enormous potentials of fossil fuels accounting for about 9.5%, 8% and 4% of the total proven reserves of crude oil, natural gas and coal in the world, respectively. Over 80% and 90% of the oil and natural gas reserves are found in Northern and Western Africa respectively.
Libya accounts for over 70% of the oil reserves in Northern Africa and Algeria accounts for about 55% of the natural gas reserves in the same region. Nigeria accounts for almost all the oil and natural gas reserves in Western Africa.
In addition, three countries – Libya, Nigeria and Angola – account for about 80% of the proven oil reserves in the continent. This distribution of energy resources across the continent becomes more uneven considering South Africa accounts for about 95% of the coal reserves in the continent”.
Despite these huge energy resources, the continent is still faced with enormous energy challenges that include low access to modern energy, insufficient energy infrastructure, low efficiency and lack of institutional and technical capacity to use these huge resources.
A report by International Electrification for Africa (IEA) states that, 31% of Sub-Saharan African populations have access to electricity with about 60% and 14% electrification rates in the urban and rural areas. These energy challenges have hampered economic growth thus contributing to both economic and energy deficit in the continent.
Ghana is an example, for over three years, the country has been battling with energy crises. This energy deficit has stunted the country’s development. Ghana is estimated to lose about $320 million and $924 million a year in terms of decline in productivity and economic growth, amounting to between 2% and 6% of GDP annually which does not include direct cost, a report by the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER).
However, the heavy reliance on fossil fuels to generate energy has contributed to a number of environmental and social problems at the local, regional and global levels which has exacerbated the impacts of climate change such as depletion of non-renewable resources, Ozone depletion, acidification and global warming.
In order to limit average global temperature increase to below 2°C implies a carbon constrained future where the use of fossil fuels will be restrained and more attention paid to less polluting energy systems. Although Africa accounts for less than 4% of the global Greenhouse Gas(GHG) emissions, it is the most vulnerable region to the impacts of global climate change. The continent is highly vulnerable to increased climate-related ‘shocks’ such as droughts, storms, flooding and extremes of temperatures.
These climatic impacts have affected agriculture, food security, water supply, healthcare, energy and regional security and biodiversity. This will be a major threat to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the socio-economic development of the continent.
The future utilization of fossil fuels in Africa will need to take place in the context of a low carbon development trajectory.