COP27, the Loss and the Damage at Injury Time

The recently concluded 27th Conference of Parties (COP27) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, went in the way of rituals and did not rise beyond the low bars set by previous editions. Well, maybe it rose above the bar in one aspect which could be considered, more or less, the brightest glimmer of hope, appearing in the extended time of the conference. For those who were keeping vigil on the deliberations, it was a roller coaster session. Hope glimmered when many nations unexpectedly rose to say that fossil fuels, all of them, should be phased out, not just the phasing down of unabated coal as was cockily suggested at Glasgow. Recall that Glasgow only talked of phasing down (not phasing out) of unabated coal (not all coal). Observers gasped and yelped as some nations notorious for blocking any attempt to name fossil fuels as the driver of global heating in the official negotiations shifted positions. However, the flickering candle was snuffed and smashed at the final plenary. So it came to pass, that a handful of nations, including Saudi Arabia and China, threatened to scuttle the entire COP if fossil fuels were called out and their obituary announced. 

Why is the COP playing the ostrich and burying its head in the sand by being unwilling to accept that fossil fuels are literally burning the planet and that the real climate action is to phase out the polluters? How come everyone knows that up to 89 percent of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere emerged from the burning of fossil fuels but the COP choses to ignore this truth? How come even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) which is the COP’s thinking hat says that fossil fuels must be addressed, yet the COP plays deaf? The simple answer is that the swarm of over 600 fossil fuel lobbyists   at the COP, with some on official national delegations, simply would not allow reason to triumph over profit. And, as expected, African nations asserted their right to use fossil fuels as the means towards developing their nations even if the dangerously polluting pathways that the industrialised nations used brought the world to where we are now. That argument sounds more like the swan song of a fossil fuel industry desperate to keep itself on life support. And, of course, there is no shared understanding of what the development the African leaders speak of looks like.

Some of us expect leaders in the Global South to demand the payment of the climate debt and a stoppage of accumulating further debt by halting dependence on fossil fuels. The jinx and allure of the fossil age must be broken. It is time to quit denial and accept that fossil fuels must be fossilized. African nations are right to be concerned by poor levels of energy penetration on the continent. However, it is essential to point out that this cannot be solved by allowing fossil fuel corporations to get away with murder, ecocide, and human rights abuses just so that you have fossil fuels to export. Do the leaders not realise that 89 percent of fossil fuels infrastructure in Africa serve export purposes and that Africa’s extractive sector employs less that 1 percent of Africa’s workforce? Moreover, only 5percent of the investment in the sector is done in Africa. Testimonies from oilfield or minefield communities are tales of woes, pains, poverty, and death. With the scramble for new fossil fuels development on the coastline of the continent and virtually all the deltas the continent is the last ditch stand by the fossil fuels speculators and companies. 

Assault on the Deltas

The deltas under assault in Africa include the Zambezi Delta in Sofala and Zambézia Provinces of Mozambique; the notoriously ruined Niger Delta in Nigeria; Okavango Delta in Namibia/Botswana and the 

Saloum Delta in Sénégal. Add to that the lakes and rivers in the Albertine Rift Valley and the Virunga Park and the continent and the world are set to lose major biodiversity hotspots, protected areas and UNESCO world heritage sites.

The resistance by communities, fishers and knowledge holders in South Africa and elsewhere clearly show that the industry is unwanted by the people and that their persistence is nothing but a waging of war against the people and planet. We should add, too, that militarization, violence, and conflicts are the templates on which the industry constructs its ever-rising inordinate profits.

Considering the above, it should be clear that fossil fuel extraction in Africa has little to do with employment, energy supply or boosting local economies. It is all about meeting the appetite for inordinate profits and of fossil fuels addicts. It is time to rethink the hard-headed marriage with the polluters.

A Harsh Reality

Just before COP27, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) issued an Emissions Gap report that aggregated the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that countries have made under the Paris Agreement and concluded that the puny pledges would do nothing to ward off impending catastrophic global heating. In fact, the report highlighted that the world should prepare for a temperature rise as high as 2.8 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by the close of this century. The report emphasised that the window to avert climate catastrophe was rapidly closing and that the world needs urgent transformation and deep actions to cut emissions by at least 45 percent by 2030.

The first jolt of COP27 was the release of a concept note on carbon removal activities under the Article 6.4 of the Paris Agreement. That document defined carbon removals thus: Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) refers to anthropogenic activities that remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and ensure its long-term storage in terrestrial, geological, or ocean reservoirs, or in long-lasting products. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) and carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) can be part of CDR methods if the CO2 has been captured from the atmosphere, either indirectly in the form of biomass or directly from ambient air, and stored over the long term in geological reservoirs or long-lasting products. 

