"Only after the last tree has been cut down, Only after the last river has been poisoned, Only after the last fish has been caught, Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten." Cree Indian Prophecy
We are writing with concern about a proposal from a technical committee of the African Union for an “African Common Position on Energy Access and Transition” to be launched at COP27.
For the reasons set out below we, the undersigned organizations, representing movements and civil society groups from across Africa, urge you to reject the proposed “common position”.
We believe that the proposed “common position”, developed by a committee made up of national energy and transportation officials:
Has been prepared hurriedly and without adequate consultation with scientists, experts and officials responsible for climate change and, as a result, lacks a proper scientific or evidential basis;
Is inconsistent with the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the International Energy Agency and the UN Environment Programme; and lacks critical analysis about the causes of energy poverty, the energy transition required, long-term climate policy scenarios, the associated risks of stranded assets, the threat of fossil fuel production to sustainable development and much more.
We believe that the recommendation included in the proposed “common position” to make fossil fuels a “crucial part” of Africa’s short, medium and long-term energy mix:
Will not address the Committee’s own aims relating to energy access and transition;
Is inconsistent with the Paris Agreement’s climate target of 1.5 °C, the existing African Common Position on Climate Change, and the goals of COP27;
Risks levels of global heating with catastrophic consequences for Africa; and
Is inconsistent with Africa’s wider development objectives, putting Agenda 2063 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals at risk.
The Committee’s position has been hurriedly prepared, yet is now being advanced rapidly for adoption by African Heads of State, and for endorsement by AGN, AMCEN and CAHOSCC. Despite focussing on “energy access” and “energy transition” it makes no specific recommendations to scale up renewable energy production or to provide energy to 600 million Africans who currently lack access. Instead, it prioritises the interests of the fossil fuel industry and European governments by seeking to expand fossil fuel infrastructure, production and exports.
This development comes on the back of a recent vote by the European Union to re-classify both fossil gas and nuclear energy projects as “green,” making them eligible for low-cost loans and subsidies. The underlying reason for this is the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with Europe now pivoting to Africa to achieve its own energy security. Read together, we believe there is a risk Africa’s energy investments will be skewed into producing fossil fuels for European consumption, and not energy access or transition for Africans.
In particular, the “dash for gas” in Africa is dangerous and short-sighted. Investing limited resources in fossil gas will strand assets and economies while threatening potential investments into affordable, easily deployable, accessible, much-needed renewable energy for the people.
Rather than provide Europe with more climate-damaging fossil fuels, Africa’s development agenda and the climate emergency call on us to rapidly shift away from harmful fossil fuels-based technologies towards a renewable energy future.
If adopted by our Heads of State, the proposed position could clear the way for COP27 to be used as platforms to justify a massive scaling-up of fossil gas production in Africa, distracting from the clear case for renewables, locking the continent into fossil fuels for decades to come, while also shifting dangerous nuclear technologies that Europeans do not want onto African soil.
This is a moment that requires urgent action. We believe that the AU technical committee has made a serious mistake. We are calling on you as our Heads of State and Ministers responsible for the energy and climate future of our continent to reject the proposed common position, and to instead:
Announce a fossil fuel policy in line with Africa’s development interests and the recommendations of the IPCC, IEA and other scientific organisations that confirms the African Union condemns and does not support new coal, oil or gas related projects on the African continent.
Foster transparent and meaningful dialogue with citizens and policy-makers across the continent to build a shared African narrative and agenda to tackle the linked challenges of climate, energy and development; and
Based on this dialogue, develop a science- and evidence-based African common position on energy access and transition that prioritizes Africa’s need to urgently move away from harmful fossil fuels towards a transformed energy system that is clean, renewable, democratic and actually serves its peoples.
Today the Say No to Gas! Campaign website is going live! The campaign, co-ordinated by JA! aims to bring an end to the gas industry in Mozambique and all over the world. We are focusing on the regions of Cabo Delgado, Inhambane and Nampula provinces in Mozambique, fighting an industry whose tentacles are spreading out around country, the African continent and the world.
We are working on the ground in Mozambique, and supported by an international coalition that challenges the impunity of the gas industry, exposing its violations and threats to human rights, environmental destruction and climate impact everywhere in the world, fighting the culprits in their own countries.
The website is a rich depository for anyone who wants to learn about the gas struggle, the devastating impacts, the facts about gas, companies, financiers and governments fuelling the industry, reports and regular updates.
This is a critical time at the European Union (EU) when it comes to human suffering and climate impacts caused by transnational corporations, with particular emphasis on fossil fuel corporations, who continue to take deliberate actions to burn the planet. An important new law has been put forward,’called the EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive’, which is still being discussed.
However, this law leaves much to be desired, and in its current form, can provide companies, investor states and financial institutions with an easy tick-box exercise, and loopholes, that will enable them to continue creating devastation of the earth, climate and peoples with impunity. The case of the gas industry in Cabo Delgado, northern Mozambique, is a concrete example of how this can happen and is already happening.
Many organisations in Europe including Friends of the Earth Europe have been fighting the passing of this law in its current form and partnered with JA!’s activists at the EU Commission in Brussels in May, to speak to Ministers in the European Parliament (MEP).
The majority of players in the Cabo Delgado gas industry are international, and many are from countries within the EU, such as Total from France, Eni from Italy, Galp from Portugal and French, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish and Danish banks, to name a few.
Many of these oil, coal and gas companies register subsidiaries in the country where they operate, such as Mozambique, and because the current draft EU law says that only ‘big’ companies can be held accountable, this will enable these subsidiaries to get away with their abuses and violations at a domestic level, especially in countries with weakened systems of justice.
