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Senegal's oil boom sparks climate change fears

The Place de l'Indépendence in Dakar
The Place de l'Indépendence in Dakar Wikimedia Commons/mostroneddo

Senegal's growing oil sector received a 25-million-euro boost from the World Bank on Wednesday to help it negotiate complex oil and gas contracts. But the oil boom has sparked concerns the country may not keep its commitment to the Paris climate deal.


Producers say Dakar could be sitting on upwards of one billion barrels of petrol with production slated to begin in 2021.

While the world waited Thursday for President Donald Trump to decide whether the US would stay committed to the Paris climate deal, the World Bank deal raised concerns that Senegal may not live up to its own commitment to the fight against climate change. 

Dakar is experiencing a huge oil rush and has been since Edinburgh-based Cairn Energy struck oil in its deep waters in 2014.

Since then the country has seen multinationals flock to its deep and ultra-deep offshores. French oil giant Total is the most recent. Senegal signed two agreements with the company back in May allowing it to contribute to its exploration activities.

However, the World Bank says Dakar needs to be adequately equipped to negotiate complex oil and gas contracts with its new producers.

"These are significant findings for the country, gas and oil, and particularly natural gas," said Louise Cord, the World Bank Country Director for Senegal.

"We wanted to make sure that the country, which has no real background to speak of in oil and gas, had access to the best possible technical assistance."

Total in, energy minister out

The same day Senegal signed its exploration deal with Total, President Macky Sall sacked his oil and energy minister, Thierno Alassane Sall.

"There was a bit of a controversy around that decision," Hélène Raiga-Clémenceau, a consultant with the London-based firm Africa Matters, told RFI.

"However in terms of the sector progressing and moving forward it's perceived as a very good sign."

The oil and gas sector is likely to progress further now with the World Bank's decision to provide Senegal with 25 million euros.

The only catch is that a robust oil sector risks compromising Senegal's commitments to the Paris climate deal, under which Dakar promised to reduce its gas emissions by 21 percent and this by 2020.

Growing energy needs v Cop21 commitment

"Macky Sall has been very committed to the Cop21 accord," Louise Cord claims.

"The government currently has 90 percent of its energy from heavy fuel. The objective is to move the government from such a heavy dependence on heavy fuel and coal towards natural gas which has a much smaller carbon foot print."

For her part, Raiga-Clémenceau says Macky Sall has taken great strides on the renewable front.

"At least four major solar energy projects got off the ground in 2016," she points out. "There's a clear track record there. But on the other hand, because of the growing middle class and the growing demand in the oil and gas sector there also needs to be progress on that front."

"Senegal like other African countries has tremendous energy needs," says for his part Damien Somé, a Research Fellow at the Africa Progress Panel, which published a report on sustainable development in 2015.

"It's a dilemma, because at the same time they are facing a huge energy deficit, with all the economic and social consequences that we know, so you can understand why they want to branch out to the oil sector."

Senegal in the past has faced a severe electricity crisis which resulted in regular power cuts that sparked demonstrations, sometimes violent, in Dakar and its suburbs, home to a quarter of the population.

"On the other hand they have to be mindful, they have to keep up with their climate pledges," continues Somé, "it's all about finding the right balance."

Oil paradox

In Dakar the feeling is that the oil boom could be good for the country's development.

"Senegal and other Sahelian countries still need resources to fund their development and to fund the adapatation of their people in the country to climate change," Amadoue Gaye, director of research at the University of Dakar, told RFI.

"As you know this [the Cop21 commitment] is voluntary and the Senegalese experts have worked to reconcile our development needs and our contribution to the global effort to the reduction of greenhouse gases."

As Gaye reminds us, the Paris climate deal was never legally binding, so there is bound to be some ambiguity and contradictions.

"It might seem a paradox," agrees Raiga-Clémenceau in reference to using proceeds from the oil and gas sector to fund climate mitigation. "But I think from the government's perspective it's a very pragmatic way to diversify Senegal's energy mix."

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