"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
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!
Anabela Lemos says Mozambique should not move forward with gas projects
This interview was originally published in Jornal Savana in Portuguese on 10th December, 2021.
At the beginning of November, a great controversy erupted, mainly on social networks, as a result of statements made by Anabela Lemos, an environmental activist, who argued that Mozambique should not proceed with the natural gas exploration project. But what arguments support this position, at a time when most social sectors in Mozambique, including civil society, see gas as a great opportunity to develop the country and fight poverty?
In an interview conducted by Boaventura Monjane*, Anabela Lemos, founder of “Justiça Ambiental” and one of the loudest voices in the environmental movement, responds to the question, arguing that insisting on this type of extractivist mega-projects will always contribute to serious violations of human rights, will cause irreversible damage to the environment, and will deepen the climate crisis. She also claims that Mozambique’s position at COP26 was largely inadequate.
At the beginning of November, in an interview to a television channel, Anabela Lemos stated and defended that Mozambique should not proceed with the natural gas exploration project in Cabo Delgado. Her statements provoked several reactions, mainly on social media. Can you explain this position?
By choosing to explore natural gas, Mozambique is following the same path followed by other African countries such as Nigeria and Libya that have also tried to develop through the exploration of fossil fuels. In all the examples we have on the continent, these projects have led to an increase in corruption, conflict and militarisation, national debt, poverty and a general deterioration in the standard of living of local populations, without having generated sufficient benefits for the country. This is not a position of radical activists. Even the World Bank has acknowledged, in its Extractive Industry Report, that the oil and gas industries in developing countries have not only failed to improve the lives of the poorest people, but have made them even worse off.
Mozambique is one of the countries most affected by climate change, and is looking to boost one of the industries that contributes most to this crisis, in the midst of a global movement calling to end the exploitation of fossil fuels. This is a contradiction and therefore we have to fight for our right to say no to environmentally destructive and socially unjust projects.
What do you mean by the right to say no?
The fight for the right to say no aims to challenge the usual way in which mega-projects are allowed in our countries, where public consultations or negotiations are carried out in the final stages of the project only to agree on small details and compensations. The right to say no aims to bring about a drastic change in the way affected people and civil society are brought into these debates. If the option of saying no is on the table, it is an indication that the people have power, and this opens up space for creating real debates about the best paths for development for the country.
This right started being demanded in several popular struggles of communities directly affected by extractivist projects, whose negative impacts affect these communities. People lose their land, livelihoods, access to rivers and the sea, ability to support themselves and to survive. The environment is destroyed and the people who survive are harassed. When everything is exhausted, corporations leave, leaving a trail of destruction and a huge debt for the State and the people.
For us perhaps the greatest reference to the right to say no is an inspiring struggle of a community in South Africa, in the Eastern Cape province. The community association Amadiba Crisis Committee, together with a team of lawyers and a South African civil society organisation, took its Ministry of Mineral Resources to court. And they got the higher court to recognise that a titanium mining project in that region could not proceed without the consent of the local community.
Does JA! fight against any and all development projects? After all, didn’t the industrialised countries develop with these types of projects?
We say no to any project that we believe will bring more negative than positive impacts for the people and the environment. Unfortunately, we are part of a national and global context in which governments are captured by the interests of large transnational corporations, and therefore the projects that are coming to our country will invariably benefit local and global elites, as they are not intended to solve the needs of the people.
Regarding the argument that industrialised countries developed with these types of projects, this is a misconception. European countries, for example, controlled virtually every component of the global value chain. They got rich from patents, from research, from manufacturing the equipment, from exploring, processing, and transporting resources. They became rich because they controlled and owned all the significant companies and markets at that particular time. And they got rich mainly because they colonised and exploited countries in the Global South. No African country that is already exploiting its fossil resources has developed from the exploitation of these, as it controls absolutely nothing in the value chain or any other critical component of this industry. So, regarding the gas, we’re actually being exploited once again.
Regarding the climate crisis, there has been a lot of debate about the right of less developed countries, such as Mozambique, to exploit their fossil fuel reserves to boost their economic growth. Don’t you think that industrialised countries should have a greater responsibility to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, rather than countries that have contributed little to these emissions?
Certainly. That is why we speak of historical responsibility, because it was the countries of the North that created the climate crisis, and the countries of the South, such as Mozambique, are suffering the greatest impacts. This means that the past and present actions of industrialised countries are creating damage and losses as we saw with cyclones Idai and Kenneth, with direct and indirect economic losses projected at $3 billion.