Another major issue is that the topic of Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) needs to be clear and strong. For one, it is only mentioned in an annex, and uses the term ‘consultation’ rather than consent, meaning that communities will only have to be informed of the project. It fails to ensure a clear right to say ‘no’, when local communities do not accept a specific project in their territories for fearing its foreseeable impacts. Secondly, it does not take into account the difficulties that come with actually obtaining this consent, the fact that even consent can be bought, coerced or threatened into. This related to what is meant by ‘a legitimate consultation’. For example, in Cabo Delgado, Total’s consultation process with affected communities has been a sham. When Total representatives visited and visit communities for these consultation meetings, they are accompanied by a military entourage. This, along with the presence of leaders who have a beneficial relationship with the company, means that community members are too afraid to speak out and dissent, even if they disagree, and ultimately many signed compensation agreements in public and in a language they did not understand. Yet Total was able to tick the boxes required for a legitimate process.
In general, there is not enough emphasis on preventing harm, and far more on remedy. It does not deal with what should be the foundation of the discussion, which is that there should be no harm or violations committed in the first place, and that appropriate punitive and coercive sanctions must be put in place when they are committed.
Burden of proof is too high.
In many laws, including in this draft EU law, the burden is on the claimant to prove the crime, which in this case means that corporations are innocent until proven guilty, and the assumption is that communities are not telling the truth. Communities are expected to show that their human rights were violated, amongst all difficulties linked to the asymmetry of power and complicity with national governments, while companies will only need to show that they followed the required processes needed for a project to be developed in that area. In order for community complaints to be considered ‘credible’, they are expected to provide information that is not easy for them to come by, such as written documentation and emails, video and photographic evidence, and named testimonies and witnesses, to show that the companies did not act in compliance with the law and international norms and standards. Amidst global overlapping crisis strongly linked to the power and impunity of these transnational corporations, the burden of proof should be on the companies to prove they are not responsible for the harm, or that they cannot control companies in their global value chains.
The legislation does not recognise that people cannot provide this information – they often do not have access to technology, knowledge of the language used, information in writing and in many cases their lives would be at risk for speaking out.
In the case of Cabo Delgado many mainstream media articles coming out toe the government line and there have been instances where journalists who tell the truth have been arrested and tortured, or even disappeared. Media, civil society and government officials who enter the gas area are accompanied by a military and government entourage, which makes it unlikely that communities will talk about their experiences honestly. These obstacles are not taken into account.
And on climate change
The draft EU law is not clear about companies’ compliance with the Paris Agreement and keeping below the 1.5 oC degree emissions target. Instead, it speaks of ‘compatibility’ which leaves much room for industry to claim that the agreement is ‘open to interpretation’ as they have done before several times.
As long as essential issues in the draft EU law are not addressed, including binding law on compliance with climate agreements, the reversal of the burden of proof and the establishment of clear provisions to deal with neocolonial power dynamics and systemically exploitative nature of big transnational companies , it will be yet another stamp with which the industry will show off its deceiving processes to ‘meet requirements’.
When governments are questioned on their unwillingness to sanction companies and financiers, they often claim that ‘holding dialogue’ with these companies is more effective in the long run. They have said, in several instances, that sanctioning companies should be the last resort, and will lead to them having no input into companies’ actions whatsoever. This system of continued dialogue is clearly not working -companies are continuing to act with impunity – and instead, institutions like the EU need to take ‘take responsibility for the harms of its companies, with great impacts in the global South, and take a step further to actually sanctioning them.
The insufficiency and limitations of a regional legislation
At a broader level, and even though EU corporate regulation laws are undoubtedly needed, this Due Diligence directive will not solve the global problem of corporate impunity. A regional directive – especially one linked with such a weak concept as ‘due diligence’ – must complement the process towards a UN legally binding instrument to regulate transnational companies in international human rights law (the ‘UN binding treaty on TNCs’), ongoing since 2014. Surprisingly enough, the reluctance of the EU and most of its member States to adequately engage in the UN binding treaty negotiations has been reaffirmed session after session and, unsurprisingly, heavily criticized by civil society from across the world.
Without a global level playing field, companies will continue choosing the best places to violate human rights and cause economic, social, environmental and climate impacts. Or choosing the best jurisdiction to register their parent companies. Both the EU and UN laws must include direct legal obligations to companies, affirm the primacy of human rights over trade and investment agreements, and establish judicial enforcement mechanisms. The negotiations of these or any laws aimed at regulating corporate activities should logically be protected from corporate capture and influence. The EU must include several key elements in its new directive in order for it to be meaningful – and this effort must be accompanied by the EU finally taking up its responsibility to start engaging actively and constructively in the negotiations for an ambitious and effective UN binding treaty.
Ending corporate impunity must necessarily mean that we close the legal loopholes and gaps which allow transnational corporations to evade responsibility – at national, regional and international levels.
This week marks the 10th anniversary of the Marikana massacre, the day that striking South African mineworkers were violently attacked by the police, who killed 37 unarmed people. The police, government, company and even current President Cyril Ramaphosa, who were all directly involved, have not been held accountable for their crimes, and have gotten away, literally, with murder.
On the 16 August 2012, rockdrillers at Lonmin platinum mine were on strike, after a week of protests, demanding a basic, decent, liveable salary of R12 500 (MT 43 600 at the time) a month, on which the company refused to negotiate. The men were gathered on a hill, when the police opened live fire, unprovoked, and many men met horrific deaths – some of them were shot at close range, and some were even crushed by police vehicles.
