Cape Town — Joshua Volz, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Europe, Eurasia, Africa, Middle East in the US Department of Energy, is in Cape Town, South Africa, for Africa Energy Week, and his first stop is Critical Minerals Africa 2023. allAfrica’s Juanita Williams finds out how Volz and the department mean to partner with Africa’s leaders, the importance of the Lobito Corridor, and moving towards a model where decarbonisation and energy access are both priorities.
This interview was edited for clarity and brevity
What does scaling up engagement with mining markets on the continent mean for your department?
The mining aspect of our engagement with our African partners, is obviously going to be incredibly important moving forward, as we look at developing the energy technologies that are going to really advance the decarbonisation of energy systems and advance increased access to energy was certainly an issue that we focused on a lot in terms of our engagement with our African partners. So, we’ve got a couple pieces of legislation that we passed in the United States to try and kind of provide some additional support to those efforts.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which is designed to modernise, and upgrade American infrastructure, derive good paying union jobs. All the while and kind of addressing the climate crisis and ensure additional environmental and economic benefits for disadvantaged communities. It’s kind of the model that we are using and the platform that we’re using to engage with a lot of our partners that provide $9 billion in funding for 14 critical federal related provisions.
So that’s the kind of the platform there that we’re using, to engage not just within the United States, but internationally with our partners in some of the areas that we’re looking to really advance and accelerate our progress in the mining sector … The ability to work with partners locally to help them increase the value add that they see from their extractive industry and help them move up the value chain.
So it’s not the same kind of traditional model of extraction, removal, and a single shot and economic benefit, but rather the ability to partner with our African counterparts to see the value-add increase throughout the value chain of those resources, and to develop opportunities to process those resources here in-country to create diversified and secure supply chains that will be essential for our emerging technologies.
The development of the Lobito corridor – that’s an example of the work that you’ve just spoken about.
The Lobito corridor is sort of a proof of concept scenario. It’s a very large first foray and proof of concept coming out of President Biden’s Partnership for Infrastructure and Investment. BGII, is the acronym that we use. That corridor is an incredibly important logistics corridor for the movement of not just material but also human capital as well. And it’s designed to try and open up markets and mobilise workforces and the capital necessary, again, to create additional good paying jobs in the clean energy sector, and accelerate the decarbonisation of energy systems and the access to energy throughout the continent.
It’s a kind of a three-country parlay with Zambia, Tanzania and the DRC. And, again, we’re very much looking at it as a first foray – a demonstration of what we can do to mobilise those resources and partner with African countries to help them mobilise their own internal resources and reach the goals for economic development that they have set for themselves, while creating the long-term durable partnerships in this important space in our rare and critical minerals, as well as the processing, and hopefully eventually manufacture of the elements that we are going to need as critical components of the energy transition.
For years now, people have been talking about a scramble for Africa. And it’s clearly in full swing, because while many countries are getting involved in investment on the continent, many of the countries they are dealing with, like the DRC, are in conflict at the moment, and these are countries that are rich in minerals. People have made connections between conflict and being mineral-rich and having a lot of mining activities. What’s your department’s take on that?
Well, you’re absolutely right, Juanita, unfortunately, a lot of our African partners are facing conflict, and struggle that is associated with the extractive industry. And that is, again, very much, I think, part and parcel of an outdated model and partnership and an outdated model of development. That just, again, provides single opportunity, access to economic benefit from those resources. And then once those resources are gone, there’s no more economic value to be had. And a lot of conflicts, I think comes from a lack of access to that economic opportunity and it certainly derives and exacerbates those conflicts.
So we are seeking, as I said, to create long-term relationships that fosters secure supply chain, and create a much broader and much richer economic opportunity for our African partners. That traditional extraction model currently exists. And I think you’re seeing a lot of that traditional model start to wear thin with our African partners, from some of the other countries, and partners that you mentioned, that are very much active in the, as you call it, the resource scramble in Africa.
And so what we’re hoping to do from the US perspective is offer a different model, and a model that doesn’t foster conflict, but rather to create additional economic opportunities to make those conflicts less relevant in the conversation, and to provide resources to those communities involved in those conflicts that feel left out. And so that’s really at the heart of the kind of new model partnership that we’re looking to expand upon both through our Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, but also the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment of which the Lobito corridor is kind of our, again, first proof of concept here in Africa.
