Climate Change and the World of Labour


Comrade Prince Adeyemi – NLC deputy President, Nigerian Labour Congress launching the NLC Climate Policy

Time for Green Labour Revolution

The launch of the Climate Policy must be followed by massive awareness creation on shop floors and board rooms. The capacity of workers must be enhanced through trainings so that the coming transitions will be beneficial rather than harmful to the workforce. The policy must also be seen as a tool for building bridges and for deep collaboration with citizens, movements and governments.

The Climate change phenomenon affects all humanity and the planet. It is a cross-cutting crisis that has deep implications for our way of life and for how and where we work. Climate Change is a social, environmental and ecological justice issue. It is also an issue of gender, political and economic domination wherein those that contribute the least to the problem are the most affected and it is the victims that are increasingly showing more ambition towards tackling the crisis. This realisation urges us not to see the demand for System Change as a mere slogan but as a key framing of the fundamental path to attaining climate justice.

The big challenge here is that getting involved in pressing for climate action may sometimes appear to go against the grain of the routine labour concerns of wages and job security. Keeping in mind the fact that climate change impacts do not differentiate between workers and non-workers, we cannot overemphasis the fact that labour activism must necessarily go beyond work tenure, wages and privileges. In fact, climate action is a major way that labour unions can retain relevance in a world facing dramatic and unyielding social, climate and environmental change. Labour’s climate change slogan “No jobs on a dead planet” speaks very clearly about the overarching understanding that demands mobilisations for action.

Climate impacts are already with us. And they are intensifying: floods, sea level rise, droughts, desertification, heat waves, water stress and disappearing water bodies, including Lake Chad.

Responses have been mostly on two tracks: adaptation and mitigation. Both require finance and in many cases technology. Climate finance and technology transfer are essential for serious climate action. The demand for these cannot be seen as charity or philanthropy, but on the basis of equity, historical responsibility and as reparation or settlement of climate or ecological debt. This can also be approached on the basis of polluter pays principle. This principle has already kicked in here with regard to the clean-up of Ogoni environment where the funds for the environmental assessment came from the polluter and the clean-up itself will be similarly funded.

The Nigerian Labour Congress must be applauded for placing due premium on Climate Change and seeking ways to contribute to the tackling of the crisis on the factory floors and in the wider political space. At a time when other sectors of the economy are yet to place the needed premium on finding solutions to the challenge, NLC has taken the bold step of coming forward with a Climate Change Policy.

Politicians cannot effectively tackle the climate crisis alone. The environmental and climate movements cannot do it alone. The fusion of forces requires a fresh understanding of solidarity and conjoined interests.

The NLC has shown over the years that its vision for workers includes the place of workers in community of citizens of our nation. Labour has been in the fore front of the struggles for liberties, democracy and sundry rights in our nation. With that pedigree, it would have been tragic if the NLC did not take a bold stand on this major threat that has both local and global manifestations. Labour has the onerous responsibility to make climate change action and clean jobs central collective bargaining planks.

Climate Deniers

It is well known that while businesses and corporations have known of the threat of climate change some of them have invested heavily in sowing doubts about the crisis and are in general denial that global warming has anthropogenic roots. Among the major climate deniers are transnational oil companies and it does appear that the main reason for blocking or blunting efforts to tackle the menace has been bids to lock in dependence on fossil fuels and by so doing secure their profit margin while maintaining a short term vision that does not worry about the catastrophic consequences of climate change.

Climate denial has powerfully impacted climate negotiations and actions. The short history of climate negotiations makes this clear. The major Kyoto Protocol of 1997 placed premium on the foundational justice premise of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR). Informing that principle is the fact that although humans have caused climate change, some nations are far more responsible for the situation than others. That reality led to the creation of Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 countries, with the Annex 1 nations being the rich industrialised and highly polluting nations who have already utilised a huge chunk of the carbon budget. The Kyoto Protocol required that countries agree to binding emissions reduction levels – by which they would do their fair share of emissions cut as determined by science, in order to keep global temperature increases within reasonable limits.

From the 15th Conference of Parties of the UNFCCC held in Copenhagen, the world shifted from binding emissions reduction and adopted the voluntary pledge and review system. This was concretised in the much-celebrated Paris Agreement reached at COP21.  Now, countries can do literally as they please. It has been seen already that if all the countries, including Nigeria, do all they say they would do as contained in their NDCs, the world would be on track for over 4oC temperature change within the Century. Keeping in mind that Africa experiences higher average temperatures than the global average the levels of temperature increase being foreseen would mean a roasting of Africa.