Two things among others in the concept note raised concern. First, the reference to storage in ocean reservoirs. While it is not clear what these reservoirs would be, it signals a huge threat to ocean ecosystems. This was roundly denounced by groups such as the FishNet Alliance because using the ocean as carbon reservoirs or for any other geoengineering experimentation could sound the death knell for their livelihoods, cultures and spirituality. The notion of long-term storage suggests that there will be a terminal point or a time when the storage would cease to work. That means that the proponents of such measures are laying a load of trouble on future generations. Secondly, carbon capture and utilisation and indeed the entire paragraph reads like something lifted from the playbook of the fossil fuels industry. Before geoengineering entered the climate debate, oil companies had been capturing carbon and reinjecting into wells to push out more crude oil for burning and releasing of yet more carbon. If this specious definition is accepted, fossil fuel companies would be earning credits for committing more climate crimes by pumping more and more carbon into the atmosphere. It would again illustrate the hypocrisy of the carbon trading non-solutions and the net zero propositions, keep dirty fuels in business and allow the planet to hurtle to cataclysmic climate impacts.

For many nations and the fossil fuels lobby COP27 was a huge carbon trade fair. However, for civil society groups, indigenous groups, youths, women, and people of faith, it was a great space for interactions, networking, learning and actions. Real and actionable climate solutions were offered while the negotiators were largely busy wordsmithing and birthing non-solutions. 

Lost and Damaged

The shining light of COP27 was the decision to have Loss and Damage. The Parties decided “to establish new funding arrangements for assisting developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, in responding to loss and damage, including with a focus on addressing loss and damage by providing and assisting in mobilizing new and additional resources, and that these new arrangements complement and include sources, funds, processes and initiatives under and outside the Convention and the Paris Agreement.” The COP came to this decision after acknowledging “the urgent and immediate need for new, additional, predictable and adequate financial resources to assist developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change in responding to economic and non-economic loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including extreme weather events and slow onset events, especially in the context of ongoing and ex post (including rehabilitation, recovery and reconstruction) action.”

Having Loss and Damage is indeed historic. However, the nitty gritty of the mechanisms to bring it to life is yet to be negotiated. Already there are signals that the USA and some others do not see the decision to have Loss and Damage as having anything to do with reparations or liability. What this portends is that unless those who have already been damaged by global warming speak up and insist that the unfolding crisis has both historical and systemic roots, this may be another tiresome ritual of quirky charity. Another bone that will have to be picked, will be how this relates to the already existing Green Climate Fund and how rich nations who have not met pledges made since COP15 will cross the hurdle to Loss and Damage. This may well be the pivotal time to go beyond celebrating the possibility of payments for loss and damage and demand the payment of a Climate Debt accumulated over centuries of exploitation, despoliation, imperial and colonial plunder. Loss and Damage cannot be charity.

An African COP?

Some had called COP27 the Africa COP but that was mere wishful thinking. Although the COP was held in Africa it did nothing to assure that temperature increases will not burn or cook the continent. Except for the acceptance of Loss and Damage there is no hope that more financial flows will come to the region. With our leaders insisting on digging up more fossil fuels, the hope of rescuing our environment continues to dim. The answer to the question as to what was gained at Sharm El Sheikh is thus blowing in the wind.

Seeing the Red Sea

Sharm El Sheikh is quite a peculiar place. While some could not gain accreditation to attend the COP, the hospitality businesses in the city squeezed all the profits they could from those who could. The people were generally friendly, and the taxi drivers were routinely kind enough to put out their ubiquitous cigarettes as a mark of courtesy.  A ride on the Red Sea in a glass bottomed boats was a delight as one could see the state of the coral reefs in the area. Those who found time to visit Mount Sinai came back with tales of getting to the location of the Burning Bush that radically altered the trajectory of the life of Moses in the Bible. For this writer, the highlight of the two weeks in the Sinai Peninsular city were three guys. The first was the guy who took care of my hotel room and was lavish in the display of his artistic creativity. One day he used the towels in the room to create a heart and decorated it with bougainvillea flowers. On another day he used an assortment of items to create a baboon and hung it over the head of the bed. Swans were routine designs. The one that was an overkill was when he used my pyjamas, sandals, hat and pillows to create a full-bodied human form on the bed. It was not a good omen as it spoke to me of a dead or damaged COP. I was happy it was the day to leave and head home!

The other guys who made the stay exciting worked in a panoramic restaurant. They were jolly good fellows who offered excellent service and would get you to enjoy the delicacies they offered until your wallet wept for mercy. Medhat was one of the guys and was popularly known as Mike Tyson, because people said they had a resemblance. The other guy was Rabea, a very engaging guy who paid close attention to what you needed. And they often tried to make us dance, but the music in my head was a sombre climate negotiations elegy. Next time perhaps.

