From Watts Up With That?
Last October, the U.S. climate envoy John Kerry suggested that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) should abandon some oil blocks that it had put up for auction.
However, for the people of the DRC — some of the poorest in the world — this could mean more years of pollution and ill-health from dirty cooking fuels such as charcoal.
Welcome to 21st century climate imperialism in Africa.
A prominent form of modern slavery is climate imperialism, or eco-colonialism, wherein restrictive energy policies conceived and promoted by politicians in Western economies are forced on some of the world’s poorest. Though branded as environmentally friendly, these outlandish policies deny economic growth to those who most need it in Africa’s poorest countries.
According to the World Bank, in 2019, over 41% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa lived in extreme poverty. Poor households in Africa often lack access to necessities such as clean water, electricity, cooking fuel and health care. The region’s weak economy coupled with poor infrastructure impedes access to education and job opportunities, further exacerbating poverty.
The West’s war on fossil fuels, which is being promoted with draconian polices in developing countries, adds to the obstacles of overcoming this deprivation.
DRC’s Charcoal Problem
In the DRC, over 63% of the population — around 60 million people — live in extreme poverty, on less than $2.15 a day. Only 23% of the population has access to electricity. And one of the biggest threats to health is the country’s dependence on dirty cooking fuels.
More than 90% of DRC citizens cook with charcoal, whose smokey indoor emissions are a major health concern. In addition, use of charcoal requires people — usually girls and women — to forage for wood, robbing them of valuable time that could be spent on education and acquiring more economically valuable skills. In the DRC, wood cut for charcoal sometimes exceeds quantities taken by loggers, contributing to deforestation of the country.
A solution to the overreliance on charcoal is the gas stove, which lately has been vilified by climate warriors claiming with no scientific basis that the emissions of burning gas are hazardous.
Cooking gas replaces fuels such as charcoal, wood, coal and dung, all of which contribute to indoor air pollution — estimated to cause 4.3 million premature deaths annually across the globe. When cooking gas is burned, the emissions are water vapor and carbon dioxide, both of which are harmless
Imperialism, An Obstruction To Gas Stoves And Gas Production
The DRC government is pursuing policies to make oil and gas more affordable to its population and boost the economy. Last year, 30 oil and gas blocks went up for auction. The move drew sharp criticism from various quarters, including the U.S. administration hostile to fossil fuels, the UN and highly funded mainstream media.
Curbing DRC’s oil and gas production would disrupt a legitimate path to safe and prosperous living, which every other developing country in the world is pursuing — that is, a transition from dirty charcoal to clean and safe gas stoves.
Transitioning to gas is a well-established international policy directive of many bodies like the World Bank. In 2022, the bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program announced a $500 million investment for a clean cooking fund in developing nations. Many Asian countries like Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Myanmar have immensely benefitted from such efforts. Today more than one billion people in India alone use gas stoves.
Efforts to restrict the production or use of fossil fuels serve to increase the prices of these exceedingly useful energy sources, making them less available to those who need them most. In the DRC’s case, carbon imperialism has taken the route of making the Congolese people remain in abject poverty.
Governments of developing countries that yield to the pressures of climate imperialism — whether to abandon coal-fired power plants or prohibit the use of gas cook stoves — ill serve their people. So far, the DRC government has resisted this.
The DRC government should follow the examples of Asian countries that have committed to providing their people with access to plentiful and economically priced fossil fuels. Otherwise, the misery of poverty, including smokey kitchens, could be the lot of the Congolese for a long time to come.