from FLETCHER HARPER in Nairobi, Kenya
NAIROBI, (CAJ News) – FROM its offices near the Eiffel Tower, the International Energy Agency routinely issues reports which shape the energy policy of governments and corporations globally.
So in May 2021, when the IEA announced that the world could afford no new fossil fuel projects to meet the net zero greenhouse gas emissions goal by 2050, it was no surprise that news outlets worldwide ran the story.
But a year after the announcement from IEA headquarters, a mere three kilometers south at the Total Energies offices and three kilometers northeast at the Elysee Palace, the message has not yet arrived. TotalEnergies, with diplomatic assistance from the French government and investment from the China National Offshore Oil Corporation has continued to support the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), a massive project in Uganda and Tanzania.
The logic behind EACOP reveals a colonialist, extractivist worldview that should be immediately recognizable as moral nonsense. First, from a climate perspective, EACOP would transport oil which will produce more than the annual combined emissions of Uganda and Tanzania. At least 70% of the oil from the project will be exported while only 25% of Ugandans and 35% of Tanzanians have regular access to modern sources of energy.
EACOP would affect over 100,000 persons, including thousands of small farmers, with compensation that is either inadequate, late or even non-existent. The project will endanger water sources that millions of people rely upon for drinking and food production. It will put at risk some of the world’s most important elephant, lion and chimpanzee reserves. It will open more irreplaceable ecosystems to oil extraction.
Uganda and Tanzania need investments to help them ensure universal access to clean, affordable energy, not a fossil fuel pipeline that will displace thousands of families and accelerate climate change. Why is the French government, host of the UN conference that produced the Paris Climate Agreement, supporting a project that renders that agreement’s goals unattainable? Why is TotalEnergies, which claims to care about the climate, so stubbornly unwilling to change?
EACOP supporters claim that the project will benefit Tanzania and Uganda economically. Some politicians claim that EACOP opponents want to prevent African countries from developing. Uganda’s President Yuweri Museveni, whose intolerance of dissent and disregard for human rights is well-documented, has derided EACOP’s opponents with baseless ad hominem attacks.
Experts have pointed out that fossil fuel projects in Africa have repeatedly failed to deliver the prosperity and jobs they promise but instead have “deepened inequality, caused environmental damage, stoked corruption, and encouraged political repression.” New fossil fuel projects, they remind us, create far fewer jobs and benefits than originally promised, and leave in their wake environmental and humanitarian “sacrificial zones” while benefits flow to global north investors and political and business elites.
The argument against EACOP is not only about stopping a new fossil fuel project. It is about creating a more ethical, effective development path for Africa. The continent has the best solar energy potential of any continent, but has under one percent of the world’s installed solar capacity. Solar and wind power are already price-competitive with fossil fuels and all of Africa could be powered by renewables by 2050, largely leapfrogging the dirty development pathway that has created the climate crisis in the first place. Such an approach would create far more jobs and less social harm compared to a fossil fuel-powered approach.
In Africa and France, religious communities have raised our voices in unified opposition to EACOP. A 2019 visit by Total executives to the Vatican backfired when the executives’ approach struck faith participants as one-sided and patronizing. Leaders and members of Tanzanian and Ugandan religious communities have assembled peacefully, with the required permits, to voice concerns about EACOP destroying their homes and livelihoods, desecrating their family burial plots, and forcing them to move. They have been met with threats, destruction of personal property, and physical restraint by the police. In early June, African faith representatives joined their French counterparts in Paris at protests at the TotalEnergies annual shareholder meeting.
Organizing by civil society groups, including religious organizations, has forced insurance firms including AXA, Munich RE and Allianz, and 11 banks to pull out of the project, or to confirm that they will not be involved. The list includes the US banks which are among the world’s biggest funders of fossil fuel projects, such as JPMorgan Chase and Citi. However, too many financial institutions have refused to rule out support. The project faces a $3 billion financing gap. Religious groups are committed to standing by our civil society partners to prevent that gap from closing.
TotalEnergies, the French government, Insurance and Reinsurance companies and EACOP’s financial backers, including Standard Bank and Sumitomo Mitsui Bank, all claim to be serious about fighting climate change. Stopping EACOP and increasing their investment in African renewables would be a good place for them to start.
NB: The writer is the Executive Director, GreenFaith
– CAJ News