Climate and the World of Labour

Let us look at some of the consequences of climate inaction on the World of Work. First of all, we must all agree that it is workers that are called upon to provide emergency responses when there are natural or manmade catastrophes – whether these are floods, fires or conflicts arising from these and others. It is thus in the worker’s interest for action to be taken to avert such avoidable calamities.

The major driver of global warming is known to be the burning of fossil fuels- oil, gas and coal. In Nigeria we literally burn raw natural gas through gas flaring. It has been estimated that up to 80-85 percent of known fossil fuels reserve is not burnable[1] if we are to stand a 50 percent chance of keeping to 2 degrees Celsius temperature increase throughout this Century[2]. This has been attested to by several authorities including the International Energy Agency, The World Bank and researchers at University College London. Has this realisation halted the search for and extraction of fossil fuels? No. Rather than stop searching for and exploiting these resources we are witnesses to extreme extraction including by deep sea drilling and hydraulic fracturing or fracking. The challenge facing the industry is that if the use of their products is discontinued they would be left with stranded assets and diminished profits. To keep profits rolling workers must keep drilling even if the planet burns.

Another form of extreme extraction is deep-sea drilling. Deep sea drilling besides yielding resources that should be left below the sea bed, exposes workers to very risky work conditions. Workers literally disappear in accidents such as the Deep Sea Horizon oil spill of 20 April 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico and the Chevron gas rig explosion of 16 January 2012 in the Funima field off the coast of Kolouama, Bayelsa State.

Fracking is known to heavily contaminate ground water with toxic chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing processes. The process is also said to be triggering earth tremors and earthquakes in some areas.

With sea level rise and freak storms, workers are exposed to hazardous conditions even as drilling rigs and platforms face increasing risks and sometimes get knocked over. Sea level rise is a real threat in Southern Nigeria, just as desertification is in the North. Indeed, Nigeria’s 853Km coastline is so low lying that sea level rise and coastal erosion are already causing significant loss of land. We should add here that the industrial installations along our coastline stand at a great risk if climate action is not taken to strengthen and defend our coastline by means including sea walls and restoration of mangrove forests.

Deforestation is another phenomenon that must be stemmed as a way of fighting climate change. Our forests are challenged by illegal logging and by land-use changes, especially of replacing our forests with monoculture plantations. Forest cover is also lost to infrastructural developments. With our forest cover already down to less than 10 percent of what it used to be, the 260 KM superhighway that is proposed to run from Bakassi to Katsina Ala, ripping through pristine forests, and having 10 km right of way on both sides may well be the last nail to be hammered into the climate coffin in Nigeria. Labour has a duty to speak up on this matter.  The infrastructural development would provide some jobs in the short term, but destroying such a huge swathe of pristine rain forest would extinguish existing livelihoods in forest dependent communities, diminish tourist potential of the territory, destroy wildlife habitats and general biodiversity. Significantly, it would mean the destruction of a major carbon sink in the region.


New Thinking, New Jobs

If fossil resources are kept in the ground, would this not lead to massive lay off of workers around the world? Not likely if we act proactively.

Labour can play strategic roles in climate change responses, including by activating a global movement of workers that are actively ensuring that their pension funds are invested in climate friendly sectors. Labour can work towards training and retraining for the acquisition of new skills for jobs in the renewable energy sector, greening our infrastructure, retrofitting and other areas of the built environment. The fear of job losses that may arise from a shift from jobs that hurt the climate is to a large extent unfounded. The Trade Unions-led One Million Climate Jobs campaign, for example, gives ample reasons to see that we simply need a new mind-set and willingness to invest differently. According to the campaign, Climate jobs are jobs that lead directly to cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases, and so slow down climate change. For instance, workers who build wind farms replace power stations that burn coal or oil. Workers who insulate buildings reduce the oil and gas we burn. Bus drivers reduce the amount of oil we burn in cars[3].

The campaign also shows that one million climate jobs can be funded from recovered stolen funds and from other monies stashed away in tax havens.

The Green Labour Revolution

We have heard it said that Africa missed the first Green Revolution and so we need a new Green Revolution for the continent. The true revolution that we need is one that builds on our inherent diversity and resilience. In the area of agriculture, labour should be in the forefront of ensuring that our biodiversity is not eroded and that our farmers are not turned into share croppers or mere farm hands in monoculture wastelands. Labour must promote truly climate smart agriculture that is built on agro-ecology and not on genetically engineered crops that depend on toxic chemicals that endanger the health of farm workers and the environment. It is time give birth to a Green Labour Revolution. According to the frontline climate crusader, Naomi Klein, this sort of revolution would not only delink our economic system from the clutches for neoliberalism but would heal the planet in the process.[4]

Dominant political and neo-liberal economic thought holds that through technological development we (humans) can fix whatever we break and destroy. This position is promoted by the rupturing of bonds between humans and Nature; with Nature being seen as an object to be transformed and/or commodified. This thinking has driven extreme extraction and dramatic transformation of Nature that has now thrown up new realities.