Today, a full decade later, rockdrillers at the company are only earning R13 000 (MT 49 600). Lonmin never issued a formal apology for this massacre, not even to the families of those slain or the injured and has not provided all families with income compensation. In 2018, the company was bought by Sibanye-Stillwater. Lonmin has been a snake, slithering out of the country to avoid culpability.
No members of the police force. nor the government have been pinished or even legally charged for these blatant murders. President Ramphosa was a non-executive director of Lonmin at the time, and put pressure on the police to treat the strike as a criminal matter. Yet he has been exonerated of any responsibility for this massacre.
The families of the murdered mineworkers are continuing to go to court to obtain justice for their loved ones, for those guilty of these crimes to face some kind of punishment, and they will continue fight.
South Africans still live in an economic apartheid. The poor, including workers in the extractive and fossil fuel industries – the bodies on whom companies make as much as hundreds of billions every year – are still treated as less than human, as mere transactional tools to keep the capitalist system working for the wealthy, for local and international political and economic elite to benefit from their mere existence. This goes beyond South Africa – these exact same words can be used when talking about the extractive industries in Mozambique, Tanzania, Namibia, Lesotho, DRC, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Morocco, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Native American lands, to name very, very few.
Russian anarchist Pyotr Kropotkin once said: Everywhere you will find that the wealth of the wealthy stems from the poverty of the poor. We at JA! Stand in solidarity with the families of the murdered Lonmin mineworkers and those injured, with those fighting for basic humanity around the world, with those fighting for their lands, livelihoods, and the earth.
We urgently need the United Nations (UN) to implement a Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights, an accountability tool that actually has teeth and that communities devastated by corporations and civil society have been demanding for years.
Guiding principles are not enough – corporations have shown that they have no interest in human rights, the climate and the environment, except when they need to tick a box- and guidelines are certainly not going to force them to act with humanity.
It is time for institutions of power – states, especially those in the North, the UN and European Union- to create, and enforce laws that will make companies like Lonmin pay for their crimes, and protect lives, like those of the Marikana miners, struggling for their basic right to be treated as human beings. We must continue to fight to ensure that this capitalist, imperialist and neo-colonialist system of exploitation ends right now!
In early June, JA! Activists were in Stockholm to participate in the Stockholm +50 People’s Forum for Environmental and Climate Justice. This event was a gathering of activists and civil society taking place parallel to the United Nations (UN) Stockholm +50 Conference. This event is a commemoration of the 50 year anniversary of the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment. The UN refers to this as the summit “that first made the link between environment and poverty and placed it at the forefront of the international agenda.”
It also marked the first of parallel civil society meetings and protests that have been held during UN summits ever since. It was one of the foundations for the process of bringing together social movements from around the world, including from the global South, to discuss and strategise together and strengthen the work for social and environmental justice, while also broadening narratives and bringing critiques to the formal UN event. From this came a system where civil society began engaging in formal spaces at UN meetings.
The People’s Forum was three days of activities developed by the Stockholm +50 Coalition, who describe themselves as a “collective of civil society and social movements fighting for environmental, social and climate justice,” and the aim of the event was to be a place where “social movements are planning parallel activities to highlight principles, demands and actions that respond to the depth and seriousness of the crises we are facing – with global justice and challenging of power relations at the core.”
JA! spoke on four panels which focused on some elements of our work. These were on the need to stop corporate abuse and privileges by saying ‘yes’ to a UN Binding Treaty on business and human rights and ‘no’ to ‘free’ trade agreements that threaten democracy; the danger of false climate solutions; the complicity of Swedish pension funds in fossil fuel destruction in Mozambique and elsewhere; and ideas for the way forward after 50 years of struggle for system change.
The forum included a manifestation, or protest, in the centre of Stockholm where activists from communities around the world, including JA! Spoke alongside activists including people from Mexico, Namibia, Colombia and Lebanon to a crowd of at least 300 people about what Swedish people can do to fight climate injustice, such as demanding that their pension funds divest from fossil fuels.
The forum raised the greater question of what has changed in these five decades of fighting for climate, environmental and social justice and how we can use learnings from this to collectively strengthen these struggles. But to answer these questions, it is important to look at what has not yet changed.
For example, even though companies like Shell were well aware of climate change in 1981 we still do not have a binding treaty at the United Nations level, which would force companies to act with basic humanity. Corporate capture has only become more prevalent, bilateral agreements remain advantageous to northern and former colonial states, and processes like Investor State Dispute Relations have strengthened the skewed unequal power relations even further towards wealthy transnational corporations.
The legacy of colonisation remains crippling to former colonies, with Mozambique being a good example of this. By looking just at the gas industry in Inhambane and Cabo Delgado provinces, countries like the UK, Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands and South Africa, are benefiting, or will continue to benefit from fossil gas projects led by Total, Eni, ExxonMobil, Sasol and many others, while Mozambique’s economy continues to collapse and its level of debt grows. Northern governments are well aware that their companies are destroying the global South but their narrative of ‘gas for development’ merely enables them to the benefit from the historical colonial structures of poverty, debt and corruption they themselves created.
There remains a lack of accountability for the impacts of the industry – communities losing their homes and livelihoods and being ripped apart, many in refugee centres and devastated by a violent war, fuelled by the industry, that has killed thousands and created almost one million refugees.
