It’s hard to believe that on the heels of the cataclysmic climate report by the authoritative UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the call by UN Secretary General António Guterres for the abrupt end of any new fossil fuel exploration and production, plans to build the world’s longest crude oil pipeline are moving forward. The proposed 900-mile East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) will run from oilfields in Uganda to the ocean ports of Tanzania.
Distinguished environmental activist Bill McKibben fiercely criticizes the plan in The Guardian with coauthors Diana Nabiruma and Omar Elmawi. The article cites the estimate by The Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide-USA (ELAW-USA) that burning the 210,000 barrels of oil a day expected to be transported via the African pipeline will produce more than 34 million metric tons of carbon every year. This is significantly greater than the current combined emissions of Uganda and Tanzania. The Chinese National Oil Company, French oil giant Total, and the Uganda and Tanzania governments are heavily invested in the pipeline. This crude oil pipeline is projected to cost about $3.5 billion. The pipeline is pricy because it has to be electrically heated to keep Uganda’s highly viscous crude oil warm enough to flow.
In the wake of construction and the inevitable oil spills there will be population displacement, ruined lives and livelihoods, economic upheaval, and significant loss of biodiversity. On its way to the Indian Ocean the pipeline will go through 12 forest reserves, and several habitats of elephants, lions, and chimpanzees. It will cross more than 200 rivers and go through thousands of farms. Oil spills can be expected in the country’s uniquely biodiverse mangroves and coral reefs. In all, more than 2,000 sq km of protected wildlife habitat will see widespread disturbance. Ultimately the most devastating impact of the pipeline will be on the climate when the fossil fuel it conveys is burned at a time when the earth is reaching the point of no return to a habitable carbon neutral planet.
Resistance to the pipeline is strong. More than one million people have signed a petition calling to shelve the project calling to shelve the project. In April a letter signed by 38 African civil society organizations blamed the heads of state and corporate entities for ramming the project through the legal process that would undoubtedly have scrutinized the environmental impacts carefully and rejected the project. Work is expected to begin in April 2022 and has promised thousands of jobs to Ugandans. The project is currently supported by Uganda’s long-serving president, Yoweri Museveni, and his Tanzanian counterpart, Samia Suluhu Hassan. A few months ago, both oversaw the signing of agreements between their governments and the participating oil majors. The hope is the pipeline will boost Uganda’s economy and bring it energy independence.
Perhaps President Biden needs to address this fast-moving project and send America’s top climate diplomat John Kerry to the region to highlight the seriousness of the dreaded project. Last January, Kerry was at the World Economic Forum in Davos and reiterated Biden’s plan to end “international finance of fossil fuel projects with public money.”
Perhaps other envoys such as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken can make an appearance as well to promote an alternate path to fossil fuels. Another group, #stopeacop has a strong petition campaign to stop the flow of money to the project by two of Total’s key financiers, Barclays and Credit Suisse. Other on-line anti-financing petitions are Avaaz, and Inclusive Development International.
But Uganda is not blind to the changing climate which already has cost the country lives due to flash floods and landslides that have destroyed infrastructure, roads and farms. The proposed pipeline will connect oil deposits from fields near Lake Albert to ports in Tanzania despite the fact that communities that lived near Lake Albert were displaced last year due to rising water levels. Sealed oil wells near Lake Albert were also submerged last year.
One wonders how these world leaders and corporate heads can look themselves in the mirror or sleep peacefully at night. Were they not, like us, shocked at the IPCC report? Or did they blithely dismiss the report as information already heard many times? Have they grown numb to the desperate calls to stave off climate calamity by curtailing the use of fossil fuels? Is human existence to be sacrificed to the outmoded ethic that values profit over lives? McKibben quotes Guterres: “either there’s a death knell for the fossil fuel industry or there’s a death knell for our civilization, beginning, of course, with its poorest and most vulnerable people.”