The protection of livelihoods will remain a key concern of Labour, but the reality of some workers being adversely affected by climate impacts and policies must necessarily be kept in view through provisions for a just transition[5] to a climate-friendly economy.[6]

Work sectors that must embrace just transitions to a low carbon economy include:

  • Power/energy sector
  • Agriculture
  • Infrastructure and construction
  • Waste management
  • Health
  • Mining
  • Land management
  • Industrialization
  • Transportation

The launch of the Climate Policy must be followed by massive awareness creation on shop floors and board rooms. The capacity of workers must be enhanced through trainings so that the coming transitions will be beneficial rather than harmful to the workforce. The policy must also be seen as a tool for building bridges and for deep collaboration with citizens, movements and governments.

The solutions to complex problems are often so easy that they are overlooked or simply ignored. Real climate change actions require that

  • Emissions are cut at source and not offset through the various market mechanisms that can be equated to plea bargains where offenders are let off the hook by making some payments (and carrying on with the harmful activity)
  • Climate debt must be recognised and paid and this will cover for climate finance
  • The Rights of Nature is ensured and Nature is not traded as objects of trade, manipulation and transformation.
  • Consumption and waste is reduced. Promotion of local production and consumption is key
  • Vigorously promote and pursue climate cooling agro-ecological agriculture as opposed to climate hurting fossil/chemical dependent industrial agriculture.


Disaster occurs when hazards meet with vulnerability or unpreparedness. By launching a climate policy today, the NLC has shown that it will not wait to be taken unawares by climate change impacts. It is now the duty of NLC to encourage all labour organisations to urgently buy into this policy framework or draw up policies especially focussed on their areas of work. As we said at the outset, government cannot tackle climate challenge on its own. The NDCs submitted to the UNFCCC are largely aspirational and require much commitment and tweaking to make it effectively operational. Labour can provide the push that politicians often need to gain momentum towards actions.  This is the time for a much needed Green Labour Revolution and the environmental movement is ready to join forces for this to happen for the good of our peoples and the planet.

**Talking points used at the Public Presentation of Nigeria Labour Congress’ Climate Change Policy at Nicon Luxury Hotel, Abuja, on Monday 24 October 2016



[1] Duncan Clark. 2015. How much of the World’s Fossil Fuel can we burn?

[2] Christophe McGlade and Paul Ekins.2015. The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2 °C

[3] See Jonathan Neal. 2014. One Million Climate Jobs – Tackling the Environmental and Economic Crises at

[4] Naomi Klein.2013. Why Unions Need to Join the Climate Fight at:

[5] Just transition has been defined by COSATU in its Framework on Climate Change (2011)as “A Just transition means changes that do not disadvantage the working class worldwide, that does not disadvantage developing countries , and where the industrialized countries pay for the damage their development has done to the earth’s atmosphere. A just transition provides the opportunity for deeper transformation that includes the redistribution of power and resources towards a more just and equitable social order.”

[6] Ava Lightbody. 8 April 2015. How are U.S. Unions Working Toward a Climate-Safe Economy for All Workers?

20 years of Oilwatching

asamblea de oilwatch en octubre de 2016

Delegates at the 20th Anniversary/General Assembly of Oilwatch International

Oilwatch International was formally inaugurated in 1996 in Quito, Ecuador. Oilwatch has remained a network driven by the conviction that the petroleum civilisation is driving humans to the precipice. This forward-looking network called for oil to be left in the soil from its very early days. That is still the call today. Building a post-petroleum civilisation has never been more urgent as it is now.

Ecuador was the right place to begin this adventure, this struggle, this working with and learning from communities impacted by fossil fuels extraction. Ecuador served as a big school because in one or two days, and within a short travel time, you could visit oil wells, pollution spots and refineries. You could see all the atrocities and massive oil spills left by Chevron in the Amazon, for example. Using the tools of research and social exchanges, Oilwatchers from various countries could see that the destructive impacts of hydrocarbons extraction and oil-driven civilisation was uniformly reprehensible.

The extreme pollutions of the Niger Delta, the acid  and asphalt lakes beside the refinery in Curacao, the Tar sand pits of Canada and the ongoing epic struggles to keep pipelines from destroying nature and peoples ,remain the open wounds that we must confront daily.