What has not changed is shown just by the very need to hold events like Stockholm +50. How is it that the most powerful countries and most respected international regulatory body in the world is still unable to control fossil fuel companies and banks, and still refuse to cut their investment into fossil fuels? How is it that we have treaties like the Paris and Glasgow Agreements and yet still have to fight for companies and northern states to invest in the vast renewable resources the earth has to offer? How do we still not have a Binding Treaty on Transnational Corporations at the UN when companies have shown time and again that they will not voluntarily abide by human rights regulations?
However, there are also those things that have changed. The introduction of the climate treaties mentioned above show that pressure from civil society and Southern peoples has been working. While there remains a struggle to get companies to act in accordance with them, and although they leave much to be desired, the mere fact that they exist means that institutions of power, like the UN and European Union are at least heading in the right direction. As governments of countries where extractivism is taking place are clamping down more and more on journalists and activists, people continue to stand up; as transnational corporations continue to evade tax in the countries where they operate, people continue to fight for their rights to basic services.
Another very promising thing the Peoples Forum showed was the large number of young people from around the world taking up the climate struggle, and radicalising their local fights. They made a crucial point: The narrative that needs to change, and has already begun changing, is that the struggle for climate justice must be inclusive, and a fight that goes beyond environmental damage, but is also a fight for justice for the poor, and people worst affected by climate change.
The Mphanda Nkuwa hydropower dam project, mooted more than two decades ago, has re-emerged as a solution for increasing power exports to South Africa to enable Mozambique to increase its capacity for earning foreign currency. The project is now being promoted at a cost of USD 4.5 billion comprising USD 2.4 billion for the dam and power plant, plus USD 2.1 billion for transmission lines. This essay discusses the merits of the Mphanda Nkuwa hydropower project and its socio-economic and development benefits in the face of climate change impacts, at a time when the world is facing energy challenges that require rethinking the most sustainable types and sources of energy for the future.
The Mphanda Nkuwa Dam would be the third largest dam to be constructed on the main stem of the Zambezi River and one of many other dams in the basin when the Zambezi tributaries are considered. Its location in the lower Zambezi River basin, in Mozambique, gives it unique features and makes it vulnerable and also crucial in determining the health of the downstream ecosystems. As currently designed, the hydropower plant has a 1500 MW generation capacity, with 60% (900 MW) of this capacity committed for export to South Africa and the balance of 600 MW (40%) reserved for domestic consumption in Mozambique. Currently, over 60% of Mozambicans, most of whom live in widely dispersed settlements in remote rural areas, do not have access to modern electricity and are out of reach of the existing national electricity grid. Far much more than 600MW would be required to enable Mozambique reach 50% access to electricity by 2030.
The project is planned for commissioning in 2030, with about 2 years of this needed for planning and design, while construction is expected to take 6 years. The touted benefits of Mphanda Nkuwa are doubtful in the face of climate change and the fact that the dam will be detrimental to downstream ecosystems, as well as human health and safety while leading to the loss of livelihoods for downstream communities. As is the case in most similar large infrastructure projects, the Mphanda Nkuwa dam and hydropower project is drawing favor from international financial institutions such as the Africa Development Bank who view it purely from a macro-economic viewpoint as an avenue for spurring economic growth in the country through increased foreign currency earnings. The proponents of the project, however, overlook the several risks that are associated with the project and, thus, do not discuss how these risks will be addressed.
Of major concern among the risks is the issue of climate change. Following some detailed analysis, the IPCC found that, out of the 11 main river basins in Africa, the Zambezi Basin is the most vulnerable to climate change impacts. The Zambezi basin is predicted to experience severe extreme weather events in the form of prolonged drought periods, and extreme flooding events in the future, the worst of all other basins on the continent. Furthermore, the Lower Zambezi is directly affected by developments upstream, with the negative impacts of upstream developments being compounded at Mphanda Nkuwa and downstream. In the past decade, Mozambique has been the worst climate change affected country among all the SADC countries with numerous extreme weather events of cyclones and flooding being experienced. The operations of the upstream dams at Kariba, Kafue and Cahora Bassa, with their large combined storage capacity, will be key to the performance of Mphanda Nkuwa.
Being located downstream of the large dams, the major risk for Mphanda Nkuwa will be during drought periods when the upstream dams may not release water as the upstream countries may prioritize their own needs. The high risk of droughts in the Zambezi basin, wrought by climate change, will have a direct negative impact on the financial and economic viability of the project, as the projected revenue generation and foreign currency earnings will be severely curtailed by prolonged droughts. The withholding of water in upstream dams during droughts will also endanger the ecological flows of the river below Mphanda Nkuwa, with further detrimental effects to prawn fishing in the delta region.
Similarly, in the event of large floods, upstream dams will release water downstream, thereby creating risks of dam failure at Mphanda Nkuwa as well as worsening human safety downstream in the Zambezi valley. The risks to dam safety as a result of flooding may necessitate more expensive design features and higher construction costs. The high risk of loss of human lives and threat to human livelihoods in Mozambique due to floods has been fully demonstrated by numerous catastrophic flood events in the lower Zambezi valley in the past two decades. It therefore follows that Mphanda Nkuwa is highly susceptible to climate change impacts with respect to both droughts and floods.
Mphanda Nkuwa hydropower is touted as clean energy. However, emerging studies worldwide are indicating that dams emit considerable amounts of methane, with methane as a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. At a time when the world is facing huge global warming and climate change risks, the decision to proceed with Mphanda Nkuwa is unfortunate and flies in the face of conventional wisdom.