Earlier you mentioned the just energy transition on the continent. South Africa is involved in that process, right?
So the just energy transition programme is something that we are also spending a lot of time focusing on and are an active conversation with our South African partners, as well as partners throughout the programme as it continues to develop and come up with concrete ideas, and areas with which we can deploy that capital against which the Justice Energy Transition partnership has committed.
And so I know there’s been some frustration about the speed and rapidity with which those resources have flowed. But really, for us, it’s a matter of coming together and working with our counterparts here in South Africa, to identify concrete projects and concrete initiatives that are the priority of the South African government that we can fund and then we can partner with them on.
You know, it’s for us, not what we can do for Africa, but what we can we can do with Africa. And so we’re very much engaged actively with our counterparts here in Pretoria, and throughout the country, coming up with that menu of engagement options that meet African priorities against which we can then start to match some of that funding.
And we’re hoping that we will see some additional detail and granularity on the Republic of South Africa’s priorities for the Just Energy Transition programme before the end of the year, and we’ve heard that there may be some desire to have an announcement by South Africa in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, around COP28 in late November, early December. It’s an active conversation and it’s one that really needs to be led by our South African partners. And then we will be able to mobilise those resources in partnership with them against those priorities.
I’m staying on transitioning, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has called for no new oil and developments if we want a livable future, yet there are new projects from the US and many other Western countries. Why are those developments being pushed through?
One of the things that we’ve heard loud and clear from our African partners here at the opening of Africa Energy Week was the importance of being able to develop those hydrocarbon resources that are here on the continent, for the benefit of the African people. And we recognise that oil and gas is going to play an important role in the global energy mix, as we move towards an increasingly decarbonised and renewable energy-centred system. Those resources, as we’ve discussed earlier, aren’t going to go away in the short term.
So I think we what have to do is come to a practical understanding that as these resources continue to be developed, we can either partner with the producers of those resources, that will be a critical part of it. And for the foreseeable future, … to develop those resources in a cleaner and greener and more efficient way, using carbon capture, using state of the art technology for methane leak detection and abatement, principles of transparency and reporting for those carbon footprint elements in the development of those resources.
So that we can as a global community of producers and consumers, hold each other accountable for how we’re doing in terms of the decarbonisation of those important resources … because many of the places in the world where these hydrocarbon resources will find a home for export market destinations, are increasingly demanding that additional transparency and an accounting for the carbon footprint of that resource and most recently, our partners in Europe have entered into force the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism at the beginning of this month (October 2023).
They will impose financial costs based upon the carbon intensity of the products that’s being imported into Europe. And that’s something that’s certainly an important element in determining the choices that countries and consumers make in terms of goods, services and energy supplies that they choose.
You are attending, in Cape Town, the Critical Minerals Africa 2023. What’s the best outcome you can see for the conference?
Well, it really is an incredible gathering of thought leaders throughout the continent, and it’s incredible opportunity for us to be here and engage with a number of our partners. I think …we have to figure out a way to move in parallel …to prioritise energy access and the elimination of energy poverty, but also prioritise at the same time decarbonisation and more efficient ways to produce those energy resources and to create the economic opportunities from energy resources here on the continent.
And I think a realisation and a recognition that both must be done. And that a new model of partnership … is going to be essential in addressing the multifaceted element of the current energy system challenge, which is one, the affordability and access energy to the security of those energy resources. And three, the decarbonisation and the carbon footprint climate element of those energy resources.
So I think that would be a really welcome outcome … how we operationalize those those goals … what are the concrete steps that can be taken to create those new partnerships between government and the private sector, between stakeholders and communities that are very important to be included in the conversation when it comes to energy development, both from an extractive perspective, but also from an energy transition perspective ….
Thanks so much. Is there anything else that you’d like to speak on?
The big takeaway that I hope to leave with a lot of our partners in conversations this week at the conferences that one, we recognise the challenge that our African partners face, providing economic opportunity, good paying jobs, and access to energy, and that we are driving towards a carbon neutral energy system and energy future at net zero by the 2050 goal.
But that does not have to come at the expense of the goal that our national partners have of eradicating the energy poverty and additional economic opportunity within their countries. And I hope that we are seen as a partner that can do both. And that is here to assist in those economic development priorities. But to do so in a new way with a new model.