In two days Oilwatchers looked at the rearview mirrors over the past 20 years, talked about the increasing criminalisation of nature defenders, remembered our fallen comrades, and agreed to pursue the attainment of a future where the rights of people and nature are respected and where humans live in harmony – in the true spirit of Ubuntu.

On my first trip to Quito in 1997 I took a photo of the three Amazons above on a scooter. Talk of mass transit! That photo is preserved in my pollution travelogue – Oilwatching in South America (Kraft Books, 1997). As we marked 20 years of Oilwatch we could not resist the pull to have a throwback! Simply amazing.

Oilwatchers stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters taking the stand on the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Ecocide, Genocide from AgriToxics


Dr Jayasumana noted that in most things, Asian, African and Latin American countries follow the West. He, however, pleaded that in the case of Monsanto’s RoundUp all communities should follow Sri Lanka.

Monsanto Tribunal opened this morning at The Hague. A panel of five judges are hearing testimonies from victims and experts from across the world. Reports will be coming. We feel a need to share a clip from a post -testimony video conversation I had with Dr Channa Jayasumana of Sri Lanka. He spoke extensively on how 69,000 Sri Lankans lost their lives from chronic kidney disease traced to exposure to RoundUp. He mentioned in his testimony that most cases of chronic kidney failure can be traced to hypertension or diabetes. However, in the cases recorded the victims had no history of hypertension or diabetes. Following scientific evidence and years of studies and campaigns, the government of Sri Lanka banned the importation, distribution or use of Monsanto’s glyphosate based RoundUp in 2014.

Dr Jayasumana noted that in most things, Asian, African and Latin American countries follow the West. He then pleaded that in the case of Monsanto’s RoundUp all communities should follow Sri Lanka. This is a direct call to the Nigerian government to reconsider the approval given to Monsanto on Sunday 1st May 2016 to introduce GMOs into Nigeria. The permits issued in Nigeria demand the use of the same toxic weedkillers banned by Sri Lanka in 2014 after recorded genocidal impacts. Compounding the tragic trend is the the fact the Nigerian authorities approved for Monsanto to bring a failed Bt Cotton technology into the country.

More to come from the People’s Assembly and from the Monsanto Tribunal.

Praise for Oil Politics

full-coverPraise for Oil Politics – Echoes of Ecological Wars: This is what highly respected thinkers and writers have to say about this new book. Get a copy and share your own thoughts!

Nnimmo Bassey embodies the thinker, writer, activist in one. His latest collection of essays Oil Politics is the story of our times. And since we are all eating, drinking, thinking oil, it is a story each of us should read. Oil has caused pollution in the Niger Delta and contributed to climate change. But it has also polluted democracy. As Nnimmo puts it, the story of oil is the story of ‘The blind walk of autocrats in the vice grip of kleptocrats results in unrelenting pummelling of the grassroots.’ We need to move from Oil to Soil, from Kleptocracy to Earth Democracy. Oil Politics is a call to action to each and every Earth Citizen.— Dr VANDANA SHIVA, philosopher, environmentalist, author, professional speaker, social activist

For decades, Nnimmo Bassey has been a relentless warrior against the ravages of the oil industry, holding the Niger Delta up as both a stark warning and an inspiring model of resistance. The truths in these essays demonstrate that the climate crisis amounts to a war, one waged by global elites on the poorest and most vulnerable. In his deiance, fearlessness and lyricism, Bassey also lights the way towards a just and democratic peace. — NAOMI KLEIN, author This Changes Everything and The Shock Doctrine

Nnimmo Bassey is that rare individual—he combines solid theoretical knowledge with practice; a perceptive writer and campaigner of the inest pedigree. In this collection of essays, ranging from issues of petroleum extraction to climate justice, Bassey brings to bear these formidable talents. This book deserves reading and re-reading. It is a worthy addition to the corpus of works on Africa’s badly mauled ecology. — Dr IKE OKONTA, author When Citizens Revolt: Nigerian Elites, Big Oil and the Ogoni Struggle for Self- Determination and co-author Where Vultures Feast: 40 years of Shell in Nigeria

Very few people understand the ‘politics of oil’ and have confronted the environmental crisis in Nigeria like Nnimmo Bassey. In Oil Politics: Echoes of Ecological Wars, he not only reveals the devastating impact of our environmental indiscretions but how the incestuous relationship between the Nigerian state and multinationals like Shell has left Nigeria and Nigerians gasping for breath. If we still care about Nigeria, or what is left of it, then we can only ignore this intervention at our own risk! — CHIDO ONUMAH author, We Are All Biafrans