As a country, we don’t have to lead the way in terms of climate action. But this does not mean that in Mozambique we should explore gas or any other fossil fuel, and contribute to global emissions. We can pretend we’re fighting for a right, but given the climate crisis and the other impacts I’ve already mentioned, we’re basically fighting for the right to jump into an abyss.
But we can be an example of a country that is looking to its future and the future of planet earth, by moving towards a more sustainable economic model, while demanding that the Global North drastically reduce its emissions and pay the South a climate debt. This financing will allow the country to develop and be able to provide clean, just and decentralised energy to the entire population.
In Mozambique, and in many other African countries, energy poverty still affects the majority of the population. Many families still depend on polluting energy sources that are very harmful to health, such as firewood and charcoal. How does JA! propose to resolve these issues in Mozambique?
In a country like ours, the priority is certainly to create a strategy of decentralisation and diversification of energy sources, analyse the country’s energy potential by different areas and geographies, and build a system based on justice and the right of everyone to have access to a safe, healthy and clean energy source. Part of these studies already exist, completed by JA! and other researchers, but they continue to be largely ignored.
In September 2021, Friends of the Earth Africa published a “Just Recovery Renewable Energy Plan for Africa” which shows that it is not only urgent but completely feasible to reduce emissions, transform our energy system and make a just transition in our continent.
The plan, based on the work of renowned academic Dr Sven Teske of the University of Sydney, outlines how the continent can dismantle existing dirty energy systems and achieve 100% renewable energy for all by 2050. This plan would require more than 300 gigawatts (GW) of new renewable energy by 2030, as agreed by the African Union, and over 2000 GW by 2050. The plan also highlights the potential to create 7 million new jobs in renewable energy on the African continent. It is not just a technical plan, but a vision of how renewable energy systems can serve people and protect biodiversity.
Don’t you think that a lot could be done if each of us, individually, had greater environmental awareness? I’m talking about reducing consumption levels, not throwing garbage on the floor, saving water – with these types of actions wouldn’t we be able to achieve major changes?
It is always good for individuals to practice sustainable habits and protect the environment. But individual actions, as important as they are, must somehow aim at more structural changes in society, because if they are not intended to bring about a general change in how we understand the system and what attitude we take, they have no real impact.
Furthermore, we need to recognize the ecological footprint (a method of calculating the pressure that the human population, and each of us in particular, exerts on natural resources and the planet) of the majority of the Mozambican population; with the exclusion of our own elites, it is absurdly small. The huge ecological impact of industries makes any action at the individual level completely meaningless. Mozal, for example, consumes more water and electricity than all domestic consumption in the city of Maputo. And it is a company that did not even pay dividends to the Mozambican State throughout 2019.
So the big problem here is that industrial consumption and the linear model of extraction (production – use – disposal) are not compatible with ecological balance. We need circular systems that are capable of reusing all the components produced, as raw material in other processes. Of course, reducing consumption levels, especially in rich countries and our domestic elites, is fundamental for this to be viable.
Looking at the impacts of extractivist mega-projects in Mozambique, many claim that their positive impacts are not felt due to high levels of corruption. How do you see this issue of corruption?
The debate about corruption in our country is on the rise and we all see the impacts of corruption on a daily basis. This scenario must be urgently reversed and we need to fight it at all levels. But we also need to recognise that corruption is intrinsically related to the economic viability of extractive projects. If it weren’t for corruption, they wouldn’t advance. Buying off some government officials to sponsor this type of investment project will always be cheaper than bearing all the real costs of fair compensation for land expropriation, decent wages, damage to health, restoration of the degraded environment, and the impacts of climate change, among others things.
By solving the problem of corruption, would it be possible for Mozambique to be able to exploit the gas in a way that would benefit the country and the majority of Mozambicans?
The problem of corruption will not be resolved within the current development model that we have in the country. But beyond that, there are economic trends around fossil fuels that are undeniable, for anyone seeking to examine. Coal is a declining resource, with several countries (including China) already with divestment strategies and phasing out coal projects. Fifteen years ago when we started betting everything on coal, the scenarios were absurdly optimistic. We believe that gas extraction will follow a very similar path to coal. According to calculations by the Global Energy Monitor, there are already close to $100 billion in gas investments at risk of becoming stranded assets. Coal had a slow transition to become an unproductive asset, but with gas this risk will be faster and more abrupt, because it is a less labour-intensive industry.