Real Climate Solutions Exist

The ravages of climate change on Africa and other vulnerable territories are by now clear to all who care to pay attention except those in sheer denial. Extreme weather events like the reoccurring flooding episodes in the Niger Deltacyclones in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, Eswatini and the heat waves in North America that have claimed thousands of lives and livelihoods are just the beginning of birth pains of the climate catastrophe if we keep peddling false solutions and avoiding real actions to tackle the crisis.

Destructive activities including irresponsible extraction and consumption, industrial agriculture and wars are at the core of the climate change menace yet instead of tackling these at the base, we give room for corporate profit interests, political and military dominance perpetuating the myths that climate change can be solved with mathematical formulae and other market schemes.

Any actions that do not target the root causes of climate change must be seen for what they are – fallacies. Some technologies are worsening the problem and are no solutions since they lock in bad climate behaviours by allowing polluters to continue with business as usual and hoping to capture and sequester their pollution or somehow deflect them into space or into soils, oceans, or plants. Such technologies include intentional largescale manipulation of earth systems otherwise known as geoengineering – including solar radiation management, ocean fertilization, rock weathering and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage. 

Other common false solutions are carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), carbon trading, net zero/carbon offsetting and REDD+. Carbon capture or even carbon removal must be approached from the sensible understanding that continual extraction and burning of fossil fuels are counterproductive and injurious to the planet, the people and other beings. We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that landed us in the mess in the first place. 

Real solutions exist. Top of the list is to leave fossil fuels in the ground.

Agroecology has been proven to cool the planet by enabling soils retain carbon, and reducing the amount of greenhouse gases released in various industrial agriculture processes such as production of inorganic fertilizers, transportation of food over long distances, intensive mechanisation etc. In addition, agroecology builds biodiversity which is key in resilience of ecosystems to climate change impacts.

The report shows that the current pledges made by nations will lead to temperature rise of between 2.2 and 2.6 degrees Celsius or even 2.8 degrees Celsius by the turn of the century. That would translate to about 3.3, 3.9 or 4.2 degrees Celsius—an incineration of Africa and parts of the world.

The Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) ought to be a democratic space where real solutions such as agroecology are demanded with commitments made accordingly.

Countries in Africa that have suffered the most from climate change and are at greater risk must be adequately represented and carefully examine the narratives driving the conversations and negotiations at the upcoming COP 27 in Egypt. We must wake ourselves up from the path of voluntary emissions reductions and so-called commitment to “phase down” thecontinued use of coal. 

Our leaders must demand for climate Justice and insist on the payment of climate debt for historical and current harms. The marketization of Nature, including through diverse forms of carbon trading must be denounced and rejected. 

The Paris Agreement should be utterly reviewed with a new upper temperature target of well below 1.5℃ set knowing that 1.5℃ global average means 2.2℃ for Africa and that such a temperature scenario will utterly cook the continent. Sadly, the recently released UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report exposes the alarming hypocrisy embedded in the climate negotiations. The report shows that the current pledges made by nations will lead to temperature rise of between 2.2 and 2.6 degrees Celsius or even 2.8 degrees Celsius by the turn of the century. That would translate to about 3.3, 3.9 or 4.2 degrees Celsius—an incineration of Africa and parts of the world.

The COP 27 should return to the drawing board and focus on binding emissions cuts with polluting nations accepting to do their fair share on the basis of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) rather than the so-called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that so far have not dented the huge store of carbon in the atmosphere. According to the Emissions Gap Report, “The emissions gap in 2030 is 15 GtCO2e annually for a 2°C pathway and 23 GtCO2e for a 1.5°C pathway.” The report clearly notes that “countries are off track to achieve even the globally highly insufficient NDCs,” and would merely cut 3 GtCO2e out of the huge stock in the atmosphere.

African leaders going to the COP 27 must demand for investment in agroecology with support for the majority farmers, rather than industrial, colonial or plantation agriculture that depends on fossil fuels, promotes risky technologies, and continues to devastate the environment, displace communities, and feed climate change. 

Our Schools of Ecology aim to expose false climate change solutions and highlight the relevance of agroecology in climate change mitigation and resilience.

01 November 2022

Oil Theft Pollutes Our Nation

To say that Nigeria is being stolen is an understatement. It is a sordid situation. Shocking stories from the oil and gas sector continue to hit the news. Rather than being numbed by the monstrous pillaging of the nation, Nigerians should wake up to the wakeup call, especially in an election season.