Oil and mineral development represents a continuous act of violence against nature and society; this violence is a prerequisite to these extractive activities. Faced with this reality, communities in diverse regions of the planet organize varied forms of resistance and construct alternatives. Nnimmo Bassey is one of the human beings most committed to ecological justice and thus, social justice. This book, a collection of the author’s essays, is an example of that commitment. — ALBERTO ACOSTA, Economist, former President of the Constitutional Assembly of Ecuador, former Minister of Energy and Mines

Nnimmo Bassey is an angry good man, aware in his bones of the socio- ecological debt from North to South. He writes brilliantly calling the world to action for climate justice and against fossil fuels extraction. He comes from Nigeria and the Niger Delta where over two million barrels of oil are exported everyday, where many people have been killed while others have resisted throughout the decades of destruction brought by Shell and other companies.— Professor JOAN MARTINEZ-ALIER, ICTA, Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona

Nnimmo Bassey is one of the best known and most respected activist/analyst of the socio-political and environmental impact of fossil fuel extraction across the planet. As part of his commitments he has played a leading role in Friends of the Earth International, Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria and Oilwatch International. For more than two decades he has directly participated and/or documented peoples’ struggles against these depredatory activities, not only in Nigeria, but also in South Africa, Equatorial Guinea, Ecuador, Brazil, the Gulf of Mexico and others. … A main focus of his attention has been the struggles of the Ogoni people against the social and environmental devastating impacts of Shell’s extractive activities in the Niger Delta. This book contains an extraordinary, thoughtful and well documented critical analysis of many of these impacts and struggles. The way in which multiple dimensions of the fossil fuel civilization are integrated into the analysis is particularly valuable: impact on people’s lives; environmental devastation: climate change: the impunity with which transnational corporations operate in the Global South; government complacency and corruption; military repression; the geopolitics of oil; the implications and unsustainability of high consumption life styles based on cheap fossil energy; as well as the multiple forms of popular resistance and struggles. Activists and communities around the planet, who not only believe that another world is possible but are willing to fight for it, have much to learn from this book.— EDGARDO LANDER, retired professor of social sciences at the Universidad Central de Venezuela in Caracas, Caracas

Flying on Lake Turkana to Turkana


Photo: Joyce (from FB)

Flying on Lake Turkana to Turkana – Interconnectivity of struggles – part 2


Sometime in 2017 Kenya will begin to pump crude oil in commercial quantities. For some years now prospecting companies have been poking holes around Turkana, Kenya, looking for the so-called black gold.  One of the places the oil companies planned to seek their treasure is Lake Turkana, a UNESCO heritage site and the largest desert lake in the world. Many writers have written about this lake – famous for appearing blue from the sky, but greenish when viewed from the ground. I once read an article in which the writer compared the Lake Turkana environment to a lunar landscape. I always wanted to dip my feet in that lake.

It was a fortuitous coincidence that the Kenya Airways plane that would take me from Lagos to Nairobi was named Lake Turkana. As we fastened our safety belts, the pilot spoke briefly about the lake and what a significant water body it is in Kenya, in Africa, in the world. And that was where someone wishes to drill for crude oil? Well, the good news is that the government of Kenya has agreed that oil exploration and exploitation will not happen in this national treasure. As we winged our way towards Kenya I struck a conversation with one of the cabin attendants, mentioning how interesting it was that I was flying on Lake Turkana to visit Lake Turkana. She was thrilled. She knew of the lake, but she has never been there.

I later found out that most Kenyans have not been to Turkana. When I returned from Turkana to Nairobi at the end of my visit, a friend there asked to know how my time up there was. And then the million Shillings question came: do they wear clothes there? Perhaps the question could have been framed differently: did you wear clothes there? If that had been the question my answer would have been, ‘yes, whenever outdoors.’ The nights were so warm it did not make sense dressing up to sleep. And I noticed, as I travelled in the region, that the houses had louvered fenestrations that ensured a steady inflow of air/breeze into the houses even when all doors were shut.

I was in Kenya on the invitation of Friends of Lake Turkana (FoLT). How appropriate. On arrival in Nairobi at night I checked into a hotel on Mombasa Road. Early next morning I dashed to Wilson airport where I was met by Andrew Orina of FoLT, who soon provided me with more information about the trip and what to expect. From now onwards I was in the hands of FoLT. Breakfast at the airport, check in formalities and it was time to jump on board a light aircraft for the 90 minutes hop to Lodwar, the capital of Turkana County. Sitting next to me on the flight was Doris Okenwa, Nigerian journalist and PhD researcher whose thesis is examining negotiations of entitlements and the ways diverse actors/stakeholders lay claims to state resources in the context of oil exploitation. She has been living in Lokichar, the oil city of Turkana, about 3-4 hours away from Lodwar. Deeply respectful of the culture, she had plenty of good things to say about the hospitable Turkana people. As we took to the sky I saw that Wilson Airport is actually sitting on the edge of a games reserve. I could not help thinking how traumatic it must be for the animals.