As if this were not enough, current gas exploration contracts provide enormous benefits to private companies during the first decades, and only later will the country gain from exploration. All of this should be worrying for Mozambique, as we have major infrastructure problems, socio-economic instability and conflicts that are causing delays, putting gas projects even more at risk of becoming unproductive assets and having a minimal contribution to the country’s economy. Other studies such as those carried out by CIP, which do not focus on the risk of unproductive assets, still project weak gas contributions to the country’s economy, due to tax exemptions, tax havens, low gas prices, high operating costs, among others. And this, of course, without even counting the costs of militarisation and security that will fall on the State.
At the national level, some see environmentalists or human rights defenders as having anti-development agendas or accuse them of being manipulated by outside interests. How do you, Anabela Lemos and JA! deal with these criticisms?
The reason for the attacks on JA! because of our views is because our views are very upsetting to the interests of the elites – both national and international. There is no interest in having in-depth debates on these issues because then we will arrive at the undeniable facts that these projects do not bring development. There is a lot of information available and studies to be done that confirm our positions.
We are always available to debate views and alternatives, but we don’t waste too much time on strategies that are based on hearsay and misinformation and are intended to avoid deeper discussions.
What do you think of proposals like the one tried in Ecuador, in which more than 300 million dollars were pledged to stop the exploration of 846 million barrels of oil beneath the Yasuní National Park, one of the richest areas of tropical forest in the world. Do you think this solution would be viable for Mozambique?
Yes. With this kind of funding, and access to patents and technology that are unfortunately mostly owned by the Global North, countries like Mozambique can focus on energy transition.
It is very clear that funding for this exists. Data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) state that around $50 to $100 billion USD are lost each year due to tax evasion. Data from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) show that $89 billion USD are lost in illicit financial flows. Data from the Tax Justice Network shows that $600 billion USD are lost every year due to tax fraud. Friends of the Earth International figures show that the wealth of the 53 richest people around the world could provide 100% renewable energy for Africa by 2030. We clearly know that this money exists, so we need to fight to demand the political will necessary to make the changes we need. This fund could also come from the payment of climate debts by industrialised countries.
The UN climate summit in Glasgow, UK, has just ended. World leaders have pledged to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy by 2050. Do you find this goal realistic? What did you think of Mozambique’s position at that summit?
Mozambique’s position at COP26, given that we are one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, was largely inadequate. We should have brought a discourse relaying respective demands around the right to life, the right to develop our country without exploring fossil fuels, and the right to the climate debt. COP26 is a suicide pact for Africa that African negotiator Lumumba Di-Aping warned us about at the 2009 COP. Twelve years have passed and African leaders want to set the continent on fire.
The 2050 goal is completely unrealistic. As we often say at JA!, these negotiations are debating how many people we agree to let die, how many forests we accept to destroy, how many islands will be submerged, so that fossil fuel companies and captured governments can continue to increase emissions and their profits.
Rich countries do not take responsibility for creating the climate crisis. They also fail to meet the financial commitments for countries in the Global South to embark on a just transition. Furthermore, we are shocked that they have reached an agreement on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement – carbon markets. This undermines emissions reduction targets because it allows polluters to continue to pollute, giving them an escape route. A study published by the “Glasgow Agreement” during COP26 demonstrated how there are at least 800 new fossil fuel projects under exploration. COP26 was nothing more than an insubstantial conversation to safeguard the interests of those who want to continue to pollute.
A photo of an activist holding a sign that said ‘Stop funding gas in Mozambique’ also raised a lot of controversy and debate on social media. It is known however that a group of activists in the UK have filed legal action to force the government to withdraw from Cabo Delgado gas. Is JA! involved in this campaign?
The British agency United Kingdom Export Finance (UKEF) has pledged more than $1 billion for gas projects in Mozambique. The gas industry in Mozambique has already had irreversible impacts even before any gas has been extracted. People have lost their homes and livelihoods, and the climate impact of the construction phase, which is not even complete, is already significant. It is essential that people know this, because corporations, pension funds, investors and even governments of various countries (with tax money) are financing these projects. This is unacceptable and a big risk for the Mozambican people. And that’s why we support Friends of the Earth groups in the UK, who are working in solidarity with us, and challenging their own government in court to stop funding Mozambique’s gas because of its negative impacts. We need an energy transition. Instead of gas, we want people-centred renewable energy.
