Uganda: Multi-Billion East African Crude Oil Pipeline Forging Ahead Despite Stiff Opposition #AfricaClimateCrisis

Harare — Africa is rich in clean energy sources, such as sun and wind, but despite this abundant sunshine, ideal for renewable energy production, the continent relies heavily on crude oil. Nigeria was the leading oil producer in Africa in 2021, with oil production of roughly 78 million metric tons, and Libya, Algeria, and Angola followed, each with an output above 50 million metric tons, a German company specialising in market and consumer data, according to Statista.

Nigeria lost its crown as Africa’s largest crude producer as Angola surpassed the country for the first time in more than five years.

Now in East Africa, the construction of an environmentally devastating oil pipeline that threatens to derail vital targets set out in the Paris Agreement, is on the cards. The oil deal signed in February 2022 by France’s TotalEnergies and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation is looking to exploit crude oil reserves under Lake Albert, on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Experts say the East African Crude Oil Pipe Line (EACOP), a pipeline from Uganda to Tanzania will produce 25 times the host nations’ combined annual emissions, with the International Energy Agency (IEA) warning that the world risked not meeting its climate goals if new fossil fuel projects were not stopped, writes Damian Carrington for The Guardian. However, Uganda and Tanzania say their priority is economic development.

At the just concluded 7th Uganda Oil and Gas Summit, held from September 27-28, investments in fossil fuels projects were discussed, with the managing director of East African Crude Oil Pipeline Limited (EACOP) apparently renewing commitments and assurances that the crude oil export pipeline project is compliant with international human rights, environmental and social requirements standards.

But how could this be, considering that the project will not only result in 379 million tons of climate-heating pollution according to The Guardian, but also rip through some sensitive areas protecting elephants, lions and chimpanzees, when it transports oil drilled in a biodiverse national park in Uganda more than 870 miles to a port in Tanzania for export?

French oil company TotalEnergies and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), the main backers of the multi-billion dollar project have chosen to embark on the EACOP project when scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the International Energy Agency and the United Nations are calling for an immediate halt to all new fossil fuel initiatives.

Why?

Local and international climate change activists say the pipeline only serves the interests of big business over those of poor countries on the frontlines of the climate emergency. Governments, companies and organisations, many of whom remain dependent on the money that big oil advertising provides continue to support the construction, claiming that the pipeline will bring not only Uganda but the region, huge benefits.

The activists are pushing against the construction of the world’s longest heated oil pipeline, and launched a campaign dubbed #STOPEACOP in a bid to stop the multi-billion project. They want the government to stop the project in order to reflect it’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions and energy transition.

But in Uganda, environmental activists don’t have much space to mobilise and engage in actions such as protests that are needed to create pressure. On October 4, at least nine students were arrested on their way to the European Union (EU) offices to protest the Uganda-Tanzania oil pipeline project. The students were part of a larger group that carried placards, calling on French energy giant TotalEnergies to “Stop EACOP” as they marched through the city.

TotalEnergies argues that the project addresses pressing energy needs.

“During this transition phase, in which TotalEnergies is fully engaged, the world still needs oil and reasonably priced oil, now and for a few years to come. This is the very purpose of the project, which provides for oil production over 20 years. More than anything, the energy transition is about social acceptability,” according to TotalEnergies.

“Uganda is a sovereign state that made a strategic decision to exploit its natural resources. Whether with TotalEnergies or another company, Uganda will tap into its resources. To stop Uganda from exploiting its natural resources in order to develop as a country on the grounds that we, as Europeans, have over-polluted or are over-polluting could be regarded as paternalistic, cynical, and selfish to the say least.”

The French multi-energy company says it does not intend to just produce Ugandan oil, but also to be a major player in renewable energy in Uganda and to meet the local population’s vital everyday needs through measures like electrification and access to water.

Total Energies is leading the EACOP, with a 62% shareholding, followed by Uganda National Oil Company and Tanzania Petroleum Development Company with 15% each, and China National Offshore Oil Corporation with a 8% shareholding, according to Climate Tracker. With EACOP expected to pump 216,000 barrels of oil per day from new oil fields in Uganda, a country at the frontline of the climate crisis.

The UN has already said coal, oil and gas – are by far the largest contributor to global climate change, accounting for over 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90% of all carbon dioxide emissions. As greenhouse gas emissions blanket the Earth, they trap the sun’s heat. The UN has repeatedly called for divestment from fossil fuels as the impact of the climate crisis becomes increasingly dire around the world, but more so in Africa, where countries contribute least to the current emergency.

Tanzania and Uganda’s governments have been accused of ignoring environmental concerns and lacking transparency, with warnings of polluting lakes and rivers and destroying invaluable biodiversity. In 2021, an alliance of over 260 African and international environmental and human rights organisations claimed another win when some international banks indicated opting out of funding the project, Climate Tracker reports. Then in March 2022, a group of activists met Pope Francis at the Vatican to ask for his support to stop the construction of the EACOP.

It is not clear whether in the near future, the stakeholders listen to the UN’s dire warning and stop the oil pipeline. However, for now it seems the project is forging ahead, with or without the approval of the UN.

The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, more commonly referred to COP27 or Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), kicks off on November 6, and how to balance economic development as well as fight climate change is set to dominate discussions in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

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