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Cop 27: Uganda says it can develop oil responsibly

  • Market: Crude oil, Emissions
  • 09/11/22

Uganda oil minister Ruth Nankabirwa talked to Argus Media on the sidelines of the Cop 27 UN climate conference about the need for Uganda and Africa to develop its natural resources — oil and gas — in a responsible way to support economies and work towards UN sustainable development goals (SDGs), including ending energy poverty and hunger.

You have heard many times the narrative that the world should begin winding down fossil fuel investment and production, and move towards cleaner energy sources. As a soon-to-be oil and gas producer, what are your thoughts on that? Is there anything that would stop Uganda from further developing its hydrocarbon resources?

Winding down? We are just beginning the development of our natural resources. We cannot begin talking about winding it down. We must get value for our resources so that we can fight for the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) — common goals to achieve a better and more sustainable future — holistically. We are supposed to end hunger. We are supposed to end energy poverty. We are supposed to do a lot of things, and that requires money. Our economies are based on natural resources, how can you begin talking about winding down?

Yes, we have to take care of the environment as we develop our natural resources, and we can do that. Actually, we are going to do it better than those who developed their natural resources many decades ago, because when they began [developing their resources], they had not started to experience the climate change problems. We are at an advantage because we are going to learn from the challenges of those countries that started developing their natural resources long ago.
We have to take care of the environment, we have to do responsible exploitation, but to say that Africa should sit on its natural resources — and we talk about competition with the entire world in value addition, in food security, in infrastructure — that would mean that we will always have to go on a plane, if we get the money, to come and visit the developed world.

In order for us to move forward together in a just manner, let us come up with unbiased research, and come up with technology that can help us capture carbon and at the same time invest in forestation. In Africa we can create big volumes of carbon sinks. If you can get money to do irrigation, responsible agriculture, to do renewable energy into the islands of Lake Victoria and other hard to reach communities, then we will be moving together in the transition. African needs its own agenda, its own agenda in net-zero principles. We must come up with our own roadmap.

You mentioned Uganda can essentially learn from others' past experiences when it comes to fossil fuel exploitation and production and do things better, do these climate issues come up in conversations with TotalEnergies and Chinese state-controlled energy firm CNOOC about your current oil developments, the 40,000 b/d Kingfisher and 190,000 b/d Tilenga fields?

Yes, because they have to follow the laws that Uganda have established. If we say don't flare, then we won't see them flaring gas. If we say don't vent, then we won't allow them to vent the gas. And in any case, the gas is required, we need LPG. We need to move from using coal and biomass into at least LPG.

TotalEnergies is also looking at investing in renewables. We have a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with TotalEnergies where they are going to generate power using solar panels. CNOOC as well is looking at investment in renewables to compensate for whatever they are doing.

But [suggesting we] abandon the projects is something that really annoys us as Africa, because it means people don't want us to develop. We have seen economies developing from their natural resources. I have high hopes that a just transition agenda will be maintained.

What do you hope, as an African nation, will come out of the negotiations over the next two weeks at the Cop 27 UN climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh ?

This Cop, Cop 27, is for Africa. I expect an African voice to tell the whole world that we agree on climate change mitigation because it is a matter of survival. But another matter of survival is our economic survival, which is based on our natural resources. We are not the first and won't be the last. But I can assure you Africa will develop its natural resources in a better way. In a more sustainable way, and a more responsible way, than those who did it before us.

At Cop 26 last year, there was a clear position to move away from fossil fuels. But this year, with the energy crisis the world is facing, do you, as an African nation, hope gas will be welcomed back into the conversation, even if only as a transition fuel?

I think this Cop is going to see reality at play. We need gas. We don't have to go to the laboratories to do research. We need gas, Europe needs gas, Africa needs gas. So, gas has to come back to the table, and banks have to support the development of gas. Investment in gas is very critical. We are trying it in Uganda, where we are importing LPG to replace charcoal and firewood because LPG is better. And we have our plan — we are distributing free gas cylinders to citizens, together with their cooking stoves, so that they will be buying only the gas. We are going to establish a factory to manufacture gas cylinders in Uganda as we wait for our gas to come out in 2025, we are importing gas, because LPG is better than charcoal. Our gas is going to come from the fields we are developing — Kingfisher and Tilenga.

Financing has been a big issue at these Cop meetings for many years now. What are your hopes on the financing front this year, particularly when we're talking about pledges the northern hemisphere made to help fund the transition in the southern hemisphere?

This Cop must see action. Africa needs money. We need to see commitments being implemented, as without detailed commitments from Cop 27, countries are going to be demoralised.

Do you think we'll be having different conversations around finance when we all meet for the Cop conference next year in Abu Dhabi?

I hope so. And I want to assure you that Uganda will be showcasing its agenda in renewables, because we have projects we have been working on. Our LPG project will be at play. We want to use natural gas from Tanzania. I want to convert our power plant which generates 50MW to use natural gas. We have a number of projects we are going to implement, and we hope we'll be able to exhibit these in Abu Dhabi next year at Cop 28.


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