The modest airport at Lodwar has become rather busy as the status of the county as an extractive Eldorado increases. What the airport lacks for grandeur is made up for by a huge statue of Jesus Christ atop the nearby hill, mimicking the famous Rio de Janeiro iconic statue.

Thanks to activists like Ikal Angelei, director of FoLT, the challenges of petroleum extraction in a fragile ecosystem such as Turkana has not been swept under the carpet. When two opportunities to share experiences of communities in the Niger Delta on live radio programmes came, numerous listeners called in to express deep fears about what would befall their beautiful land.

On arrival in Lodwar I was quickly checked into the St Teresa Pastoral Centre before heading to the offices of FoLT. Ikal was busy at work, as expected, and I loathed having to be a distraction. But how could that be avoided. We hadn’t met for years, so a quick catch up was in order. There after we had a short meeting with some civil society folks and a media officer from Tullow, the oil company sinking its drilling claws into the soil here. The Tullow guy spoke on how environmentally conscious they were and to illustrate that he mentioned that their enterprise had the endorsement of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World bank. At that point we reminded him that the IFC and the World Bank are notorious for supporting fossil fuel extraction and dirty energy projects and could not, by any means, be the measure of good environmental practice.

After the meeting it was time to see Lake Turkana. Fifty-five Kilometres away it took all of two hours of driving along the road to get there. The road to the lake had once been tarred, but it is now in such a bad shape that it was much smoother to drive alongside the road, meandering on sandy paths rather to hobble along on the crater-filled road. Reminded me of many roads I know in Nigeria- except that you would not have the luxury of driving along the road as is possible in this semi-arid environment.

Arriving at Lake Turkana was a sacred moment for me. With me were Daudi Emase – a brilliant young activist, and Joyce Lukwiya – a media officer with FoLT. We waded into the water, drank in the views and soon headed back. Along the way we came to a collection of sculpted rocks, some sort of stone monoliths, that legend says were humans who heard a sound from heaven and turned into stones. Be careful what sounds you listen to!

I had to see the Turkana Cultural Festival that was ongoing at Lodwar. Joyce took me there and it was quite a fair. Exhibitions, music, dancing and plenty of food. Politicians also used the festival as a veritable platform to sell their ideas. I was stuck by the dressing of the Turkana men. Their armbands are sharp metal rings that serve as ornaments and as weapons. Most men invariable carried their stools and staffs as you would probably tot a handbag. The stools are so low that when you sit on it you appear to be squatting on your hunches. Interesting thing is that wherever a man goes he has his seat with him.

Driving to Lokichar the next day was another stint of driving along or off the road. It was a four solid hours ride on a beautiful landscape dotted with shrubbery, hills and mountains. Towering anthills in the landscape presented a different design from what we have in the Savannah region of Nigeria, indicating that the termites of Turkana were of a different architectural school. Fascinating.

The meeting Lokichar took place at a community centre built and donated to the Lokichar community by Tullow, but located in Tullow’s gated compound where details of every visitor must be carefully documented before entry is granted. Calling that building a community centre requires a peculiar understanding of what that name means. It also indicates the corporate social responsibility concept of the oil company. Once inside the building, it was clear that this was, to all intent and purposes, Tullow’s seminar or training room, with laptops locked on the tables and multimedia projector handing from the ceiling. Some Tullow officials attended the meeting.

After brief introductions, the video documentary, Nowhere to Run- Nigeria’s Environmental and Climate Crises produced by Yar’Adua Centre, Nigeria, was screened. Thereafter we had an interactive session with the community folks. The documentary had many points of intersection with the realities of Turkana – the semi-arid environment, pastoralism, agricultural challenges. They were particularly interested in what may become the impacts of petroleum extraction in their land.

Among the key questions raised was how pastoralists would be compensated when their lands are taken over for oil extraction, pipelines or other facilities. Ikal explained that this worry was very acute because oil companies tend to think that lands with no human settlements or farms were empty or no-man’s lands. She explained the deep connection of nomads to their lands and the careful ways they manage such lands, returning to them from time to time to graze their goats, sheep, camels and cattle.

A case of toxic water left in an abandoned Tullow camp site was mentioned by a community person who stated that livestock became sick on drinking the water. A Tullow official explained that the camp in question had been properly decommissioned and that the pit with the toxic water was fenced off and with warning signs posted. According to him it was the people’s fault to allow their livestock access to the facility. He also added when they throw away plastic used to line the toxic waste pits some community people ‘steal’ them from the bush thereby exposing themselves to danger. This specious transfer of responsibility to the victims was roundly rejected by participants. It raised a spectre of more corporate carelessness and dangers to come.