This interview was originally published in Jornal Savana in Portuguese on 10th December, 2021.
The partition of Palestine into a jewish State (55% of the territory) and a palestinian State (45% of the territory) that followed soon after the constitution of the United Nations (UN) was proposed and implemented by the the UN Special Committee for Palestine, then led by the United States of America and the USSR. This plan represented, to a great extent, the interests of the winning powers that emerged from World War II and it was justified by the genocide practiced against the jews by the nazi regime. In truth, it was a project of modern colonialism of the kind where foreign countries decide by themselves, with a ruler and set square, on the division of the territories and the future of their populations without consideration for their rights and aspirations.
In this context, in which the UN had only a weak participation from the nations of the South, the plan was approved, even though at the time the Arab states did not recognize the new State of Israel. From the war that followed, between Israel and the Arab states and Palestinian forces (1948-1949), Israel came out on top, gaining more ground, and amplifying the territory given to it by a near 20 thousand kilometres squared (75% of the surface of Palestine).
In reality, the conflicts on the ground, including the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, begun at and earlier date, in December of 1947, with a series of attacks on Palestinian villages carried out by zionist militias. 300.000 Palestinians were expelled from their lands and homes
This is the tragic sequence in which the Israeli occupation has, for seven decades, removed nearly everything from the Palestinians, let alone their dignity and just desire of being free.
The exercised oppression is systemic and the discrimination is institutional: expropriation from the land, forced change of residence, control of movements, management of water and electricity, denial of essential services. During this pandemic, even the access to vaccines has been calculatedly discretionary. In simple terms, it is pure and hard colonialism. If apartheid is recognized by the UN as a crime against humanity, why is Israel not judged for this very crime? Because ocidental values are only to be used when it is convenient for those who have power to benefit.
We, organizations from the mozambican civil society, manifest, through this declaration, our profound solidarity with the Palestinian people and believe that solidarity at the international level is fundamental for the advancement of our collective struggles for freedom, for human rights, and for justice. We echoe the words of Nelson Mandela and many other pan-africanists and affirm that we will not be free until all palestinians are free.
In the past month of May (2021), many organisations and civil society groups marched in the city of Maputo in solidarity with the people of Cabo Delgado and Palestine suffering the horrors of war and all types of direct, structural, and cultural violence.
We remember on this special date, the 25th of November – International Day for the Eradication of Violence Against Women – the Palestinian women that have suffered the horrors of this occupation as well as the violences that are specifically directed and practiced against them. We highlight their courage and their commitment to the fight for freedom of their people.
We renew today, with this manifesto, our solidarity toward the people of Palestine. We commit ourselves to being an active voice in the fight for the recognition of the inalienable rights of Palestinians and we reiterate our deepest desire to unite, by straightening the bonds of friendship between Mozambique and Palestine with the conviction that only the freedom of all nations, without any exception, is the guarantee of world peace and justice for all.
Maputo, 10th December 2021
Vasco Magoene Tembe Júnior
Terezinha da Silva
Alternactiva – Acção pela Emancipação Social
Associação de Amizade e Solidariedade com a Palestina (ASP)
Associação de Jovens Combatentes Montes Errego (AJOCME)
Hikone – Associação para o Empoderamento da Mulher
Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland (FoE EWNI) are challenging UK Export Finance’s (UKEF) decision to fund a mega gas project in Mozambique. They will be in court on 7-9 December. Below JA! explains the reasons for supporting this court case.
The $50 billion gas industry in Mozambique has created an irreversible mess before any gas has even been extracted. People have lost their livelihoods and homes, and the climate impact just from the construction phase, which has not yet been completed, has already been significant. It is crucial for the global public to know this, because corporations, pension funds, investors and even governments around the world (with taxpayers’ money), are financing these projects.
UKEF alone has agreed to finance over $1 billion of Total’s $24 billion Mozambique Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) Project, one of three already in construction.
Evicted and betrayed
Industry players are well aware of the issues the industry has created and will create in future: JA! and our partners and friends in the UK and around the world have told them several times, in letters, in parliament, at shareholder meetings and protests and now, in court.