Mphanda Nkuwa is premised on power being sold to the Southern African countries, with South Africa’s power utility company Eskom being the principal customer for the electricity. It is important to note that over the past 15 years Eskom has been experiencing serious long-standing governance and structural challenges resulting in a chronic debt problem amounting to over ZAR 500 billion, which is equivalent to USD30 billion at the time of writing. Thus, the South African power utility is facing serious financial viability challenges which render it a risky customer on which to base a huge investment of USD 4.5 billion. As a result of its worsening financial position, Eskom has been progressively increasing domestic electricity tariffs in the past decade, with the result that some of its major customers, especially the wealthy ones, have been moving off the grid, thereby creating risks to its revenue collection and also worsening the power utility’s financial viability. Clearly, this issue is a red flag that the proponents of the Mphanda Nkuwa dam project need to seriously interrogate in their market analyses. The delicacy of the viability of Mphanda Nkuwa becomes even more stark when viewed against a background of the current power purchase agreement of Cahora Bassa power to South Africa, whose electricity pricing is highly unfavourable for Mozambique.
Other concerns regarding Mphanda Nkuwa include the claimed increase in energy access for Mozambicans. While on paper the claim is made that 40% of the Mphanda Nkuwa power will be availed to Mozambicans, in reality the impact on access to power for Mozambicans will be insignificant. The dispersed, extensive rural settlement pattern of most of the Mozambicans who currently do not enjoy access to clean energy, and the absence of an extensive grid network renders the claim that Mphanda Nkuwa will increase access to electricity a fallacy. Mozambique lacks an extensive transmission and distribution network and, even with the proposed transmission line, the majority in the rural areas will still remain unconnected to modern electricity. Grid electricity will not be enough to increase access and spur development in the country. At any rate, the cost of the electricity, without subsidy, is unlikely to be affordable for the majority of the citizens.
The Mphanda Nkuwa dam development pays very little attention to the basin ecosystem health and social wellbeing of downstream communities. The operations of the Mphanda Nkuwa dam will significantly alter the flow regime of the downstream area, creating daily fluctuations that will affect aquatic biota as well as the livelihoods of over 200.000 inhabitants who live in the delta and who, to a large extent, rely on the natural resources of the basin. The livelihoods of the communities that reside in the area that will be inundated should not be discounted. Based on what has already transpired and been experienced in other mega infrastructure projects in Tete province and across the country, these people will likely be subjected to forced displacement, curtailed livelihoods, inadequate compensation, State violence and repression and other human rights violations. The people in the basin will be the main losers from this development.
In conclusion, the investment is unlikely to significantly increase industrialization and spur economic growth in Mozambique. Very limited direct permanent employment can be expected to emanate from this hydropower development. No gains will be made in terms of climate change GHG emissions, and sadly more emissions will result from the hydropower dam. The revenue from the electricity sales may not cover the costs of production with potential of failure to service the debt for the dam. Several studies have been done for South Africa and Mozambique that demonstrate that clean energy can be harnessed through wind and solar to reach the widely dispersed rural population at a much faster pace, creating jobs and comparatively having fewer negative social and environment impacts. Against this backdrop, Mozambique has a huge potential to turn to renewable energies, and change its energy trajectory for energy development, distribution and generation. If implemented, the Mphanda Nkuwa will be a millstone around the neck of Mozambique for many generations to come.
African countries kept in fossil fuel stranglehold by Overseas money
March 3, 2022 – The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s new report, published on Monday February 28, once again confirms that the climate crisis disproportionately affects African countries. It further demonstrates that climate impacts will worsen sooner than previously predicted and that worldwide action is more urgent than previously assessed. And yet Africa is host to a growing number of oil, gas and coal projects. New research published today by BankTrack, Milieudefensie, Oil Change International and 19 African partners (1), including 350Africa, Alliance for Empowering Rural Communities (AERC) from Ghana, and WEP Nigeria, reveals the billions of dollars in finance, the majority from European, Asian and North American financial institutions, that are putting the continent in danger of becoming locked into fossil fuels, despite its massive potential for renewable energy. As a result, Africa runs the risk of not being able to make the necessary leap to sustainable energy in time.
Billions of overseas fossil fuel money
Between 2016, following the adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement, and June 2021, public and private financial institutions poured at least $132 billion in lending and underwriting into 964 gas, oil and coal projects in West, East, Central and Southern Africa. The vast majority of this finance came from financial institutions based outside Africa, both commercial banks and public institutions such as development banks and Export Credit Agencies.
Of the top 15 financial institutions behind this sum, 10 are commercial banks and five are public finance institutions.
The majority of the largest fossil fuel financiers are from North America and Europe, in particular from the United States, the United Kingdom and France. JPMorgan Chase, Standard Chartered, and Barclays are all in the top 5.
The largest single financier of fossil fuel projects and companies in Africa in this period is the China Development Bank.
Those based in North America, Europe and Australia together provided $73 billion in financial support, 55% of the total. Asia-based financial institutions, mostly from China and Japan, provided $42 billion of the total amount, which equals 32%. In contrast, Africa-based financial institutions provided just $15 billion, or 11% of the finance.
The development myth
The fossil fuel industry as well as financiers often claim that fossil fuel projects contribute to Africa’s economic and social development, however the evidence of the projects highlighted in this study, including Mozambique LNG and Offshore Cape Three Points in Ghana, indicate that this is a myth. Despite the many fossil fuel developments, Africa remains the continent with most people living in energy poverty. Poor contract terms, debt traps, and disproportionate ownership by foreign multinationals means the industry mainly serves the interests of companies and nations outside of Africa, with African people and African governments bearing the risks. Instead of bringing development, fossil fuel projects often have severe impacts on local communities and the environment. New fossil fuel projects also risk locking countries into fossil fuel dependency. Stranded assets combined with growing national debt and government deficits, could generate a dangerous ripple effect leading to massive unemployment and rising poverty, locking countries into a vicious cycle of poverty for decades to come.
Risks for the financial sector
For financial institutions, providing financial support to oil, gas and coal projects is also increasingly becoming a risk. With the energy transition accelerating and the production costs of renewable energy rapidly dropping compared to fossils, these projects are increasingly at risk of ending up as stranded assets. Meanwhile, climate change litigation around the world is forcing companies to reduce their emissions output. And the risk of reputational damage has been heightened in recent years by the lack of transparency, corruption, illicit financial flows and serious environmental and human rights violations that characterise this sector in Africa. Further, a failure to limit global warming will present a systemic threat to the whole global financial system.
A Just Transition for Africa
The African partners of this report, as well as recent publications by African networks and civil society organisations, emphasise that the injustices that have plagued the African continent for so long will persist without a Just Transition approach to renewable energy – an approach rooted in environmental, social, political, economic and gender justice. As such, the report puts forward eight Principles for a transformative Just Transition approach to renewables.
In a Just Transition there is eventually no room for fossil fuels. Public and private financial institutions must immediately stop financial support for new oil, gas and coal projects and phase out the existing support for fossil fuels. Instead, finance should be redirected to renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind energy. A Just Transition furthermore requires a shift of ownership of these renewable energy sources from large multinationals to African communities.
National and international legislation
Such a major turnaround requires strict legislation from governments worldwide on mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence to make sure the mistakes of the fossil fuel era will not be repeated, giving African countries the prospect of a green, resilient and sustainable future.
Landry Ninteretse, 350Africa.org Regional Director: “Africans are experiencing severe climate impacts driven by high emissions from the biggest polluters in the developed world. Wealthy countries of Europe, North America, East Asia and Australia, historically big emitters, have not only the responsibility to fund the Just Transition and energy transition plans that African countries are committing to implement, but also to halt any new investments in the fossil fuel industry. It’s time for governments and financial institutions to starve fossil fuels and redirect funding towards this transition to sustainable, clean energy, instead of locking African nations into fossil fuel dependency.”
Henrieke Butijn, Climate campaigner and researcher at BankTrack and lead author of the report: “Commercial banks like JPMorgan Chase and Standard Chartered can make all the Net-Zero pledges they want but these pledges will not automatically lead to the much-needed short-term steps in ending fossil fuel financing and much less to a true Just Transition. Banks need to start thinking beyond fossil fuel divestment and renewable energy as the new business-as-usual opportunity and focus on what truly benefits African countries and communities now and in the long-term.”
Isabelle Geuskens, Senior Program Officer Just Transition at Milieudefensie and lead author of the report: Africa is the continent with the most renewable energy potential. But it has not been able to tap into it and build towards the more resilient and sustainable future it urgently needs, given the many climate challenges it is and will be facing. Meanwhile our financial institutions and industries continue fuelling the fossil fuel development myth and pour billions of dollars into new fossil fuel projects, locking the continent into fossil fuel dependency and a stranded future. A Just Transition for Africa means stopping fossil fuel finance and contributing to a renewable energy future that benefits African people first and foremost.
Anabela Lemos, Director JA! Justiça Ambiental/FoE Mozambique: “Mozambique and its people are in the tragic situation of being devastated by both the causes and effects of the climate change crisis. One of the major causes of the climate crisis is the extractive industry, and right now the gas rush in Mozambique is causing land grabs, destroyed livelihoods, human rights abuses, militarization and conflict. At the same time, Mozambique is one of the countries most affected by the impacts of climate change, with increasing floods, cyclones and droughts that have already killed, displaced and affected hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable and poorest people. We must break this cycle of injustice and inhumanity, by stopping the gas projects in Mozambique and around the world.”
Aly Marie Sagne, Director and founder of Lumière Synergie pour le Développement (LSD): “Africa is experiencing the severe impacts of the climate crisis while at the same time, African leaders like Senegalese President Sall are championing a false solution about “an energy transition taking into account oil and gas investments”. In the meantime, the African Development Bank, the major Development Finance Institution of the continent, is navigating between green and dirty energy financing options. LSD believes that each degree of additional CO2 emission counts and a just energy transition in Africa should therefore be moving away from fossil fuels. LSD is pushing the AfDB to increase the proportion of renewable energy projects in its portfolio to 70% by 2025!”
Bronwen Tucker, Public Finance Campaign Co-Manager at Oil Change International said: “The resources and profits from fossil fuel projects in Africa have overwhelmingly flowed out of the continent rather than providing energy access or public goods. Now, wealthy countries are locking in a risky and unequal future on the continent by continuing to finance four times as much fossil fuels as renewables with their public finance institutions. These governments must get out of the way of a just transition in Africa by ending their fossil fuel finance and dramatically scaling up their climate finance and debt cancellation instead.”
The African partners are: 350Africa.org, AFIEGO from Uganda, Africa Coal Network, Alerte Congolaise pour l’Environnement et les Droits de l’Homme (ACEDH) from the DRC, Alliance for Empowering Rural Communities (AERC) from Ghana, Centre for Alternative Development from Zimbabwe, Environment Governance Institute (EGI) from Uganda, Friends of the Earth Ghana, Friends of the Earth Togo, Innovation for the Development and Protection of the Environment (IDPE) from the DRC, Justiça Ambiental!/Friends of the Earth Mozambique, Laudato Si’ Movement, Lumière Synergie pour le Développement (LSD) from Senegal, Save Okavango (SOUL), Solidarité pour la Réflexion et Appui au Développement Communautaire (SORADEC) from the DRC, Synergie de Jeunes pour le Développement et les Droits Humains (SJDDH) from the DRC, Women Environmental Programme Nigeria, WoMin and Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA).
