A Case For 260 NGO’s Pushing Back Against Oil pipeline In Africa To Consider Ground Realities

The joint effort by NGO' to stall work on the pipeline by calling on banks to refuse financing, seems to ignore the hard realities of the ground situation in energy starved Africa. Especially by not offering any substantial solutions

That sustainability will always face a challenge of being equitable as well as right, has been brought to the fore with the latest pushback against a much delayed oil pipeline project in East Africa. The $3.5 billion East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project is the culmination of years of effort by Uganda, where oil was discovered back in 2005-6, to find a way to take the oil out from the land locked country.

The French Total and China National Oil Company have finally been roped in to evacuate the crude oil, in a pipeline that will run over 1445 kms through Uganda as well as Tanzanian territory, to eventually reach the seaport of Tanga in Tanzania.  With Tanzanian approval in, all the project apparently needs is to tie up its financing. Which is where these influential charities have come in.

They make the reasonable point that the environmental damage caused by the pipeline, at a time when the world is pushing for more sustainable solutions, is immense. A claimed 14,000 families stand to be affected through the route of the pipeline. Africa’s largest lake, Lake Victoria in Tanzania has also been flagged at risk, as the pipeline will pass through its basin, which sustains  more than 40 million people from countries including Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi.

Close to 263 charities have banded together to urge banks to refuse financing for the project.  These include the Africa Institute for Energy Governance, the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth .  What these charities have not proposed is an alternative that would make the sort of impact on national income, and the quality of lives for people in the region, if plans proceed as expected. Notwithstanding the cost to the environment.

Today, the majority (over 75% ) of the 770m people without electricity access in the world reside in Africa. Uganda’s per capita carbon emissions have not increased for the past 5 years, at 0.13 tonnes. Similarly, the country’s per capita income is at a subsistence level $860 per person.  Emissions per capita in the US are at 16 tonnes, for comparison.  And income at $63,000. Those are numbers  that will make anyone stopping the pipeline project take a reality check. For stopping a project in a country that has minimal impact on the damage caused to the environment , from a position made possible by exactly the opposite in their backer countries.

By pushing financing institutions to ostracise the project, they simply risk pushing countries like Uganda into the arms of more willing but expensive institutions, reducing the amount the country would earn from the project . As has happened in many other parts of the world. Even as giant pipeline projects and oil exploration efforts continue unhindered in the developed markets, which can certainly afford to do more without causing as much mind numbing pain to a population at $860 per capita.

The whole African continent contributes well under 5 percent to global carbon emissions. The continent’s challenges for energy transition are well known, especially the lack of a functional distribution network in a majority of the countries. The solutions offered to them have been expensive and polluting diesel genset powered electricity, or off grid electricity dependent on grants and still too expensive by developing country standards.  That is one reason countries in the continent has responded so strongly  to a body lie the International Solar Association(ISA), where progress remains slow, limited mostly by again, access to financing.

Well meaning NGO’s would be well advised to throw their considerable clout and resources into ensuring more financing in fact, to large, solar projects in the continent that would do more than enough to set off the environmental cost of the pipeline, than move to stop everything. Doing the latter only hardens views in these countries against well intentioned but poorly directed efforts.

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Prasanna Singh

Prasanna Singh

Prasanna Singh is the founder at IamRenew

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