That night, sitting under the clear stars-filled Lokichar sky, Doris treated us to a sumptuous dinner that included my much beloved ugali. Thereafter we retired to our hotel – Another Chance Guest House. This hotel has a story behind it which I may relate at a future date.

My interpreter at the community meeting in Lokichar, Hosea Gogong, was introduced as a school teacher. However, when I went to the Maranatha Faith Assemblies church, a shouting distance from Another Chance Guest House, the following day (Sunday), it turned out that he was also a pastor. I noted the intersection of faith and activism.

Three hours on a gravelly road that had never been surfaced and we arrived at Lokori, Ikal’s hometown. As we went along it occurred to me that most of the pastoralists had herds of goats rather than those of cattle that are prevalent in Nigeria. Why? Goats are more adapted to the tough semi-arid conditions here. Then closer to Lokori there were more camels. To my shame I could not bring myself to be excited about a dish of camel meat that was being proposed for the following day. The camel, and the donkey, appear to be as animals that provide assistance for transportation and do not hit me as items on a dish. If you wish to know, please don’t serve me a giraffe, zebra, rhino, hippo, elephant, lion, tiger, jackal and the like either.

The meeting here was held at a school hall with discussions following the screening of Nowhere to Run. The interactive sessions ranged from the situation in the Niger Delta and the challenges they were already facing in the area from the arrival of the oil men. The youths bemoaned a lack of jobs, poor access road and fears that their community may turn into another Niger Delta. They all resolved to train themselves in environmental monitoring and to set up teams of ecological defenders. They will not be taken by surprise by oil.

Driving back to Lodwar was a huge experience. The journey should have been accomplished in four hours, but with the night setting in and with no signage and with endless forks on the road we lost our way a couple of times but managed to return somewhere, somehow.

A few days in Turkana and I was absolutely enraptured by the place and the people. I felt at one with a people about to feel the routine disappointment that communities routinely experience when oil extraction takes its toll on their territory. I heard that politicians have promised access roads before crude oil flows out of the region. Would that happen? I invited my friends to visit the Niger Delta to see the evidences with their own eyes.

Soon before I left Lodwar, Ikal met with me at the airport and handed me a great treasure – a Turkana stool. What a gift! When you see that I don’t rush to take a seat at any forum do not be surprised that I may have my own seat tucked under my armpit.

Deconsecrated for Coal

Deconsecrated for Coal: Interconnectivity of struggles – part 1img_2326

One of the most jolting statements I have heard in recent times was at a Climate Camp, and Summer School on Skills for System Change, in Rhineland, when someone said, ‘anyone that accepts authority is at same intellectual level as a horse.’ I know you may be saying that was an insult to horses! But let us ponder on that statement for a while. Horses accept human authority to work or to go where the driver decides it should go. Is that all we do when we accept authority? Whatever the basis for the formulation of that statement maybe, one thing is clear, whether horse or human, when we accept authority we surrender our sovereignty to such authority. This surrender can be voluntary or it could be extracted by force. It can lead to the gains of the common good or it could lead to deprivation of liberties.

We could call that a form of resistance, a registration of disgust over extractivism without boundaries. It registers that extraction defies life and notions of the sacred.

The climate camp was held literally on the lips of the insatiable jaws of a coal mine that is dislocating communities and emptying out others to make way for the gigantic teeth of metal excavators. One poignant information was about a church that was earmarked for demolition along with other building and infrastructure at Immerath. The town turned a ghost town as thousands of people were moved and the dead got relocated to a new cemetery. The church had been consecrated for use at the time that it was built. Now that it is to be put into disuse and demolished so that coal may be extracted from the rocks beneath it, the community had to hold a solemn deconsecration service to, for want of a better word, desecrate it so that a holy structure should not be torn down. If that concern for the sacred had been orchestrated by the mining company one would have decried its hypocrisy. As it were, this was the desire of the people, to make the building unholy so that an unholy act could be perpetrated. We could call that a form of resistance, a registration of disgust over extractivism without boundaries. It registers that extraction defies life and notions of the sacred.

Still at the climate camp, I attended a workshop on anarchism. The key points I came away with was that anarchism is not an absence of organisation, but rather that anarchists work with nature and take part in social movements with the aim of bringing about transformation. That is revolution. The anarchist may well be ready to take action when others are far from ready. At one level, the anarchist could be engaged in insurrectionism. A significant point in anarchists toeing the eco-communism part is to overturn the Darwinian concept of survival of the strongest. How is that? Simple: when the weak come together, the can defeat the strong. Coming away from that workshop got me wondering how many folks aren’t anarchists.


