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OP-ED: South-South Energy Initiative Led by Ghana

ACCRA, GHANA , Oct 28 2013 (IPS) - In Nairobi next week, the Global South South Development Expo 2013 will showcase how developing countries can share the know-how to develop “green” economies.

So it might seem strange that such countries as diverse in development and geography as Bolivia, Trinidad & Tobago, Timor Leste, Qatar, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Mozambique, and others, including my own, Ghana, are using the event to introduce an initiative to improve the oil and gas industries of the developing world.

We plan for the South-South Energy Initiative, SSEI, to start its own permanent secretariat, hosted by Ghana in Accra, next March.

In reality, there is no contradiction.  oil and gas are essential to modern economies, even green ones, and our Initiative is addressing the question of how these resources can develop and enrich  our people without contributing more to disaster-threatening climate change.

Just like the industrialised North, we in the developing South will be dependent on fossil fuels for the foreseeable future: and poor countries cannot afford to perpetuate their own poverty for the sake of ideological purity.

The latest technologies have allowed many southern countries that once imported their oil and gas to develop new found reserves. The reduction in their import bills and the increase in their export revenues are fuelling social and economic development, and that is why emerging and existing oil and gas producing countries of the South are establishing the SSEI.

They want to pool the best ways to ensure efficient and clean production and equally to ensure equitable distribution of revenues both inside their countries and with outside companies and countries that provide needed capital and technology.

While OPEC and other regional organizations address price levels, our concern is to use the revenues responsibly and sustainably, avoiding the mistakes made in the past by others.

And the best way to learn is from each other, from countries facing similar challenges or from countries that have overcome similar challenges. That is why, for example, I recently signed a deal with our neighbour Equatorial Guinea for Ghana to tap its expertise in prospecting for hydrocarbons.

Building on an existing agreement our two countries will cooperate in the production, storage, transportation and commercialization of oil and gas, for which we have great expectations.

We are well aware, from looking at some of our predecessors, that oil and gas discoveries can be a mixed blessing, economically, socially and environmentally. Indeed, many of the new oil and gas rich countries of the South are themselves islands or coastal states threatened by rising sea levels and unstable climates and the countries that are committing to the SSEI overwhelmingly put environmental concerns as  one of their highest priorities.

So we are committed to developing and sharing the best know-how to minimize emissions and pollution from production. But there is also the “social know-how” of oil and gas finance and legal protections and regulation. SSEI members have already seen the benefits of  exchanging their know-how since the initiative started.

In future they will increasingly share their experience of how to ensure that the wealth extracted from their territory benefits their people. For example, Brazil’s recent trail-blazing agreement ensures that financial and developmental benefits return to the people yet promise enough returns that international companies wanted to provide capital and expertise for the massive Libra off-shore field.

One persistent principle for SSEI members is transparency, which affects so many other issues. The passage of the petroleum revenue management act and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) is a clear example of our commitment to openness and transparency.

Our initiative, offering a pipeline to know-how, will give responsible global corporations access to a network of energy producing governments committed to providing a clear framework for investment decisions and technology sharing and help build a transparent framework of law and regulation with similar high standards across the emerging energy producers.  Some of our oil and gas might well flow North, but we hope that the benefits will consistently flow south.

(* Emmanuel Armah-Kofi Buahis Ghanas Minister for Energy and Petroleum. He played an important role in the  production of Ghanas first oil from the Jubilee field in November, 2010 and has been a major proponent of South-South cooperation in the energy sector.)

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