Henrieke Butijn, Climate campaigner and researcher at BankTrack: firstname.lastname@example.org, +31 649229622. Based in the Netherlands.
Lynda Belaïdi, press officer Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands): +31 6 386 14 206. Based in the Netherlands.
Spokespersons for the highlighted projects are also available. Please reach out to Henrieke Butijn for more information.
This week, something extraordinary happened in the United Kingdom (UK) High Court. Two judges were totally split on deciding whether the UK government’s financing of Mozambique gas is illegal. This is huge news for several reasons, but mainly because it is the first time that a UK High Court judge has found government fossil fuel funding totally unlawful and not aligned with the Paris Agreement, to which the UK government is a signatory.
In December 2021, JA! partners, Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland (FoE EWNI) were in court, with JA!’s support, for the judicial review of the UK Export Finance’s (UKEF) agreement to provide $1.15 billion to the Mozambique Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) project in Cabo Delgado, led by Total from France.
The split decision means the judicial review has not yet succeeded, and we are awaiting a court order determining the final result. To learn more about the case you can read here and you can read JA! Director Anabela Lemos talk about why it is so important, here.
One judge, Justice Thornton, agreed with FoE EWNI that UKEF acted illegally and had ‘no rational basis’ to conclude that financing the project was consistent with the Paris Agreement. The second judge, Justice Stuart-Smith clearly disagreed with the case, and thought that the financing was totally lawful. He agreed with UKEF’s position that it can finance the project on their basis that the terms of the Paris Agreement are ‘ambiguous’ and at times ‘unworkable’.
But Justice Smith’s decision is entirely inconsistent with the UK government’s public-facing endorsement of the internationally-binding treaty. It is also inconsistent with current government policy on overseas finance.
However, it is not over – we are treating this outcome as a win – with a caveat – seeing as the findings of Justice Thornton were highly significant, and we believe, grounds for an appeal.
This is why JA! And FoE EWNI believes that Justice Thornton’s conclusions are significant:
This case was a critical opportunity to test what compliance with the Paris Agreement looks like. That a High Court judge has deemed UKEF’s actions unlawful means that there may be a basis to call other government decisions into question along similar lines
Justice Thornton’s ruling is internationally significant, because it is considered the first time a judge has said that all flows of finance, to be consistent with the Paris Agreement, must be shown to be in line with the temperature goal to be consistent with the treaty
There are potential international implications, particularly for other export credit agencies that have relied on the plausibility of the same climate assessments to justify their own investments in the Mozambique LNG project
She concluded that UKEF didn’t consider all the emissions from the project and that because of this and other mistakes, they had no rational basis to conclude the decision to support the project was in line with the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. She also found that the information presented to the Ministers making the financing decision was not sufficient for them to adequately understand the climate impacts of the project and their scale.
On top of all of this, the Mozambique gas industry has been central to conflict, human rights abuses and has caused the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Mozambicans. People in Cabo Delgado have lost their lands and livelihoods as a result of its development. Our country is one of the most vulnerable to climate impacts that continue to be exacerbated created by projects like Mozambique LNG and the fossil fuel industry.
JA! Director Anabela Lemos says:
“The fact that a high court judge totally agreed with us that the UK government’s financing of Mozambique gas is illegal is important. This is something that has never happened before in UK courts, and is showing the fossil fuel industry and its financiers that climate justice activists from Mozambique and around the world are right. JA! and our partners will continue to fight this project, and any other fossil fuel project that devastates the climate and people.”
Our friends at FoE EWNI say:
“Friends of the Earth maintains its view that a claim should succeed where any High Court Justice identifies unlawful conduct, but the court has not yet confirmed whether it has or hasn’t ruled in the group’s favour. A majority view was not reached by both judges, because the second judge, Justice Smith’s conclusions starkly contrasted those of his counterpart. This means that overall consensus has not been reached by the whole court. In the event that Friends of the Earth’s claim is considered unsuccessful, an appeal is considered inevitable to reach a definitive outcome.”
Now that overall consensus has not been reached by the whole court, FoE EWNI will inevitably appeal to reach a definitive outcome, and cancel the UKEF financing for good.
This case has shown that civil society is not going to let UKEF and other fossil fuel financiers get away with their actions. They have thought they could do this for ages, but people and movements from across the world are fighting back, including through legal action against companies and governments who continue fuelling the climate crisis and human rights violations.
The worst has happened – Russia has gone to war with Ukraine, and after the growing death toll, what makes this an even greater travesty is that it could have been avoided a long time ago. But Europe’s and the US’ greed for fossil fuels didn’t just allow it to happen, but is a central factor. In 2021, Russian LNG made up 20% of Europe’s LNG imports. In November 2021 alone, the United States imported approximately 17.9 million barrels of crude oil and petroleum products from Russia. In May 2021 the US imported 26.2 million barrels of crude oil from Russia, its highest ever import volume in the period of one month.
It was only after 137 Ukrainians were killed at the end of Thursday, and thousands of protesters had to taken to the streets of Moscow and other cities, that US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed more severe sanctions on Russian banks and fossil fuel companies. Prior to this, it was just threats. But did Russia ever pander to these threats? Of course not, because it knows that at the end of the day, Western countries will want to continue benefiting from its fossil fuel resources.
For example, in the Angoche Basin in Mozambique, ExxonMobil, the 5th largest US company, has a joint concession with Rosneft, the Russian state-owned oil company to explore for fossil fuels. That joint venture was agreed upon in 2015, after many many years of US threats of sanctioning Russia. This venture will likely not be affected by these sanctions, since ExxonMobil is a private company.
If the US and its allies had really wanted to, they could have contributed to the prevention of this war much earlier. One hundred and ninety Russian troops had been stationed along the Ukrainian border for months, the result of years of spoken threats. But, no, Western countries wanted gas and they wanted it now, regardless of the implications. Their threats of sanctions on Russia were a joke considering they were benefiting Russia’s economy for years by purchasing its gas. Even after the promises made at COP26, they continued to invest in this fossil fuel which trumped their lying rhetoric of going to any lengths to protect their own people, and the population of Ukraine against what they call in public, the monster that is Russia. Europe and the US are not just hypocritical, but complicit in the destruction of entire cities, arrests of protestors and deaths of civilians, the number of which we can only hope, will not grow.
Just like in many violent and fatal conflicts around the world, fossil fuels have contributed to this devastation. The world needs to stop using fossil fuels when there are more than enough sources for renewable energy to keep the world turning. Gas and oil are not just killing the earth and the climate – from the Ukraine to Mozambique, Tanzania to Venezuela, fossil fuel companies are killing innocent people, ruining communities and pushing economies into deep debt. No more fossil fuels! No more war!
This week, Total announced that in 2021 it made 15 billion Euros, the biggest profits any company has ever made in French history. They are unashamedly boasting about this money, money that will go to wealthy European shareholders, money that they have made at the expense of the climate and people and the environment in the global South.
Total is one of the biggest players in Mozambique’s gas industry, leading the Mozambique liquid Natural Gas (LNG) project and is constructing the onshore Afungi LNG Park, which houses the aerodrome, treatment plants, port, offices and other support facilities for all the projects. To make way for the 70 square kilometre park, the company displaced over 550 families, thousands of people, from surrounding communities.
Even though extraction hasn’t even happened yet, fishing communities who had been living mere metres from the ocean for generations were displaced to a ‘relocation village’ more than 10 km inland, with no way of getting to the sea. Farmers who had now lost their land, were given small, inadequate pieces of land far from the relocation houses they had been given.
Their ‘consultation’ process with these communities has been a joke. In meetings between communities and companies, community leaders – many of whom have developed financially beneficial relationships with the industry – are present, and people avoided speaking out for fear of losing their compensation, or of physical threats. This is exacerbated by communities’ lack of basic knowledge law, thereby unable to demand their rights.
JA! works closely with communities on the ground in the gas region, and have seen how the only jobs created for locals were menial, unskilled and temporary. Communities’ complaints to Total about irregular compensation payments were waved away. And now that Total’s project was paused in April 2021, they have stopped compensation payments completely.
The project will also have irreversible impacts on the climate and destroy coral reefs and endangered species of the UNESCO Biosphere, the Quirimbas Archipelago.
But Total’s crimes go beyond Mozambique, to many other Southern countries. One of their planned projects, the East Africa crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) has been the subject of major campaigns by civil society and even a lawsuit in France by Friends of the Earth France. According to the StopEACOP Campaign:
“Stretching for nearly 1,445 kilometers, the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) would have disastrous consequences for local communities, for wildlife and for the entire planet – we have to stop it. The project threatens to displace thousands of families and farmers from their land. It poses significant risks to water resources and wetlands in both Uganda and Tanzania – including the Lake Victoria basin, which over 40 million people rely upon for drinking water and food production. The pipeline would rip through numerous sensitive biodiversity hotspots, and risk significantly degrading several nature reserves crucial to the preservation of threatened elephant, lion and chimpanzee species.”
In Myanmar, Total was providing the oppressive military junta with the majority of its revenue, from its Yadana gas project. The military junta is known for ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population, and mass human rights violations including rape, sexual abuse, torture and disappearances of protestors. Recently Total claimed it would stop its operations in Myanmar, but again, it will be getting away with the destruction it has left in is wake.
Total has also been active in the Taoudeni basin of Mali in the Sahel since 1998. Since 2013, over 3000 French troops have been in Mali, and 4 other Sahel countries, with France using the same rhetoric as they and Rwanda have done in Mozambique: to rid the area of ‘jihadists’.
In Yemen, the Balhaf LNG site of which Total owns 39% was exposed for housing the base for the Shabwani Elite, an UAE-backed tribal militia since 2016. Officially a counter-terrorism group, they have unofficially become known as a group created to protect fossil fuel interests. The site also has also been exposed to house UAE notorious ‘secret prisons’ holding Yemeni detainees.
in the week of the announcement, many organisations from around the world held a social media storm, where tweeted about Total’s actions and ‘hijacked’ their twitter, facebook and linkedIn accounts.
It is inhumane that Total and its shareholders use their profits to have oysters and champagne in Paris’ restaurants, while this money comes by violating the rights of human beings, their bodies, the environment and the climate.
In Mozambique, Total must stop the gas exploitation entirely, but it cannot slink away from the mess it has already made. It must take responsibility and provide reparations for all the lives destroyed, all the lands grabbed, and the livelihoods lost.
Total must stop its destruction all over the global south, and the world, but that by itself does not erase years of abuse and dispossession overnight! Total and the fossil fuel industry gas industry must be held accountable for the impacts and human rights violations faced by affected communities and be obliged to fully compensate the communities and remediate the damage caused!