Graphic recording by Jakob Kohlbrenne

My input to the battery of conversations across the camp came in a session where I shared the platform with Sheila Menon who was part of the Plane Stupid struggle against the expansion of Heathrow airport runways. We stressed the fact that the global nature of the environmental and climate changes require a recognition that we must work to bring about the consolidation of movements across obviously interconnected struggles. We stressed the need to reframe the climate narrative, build resilience in diversity and the truth that adapting to a crisis cannot be a solution to that crisis. We also stressed that in our various struggles, although targets may differ, the overall objectives remain broadly the same. From that perspective we underscored the fact that local resistances to bads are valid starting points, as they expose injustices and focusses the analyses of traumatised citizenry facing diffused dictatorships of various kinds – corporate and political. However, these need to be connected to others in order to overturn the rapacious system of exploitation, expropriation and consumption.

Following the climate camp, I was privileged to meet with and learn from activists and friends engaged in diverse sites of struggles on climate and extractive issues – from Kenya to Mozambique and Uganda. These experiences will come up in the next couple of blogs. Stay connected.

Time for Real Climate Action


the panel at the UNGA side event. President Buhari (Middle), President Mahamoudu Issoufou of Niger Republic,  sits 4th left, Nigerian Minister of Environment (3rd left)

Time for real climate action. Polluting countries must do their fair share of emissions reduction and that should be at source, not through carbon markets.

I thank President Muhammadu Buhari and the Minister of Environment (Amina Mohammed) for providing this August space to outline the efforts Nigeria is making on tackling climate as well as overall environmental change.

The Niger Delta clean up based on the UNEP Report on the Assessment of the Ogoni Environment is an excellent example of government concern for the health of the peoples and the environment as opposed to corporate focus on only profit. Coupled with the plans to end routine gas flaring, we can say that these will add up to reduce green house emissions, tackle global warming and allow the people a chance to breathe fresh air after decades of ecological despoliation. This task requires the support of the global community. Thank you Mr President.

It is good that Nigeria spent time studying the Paris Agreement before signing it. The importance of taking such steps makes deep reflections a necessity. The big questions now are with regard to the implications at a global level of contributions determined at national levels. Overall, such contributions are largely shots in the dark since they are not predicated on some scientifically allotted quantities towards meeting global emissions reduction targets.

Mechanisms should be put in place to encourage countries to urgently review their NDCs, on the basis of historical responsibility and on equitably assigned targets based on a fair sharing of the global carbon budget. The aggregate commitments currently on the table simply do not measure up to what is needed.

Considering the number of climate refugees meeting their deaths in the Sahara and in the Mediterranean Sea, no effort should be spared to get polluters to step up to the plate and do their fair share in tackling global warming.

Currently, we see countries like ours setting targets that would see them doing more than their fair share in terms of emissions cuts – than the powerful nations that are also the most polluting whose NDCs do not generally rise to much more than 20 percent of what they ought to do.

Nigeria proposes to stop routine gas flaring, invest more on solar and other renewable energy sources. She also plans to ensure efficient resource utilization, including through mass transit. Reforestation and “climate smart” agriculture are also on the cards. On that point we believe that what is needed are culture smart, ecologically sound agriculture devoid of genetic engineering or gene drives.

But who will fund the lofty NDCs that Nigeria has committed to? We submit that it is time to robustly enthrone climate justice in the climate negotiations. It is time to elevate the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) beyond being a mere notion as it now is in the Paris Agreement. It is also time to to support the vulnerable on the critical issue of loss and damage caused by climate impacts.

nb-speakingPermit us to repeat the crucial issue of historical responsibility. Historical responsibility cannot be denied for ever. Someone has eaten up the climate budget. I’m sure our president could characterize this as climate corruption. If someone has polluted through the years and somebody else is condemned to suffer the impacts, the call for payment of the ecological or climate debt should not be denied or delayed. This will pay for the technology and finance much needed for the transition to clean energy far more than what their national incomes could hope to do in the near term. Climate debt trumps the current Green Climate Fund (GCF) plans.

Considering the number of climate refugees meeting their deaths in the Sahara and in the Mediterranean Sea, no effort should be spared to get polluters to step up to the plate and do their fair share in tackling global warming.

Thank you for your attention, excellences, ministers, ladies and gentlemen

Talking Points used by Nnimmo Bassey at the Nigerian event – Taking Climate Action for Sustainable Development on 22nd September 2016 at the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA)