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Reviews |  The East African pipeline does not need


KAMPALA, Uganda — This week, the United Nations panel of climate experts delivered a clear message: to stand a chance of curbing dangerous climate change, we cannot afford to build more fuel infrastructure. fossils. We also need to quickly phase out the fossil fuels we use.

At times like this, the media rarely focuses on African countries like mine, Uganda. When it does, it covers the impacts – the devastation we are already experiencing and the disasters that are looming. They are right: Mozambique has been hit in recent years by cyclones intensified by climate change. The drought in Kenya linked to climate change has left millions of people hungry. In Uganda, we are now more frequently affected by extreme flash floods that destroy lives and livelihoods.

But this latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent more of these impacts, also has implications for Africa’s energy systems. Africa is not only a victim of the climate crisis, but also a place where infrastructure decisions made in the years to come will shape its evolution.

TotalEnergies, a French energy company, announced a $10 billion investment decision this year, which involves a nearly 900-mile pipeline between Kabaale, Uganda, and a peninsula near Tanga, Tanzania. From there, the oil would be exported to the international market.

Despite local opposition, TotalEnergies and a partner, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, went ahead. The project may struggle to secure additional funding, as many banks have already shut the project down. Multinational insurance company Munich Re has also pledged not to insure it, at least in part because of the damage it would cause to the climate.

Burning oil carried by the pipeline could emit up to 36 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, according to one estimate. This is about seven times Uganda’s total annual emissions.

More immediately, the East African crude oil pipeline will have dire consequences for the people of Uganda and Tanzania. According to Oxfam International, approximately 14,000 households will lose their land, and thousands of people will be economically or physically displaced. According to some reports, the compensation paid to some communities is totally inadequate. The pipeline will also disturb wildlife habitats. Writer and climate activist Bill McKibben said it almost looks like the route was “designed to endanger as many animals as possible”. An oil spill would be even more catastrophic for habitats and our freshwater supplies. (TotalEnergies and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation have previously said they are working to avoid causing harm to countries.)

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Pipelines have become a symbol around the world of the fight for climate justice. In 2021, the Biden administration shut down the Keystone XL pipeline in the United States after a decade-long struggle by Indigenous groups, climate activists and farmers. In East Africa, the Stop EACOP campaign is a similar alliance that has emerged to tackle fossil fuel infrastructure. More than a million people have signed a petition calling on TotalEnergies and other pipeline backers to stop the project.

However, the Ugandan government remains largely supportive of the pipeline. Politicians have apparently bet their political future on the promise of revenue it could generate. Naturally, many people in Uganda who are not directly affected by the pipeline also believe that oil could be a door to wealth. Our country has low levels of formal employment and many people struggle to feed their families. Oil was discovered in the Lake Albert Basin in 2006 when I was in primary school, and I remember my teacher proudly announcing to the class that Uganda had found ‘black gold’ .

But the discovery of oil in Nigeria, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo has not brought widespread prosperity. Instead, it brought poverty, violence, and the loss of traditional lands and cultures. Much of the profits went to multinational corporations and foreign investors and into the pockets of corrupt local officials. TotalEnergies and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation will own 70% of the East African crude oil pipeline, with Uganda and Tanzania sharing the remaining 30%. This pipeline is not an investment for the population.

It’s also not a long-term investment. The International Energy Agency predicts that the growth of renewable energy will accelerate over the next four years. Fossil fuel projects like EACOP could result in short-term gains but potentially huge losses – and could end up among the $1.3 trillion in oil and gas assets locked in around 2050.

A study presented by the International Renewable Energy Agency found that sub-Saharan Africa can meet nearly 70% of its electricity needs from local renewables by 2030, creating up to two million more green jobs in the region by 2050. Africa has 39% of the world’s renewable energy potential, according to Carbon Tracker, but together with the Middle East, receives only 2% of annual investments. Africa needs climate finance pledged by rich countries, as well as private institutions, to develop clean energy.

There is a huge appetite for clean energy alternatives here. I saw it through my work installing solar panels and clean stoves in rural schools. These efforts sometimes seem hopeless when money pours in from banks and foreign governments for fossil fuels. But Africa is where critical investments should go in our fight for a stable climate in the years to come. Financial institutions must reject the East African pipeline and fossil fuel projects like this, in favor of clean energy. The science is clear. This is the case with investment.

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