To make way for Total’s Afungi LNG Park, which will house the support facilities for the industry, the company has displaced thousands of people from fishing and farming communities around the site, to a relocation village far from their land, and 10km inland from the sea, leaving them without livelihoods. Since the relocation plots were so small, many people opted for inadequate compensation, following a consultation process that violated several Free, Prior and Informed Consent principles. 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.
Sparking violence and death
Cabo Delgado, the site of Total’s project, is in the midst of a deadly conflict, and the gas industry has contributed to this violence. Fighting between the armies of Mozambique and Rwanda, insurgents and mercenaries has turned Cabo Delgado into a war zone. While the government and the industry insist that the cause of the violence is religious, the reality is much more complex. For years now, social tensions have grown as already-poor local communities see their province’s wealth being plundered by national, and international economic and political elites and extractive companies. All the while their complaints and basic human rights and needs are ignored and disregarded. This violence has made 800,000 people refugees, and thousands have been killed. Many of the people displaced by the industry have had to flee to other cities or nearby provinces, and do not know if they will ever be able to return to their homes. Journalists and activists have disappeared, some never to be seen again.
After a deadly attack on Palma village in March, Total claimed ‘force majeure’, pausing its project indefinitely and pulling its staff out of the area. It has since not made any compensation payments to community members and has stated that it will not be fulfilling its payment obligations to contractors, including local businesses.
Severe damage to global climate
The climate impact of the project will be extremely high and is totally misaligned with the Paris Agreement. The environmental impact assessment shows that just the construction phase of one LNG train (liquefaction facility) will increase the greenhouse gas emissions of Mozambique by up to 14%. There are plans to construct six.
The country’s record gives little assurance that gas, or any fossil fuel for that matter, will bring any benefit to the people. Even though the country has been a fossil-fuel exporter for many years, still only about 30% of the population has electricity access, and it remains one of the poorest in the world. 95% of the gas will be exported to India, France, the UK, China and Indonesia among other countries.
The Mozambique government have demonstrated before that they will not invest profits into the wealth of their country. Historically, they have provided tax relief to fossil fuel exporters and plan to do so again – costing Mozambicans around $5.3 billion. The Mozambique government cannot be relied upon to support the communities suffering at the hands of the fossil fuel industry.
What does JA! do to fight this?
JA! works closely with communities who are affected by the gas industry. We are watchdogs – watching what Total and the gas industry is doing to local people, and working with these communities to fight the industry at the grassroots level. We support communities with making complaints, maintaining communication with the industry and educating them about their rights.
We take these voices to an international level with our close partners where people around the world can hear – activists, the public, the media, the courts and those in power.
What is the solution?
In March 2021, the UK government announced the end of overseas fossil fuel financing, but this came too late for the Mozambique LNG project, agreeing to funding in July 2020. Though it is heartening that during COP26, several countries involved in the Mozambique gas industry committed to end overseas fossil fuel financing after 2022, however, this doesn’t get them off the hook for the destruction they are already funding – they need to cancel their current financing agreements with Total and the gas industry, and with the Mozambique LNG project on hold, this is an ideal opportunity. But Total cannot just run away from what they have done. They need to make reparations for the mess they have already created.
Countries in the Global North need to pay their climate debt to Mozambique, cancel historical debts and provide sufficient climate financing for a move to alternative energy sources, renewable energy technology without intellectual property patents, and education on these technologies.
What can the UK people do to help?
You can support the court case, by sharing it on social media and following Fo
Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland (FoE EWNI) are challenging UK Export Finance’s (UKEF) decision to fund a mega gas project in Mozambique. They will be in court on 7-9 December. Below JA! explains the reasons for supporting this court case.
“the hydropower certification scheme promoted by the Mphanda Nkuwa Office“
In late October JA participated in a course on the new “Hydropower Sustainability Standards” (HSS), which reiterated the issues and concerns regarding certifications, guidelines, best industry practices and other non binding methods that try to address the devastating impacts of mega-dams. The benefit for the industry is that these methods are non-binding, optional and can be designed to fit the specific wants and interests of the sector. All this, while fashioning the illusion of being more “sustainable” or whatever new green-washing marketing terminology is fashionable.
The difficulties involved in attempting to regulate and improve any industry are understandable. If the standards, guidelines, and requirements are grounded in science, and honestly incorporate human and environmental needs and costs, it would pose an impossibly daunting task for corporations to even consider. If regulations were legally binding, it would impose a great risk on the corporation, knowing well they often fail to meet even the most basic standards. Groups involved in trying to improve industry standards, especially through certifications mechanisms, are left with the easy, inexpensive and inconsequential processes, that usually circumvent critical problems and impacts.
The HSS is a certification scheme that attempts to push hydropower projects to achieve the best industry standards. Herein lies the fundamental issue: In an industry where even the best industry standards can fall short of being sustainable, scientifically sound or just; achieving such goals is still something very far from adequately dealing with the real life impacts of dams. At the same time formulated goals grounded in science and true sustainability – measurably human and environmental – are continuously ignored by the hydropower industry. Despite these obvious obstacles at hand, at the very least with the HSS scheme there could be the possibility of moving the dial of hydropower projects in to a positive spectrum of the hydropower industry norms.
This article is not a comprehensive critique of the “Hydropower Sustainability Standards” (HSS) as that would result in a very long and technical document, and ultimately would only interest a very narrow audience. Instead it serves as generative feedback combining our experience with the HSS course and analyses of the information available on the HSS site, highlighting certain issues, trends and concerns with the certification, which is lacking in the current media coverage.
Transparency and access to information? Only when the client agrees.
Justiça Ambiental was invited to participate in this two-and-a-half day course, and several discussions around the Mphanda Nkuwa Dam project were included in the agenda. Given the lack of information on the latest iteration of the Mphanda Nkuwa Dam project, including lack of response to JA’s letters and emails since August this year, any information was welcomed.
While the HSS website lays out numerous claims of transparency, noticeably all project assessments required an annex where all documents used in the certification process are listed. In a country where accessing documents linked to mega development projects is a challenge, the hope was that increased access to information could be one of the positive outcomes of the scheme.
Unfortunately, the Mphanda Nkuwa Dam was not discussed nor any significant information about it was given, in neither of the first two days that we participated. Furthermore, all the documents supplied for assessments are listed, but not necessarily made available to the public. If the project proponent or government classifies any supplied document as restricted to the public, HSS respects that request and even makes claims of secure information management to instill confidence in their clients. At the end of the day, their clients are paying over $100.000 USD for the certification and so they must respect the client’s needs, and put their loyalty where the money is. There are certain documents that are required to be made publicly available for a project to achieve a pass in the “Communications and Consultation” section of the assessment, but the criteria is vague and seems to cover easily available documents that even a non-transparent country like Mozambique publicly releases anyway.
Other existing dams? Just ignore them.
During the introduction to the HSS it was positive to see the acknowledgment of the importance of the World Commission on Dams (WCD) report, but sad to realize how minimally the HSS meets some of the fundamental recommendations of the WCD. HSS certifications are structured around specific projects and have no real mechanism to deal with accumulated impacts, intersectionality and externalities. Rivers are highly interconnected systems with complex inter-linkages, requiring potential solutions to be centered around accumulated impacts, existing dams and the complex interactions of the numerous ecosystem functions, and more. The strength of the WCD was exactly the focus on this complexity, inter-connectivity and accumulated impacts. In this way, certification of dam projects is highly problematic when approached on a project to project basis; and so hard to align with WCD recommendations. To better understand just look at the WCD recommendations on “Comprehensive Options Assessments” and “Addressing Existing Dams” and then look at how HSS fails to deals with these issues.
To start, the HSS fails to prioritize needs assessments and starts the process much later than what is recommended by the WCD. Secondly, the fundamental issues raised by the WCD in “Addressing Existing Dams” such as optimizing benefits from many existing dams; addressing outstanding social issues and strengthening environmental mitigation and restoration measures are completely lacking in the HSS. This is especially concerning in relation to the Mphanda Nkuwa dam, as it has been designed to function based on the Cahora Bassa dams flow, which is a dam that doesn’t meet environmental and social flow requirements. If Cahora Bassa dam suddenly decided to meet these flow requirements, the Mphanda Nkuwa dam would have high economic risks.
Project is too bad too pass? Try again with flexible methods and VERY weak requirements.
Many of the these weaknesses of the HSS are due to the tailoring of certification schemes to fit the needs of specific projects. Not only does it have to be simple enough to be cost effective and quickly – time is money – but it is structured to the benefit of the project proponents’ scope of interest and control. So the project’s shortcomings can actually be used in deliberate and strategic ways.
Breaking down climate change assessment and how the HSS defines good and best practices: first off, it is vague and the differences between good and best industry practices are small and inadequately defined. Secondly it uses weak methods or doesn’t specify/limit the use of certain problematic methods and their deployment. Thirdly it sets low standards, limits, upper bounds, etc.
For example, when assessing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions related to a project, rather than assessing the emissions based on their impact on the carbon cycle from both up and downstream of the dam site, it utilizes geographically limiting parameters, resulting in a lower estimate than the total measurement of emissions caused by a dam project. The HSS capitulates further, setting the GHG emissions upper bound to 100 gCO 2 e/per kWh, which is an extremely high amount and easy for most projects to achieve and report. In its own documentation, the HSS notes that the industry average is between 24-28 gCO 2 e/per kWh. Even the International Energy Agency (IEA) recommends 50 gCO 2 e/per kWh limits and notable scientists and civil society groups have demanded further reduction. The HSS’s claim to good or best practices is deceitful.
Of further concern is the reality that HSS certification facilitates climate bonds financing; opening the door for offsetting, false solutions, carbon markets and delays in mitigating emission reductions, but that is a whole other (crucial) topic of debate.
Mphanda Nkuwa: always claiming to be what it’s not.
Not all performance requirements are as weak or easy to manipulate as the climate change mitigation and resilience requirements, but it is still common to find gaps, low standards, weak methods, vague terms and missed opportunities to set true best practices or follow scientific directives. When reflecting on using the HSS to assess the Mphanda Nkuwa Dam, these weaknesses become concerning. As with many dams, Mphanda Nkuwa Dam has complex interconnected impacts that could never be accurately assessed with the approach used by HSS, which expects a two to four person consulting team to somehow possess wide ranging expertise of an ecosystem that has been barely researched and so lacks foundational scientific data. Concerns around the Mphanda Nkuwa Dam’s impact on sediments, seismic risks, amongst other issues remain unanswered. For example, the HSS sediment analyses are vague and again highlight the project specific approach, focusing more on project specific erosion, sedimentation and water quality. The HSS does not seem to restrict known problematic methods, nor recommend scientifically sound basin level sediment modeling with sampling over time or seasons. As for the seismic risks, the situations has far graver implications.
When these more complex issues were raised to the facilitators, one reply was that we have to be careful of paralysis due to analysis. Someone else in the course mentioned the goals have to be approached in small enough steps so as to encourage the industry to try improve. If the HSS were just another set of tools that project proponents could use to assess their project it would not be a bad thing. The concern is in the name of the certification and what it claims “Certified Sustainable Hydropower”. It is a large and misleading claim precluding obvious inadequacies that lay dispute to any claim of sustainability. Too much effort is expended to satisfy and legitimate the dam sector, for example the basic certification requires that “Projects have undergone an independent assessment and have met the minimum requirements of the Standard, and have received a total advanced requirement score below 30%”. It is not very ambitious, to say the least. There is the silver and gold certification, the highest of which requires the project to “meet a minimum of 60%” on all 12 criteria.
Overall we strongly feel the HSS “Certified Sustainable Hydropower” is a self-fulfilling concoction by the dams sector for the dams sector. It has very good visuals, info graphics and strong worded claims that purport benefits to projects that achieve it’s certification. In addition, it provides entry for the dam sector players to enter carbon markets, which has far reaching and dubious implications.
Refined, objectively calibrated tools that focus on impact assessment, and developing solutions to fundamental issues related to dams development, and less on marketing unattainable promises. Many of these tool are cheaper and some are even free. For example Riverscope1 from TMP systems is a free geospatial tool, which used data from 281 dams to develop its methods and is very useful in identifying risks, alternatives and solutions for dam projects. It does not provide certification, claiming a project to be sustainable, but a functional tool for those legitimately focused on even development. Riverscope is not exhaustive in analyzing myriad issues and impacts resulting of dam development nor does it claim to be, yet still delves into more detailed analyses than the HSS. At the end of the day the biggest issue with the HSS is the claim of “Certified Sustainable Hydropower” – an ambitious claim that has not come even close to realization.
The Mphanda Nkuwa dam project continues to be how it has always been: wrapped in opacity and fraught with risks that have not been adequately analyzed nor discussed by the Mozambican society. But its next move will be to claim its “sustainable hydropower certification”.