By some deft choreography, the blame for the stealing and pollution in the oil field communities of the Niger Delta has been deflected to the poor communities. This devious deflection has been so successful that the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), which has the fingerprints of multinational oil companies all over it, criminalizes communities and holds them up as being responsible for interferences that may occur on oil facilities in their territories. This is unambiguously read in Section 257 subsections 2 and 3 of the PIA. The same Act gives the oil companies the sole right of determining who a host community is and grudgingly accedes to extending a mere 3 percent of the companies’ operational cost to the communities. The meagre 3 percent is be administered by a board dominated by the oil companies’ nominees for community projects. The same 3 percent, by the Act, is to be forfeited by the communities in the event of damage and sabotage to oil facilities or production. 

At a time when the nation is in dire need of revenue and when she should be investing in renewable energy, 30 percent of the profit from oil enterprise is to be spent in futile search for new oil reserves. 

With no divestment policy in place, polluting oil companies have “divested” from their onshore and other acreages, selling them off to their local cronies. By these moves, companies like Shell, Exxon, and Chevron plot to shrug off their historical and current despoliation of the Niger Delta environment. This they do knowing that the new “owners” would lift no finger to clean up the mess from the decrepit facilities and pipelines they are inheriting.

Whenever there is an oil spill incident, fingers are pointed at amorphous third parties in what is popularly termed sabotage. Meanwhile, a well blowout like the one at Ororo-1 has been raging since April 2020 off the coast of Awoye in Ondo State with no respite in site. The notorious blowout at Aiteo’s well 1 on Santa Barbara River in Nembe raged for six weeks in 2021, spewing probably over 500,000 barrels of crude oil onto the environment before it was stemmed. No cleanup has been carried out till date. We are a people fully at home with pollution!

Recent statements by those who should know better, suggest that between 400,000 and 1,000,000 barrels of crude oil are stolen daily.  However, these are just recycled figures from years ago as in actuality, the nation does not have accurate figures of how much crude is pumped daily in the country. Not surprising. There is no agreement over how much refined petroleum products are imported into the country, making room for humongous petrol subsidies to be paid endlessly. The imaginary figures of stolen crude have been in circulation for years. In 2012 the minister of finance under the President Jonathan administration had told the Financial Times of London that 400,000 barrels of crude oil was stolen daily. The current Minister of State for Petroleum Resources has recently quoted the same figures.  A former governor of Delta State opined that as much oil as was officially exported was also being stolen.  It has been known that crude oil is being stolen at industrial scale in the Niger Delta.

The narrative has been that the stealing is done by operators of illegal refineries. However, those refineries could not refine 400,000 barrels of crude oil per day. Clearly this is fiction. Those illegal refineries have thrived and become critical suppliers of refined petroleum products in the country today as the four government owned refineries remain either comatose or on life support. Meanwhile, the old but brand new Nigerian National Petroleum Company is staking its hope of meeting national petroleum products needs on a private refinery operating from an economic free zone. A zone which has been appropriately termed “enclaves of exception” in the book Enclaves of Exception: Special Economic Zones and Extractive Practices in Nigeria by Omolade Adunbi. In fact, we need to be told how the NNPC managed to pay for 20 percent shares in the Dangote refinery.

We have heard sordid tales and seen utterly despoiled environments, but the official declaration that a 4 kilometres pipeline was built in the ocean and illegally operated for 9 years through an offshore platform without being detected deserves the NNLG literature prize. Who can explain how a pipeline of that length and quality could be installed without being detected? And how could it have been operated for nine whopping years without being detected? Not the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and it’s NNPC and the then DPR; not NOSDRA nor the transnational oil companies; not the Navy nor the Joint Military Task Force detected it? Certainly, half the story has not been told. 

The immediate solution may well be to shut down the sector completely and spend some time in soul searching and repentance. Does it not put a lie to official insistence that the petroleum sector is the lifeline of the nation’s economy? Or that the energy need of the nation would only be met by continued extraction of crude oil? The series of exposés we read these days, including that of the stealing of natural gas, clearly show that the nation faces a grave future and that something must be done immediately. 

Today, we are told that our oil revenue is not enough to service the nation’s external debt. At the same time, the NNPC is declaring profits! Perhaps, economists will tell us that the company is a private enterprise distinct from what it was previously and distinct from government. Really? It must only be in Nigeria that a public company of doubtful efficiency would metamorphose into a private company and hopes to have a dramatic difference using the same staff and possibly same tools that had run a very opaque business. 

Oil theft has not only polluted our environment, but it has also polluted our national politics. It has impoverished our people and so polluted our consciences that thieves are celebrated as heroes while the poor in their struggle to fish in polluted waters or to farm in polluted soils, are labeled villains.

With revelations of the stealing of the nation pouring daily into the airwaves, it is the time to switch on and not switch off the mic. And when the time to vote the next set of leaders comes, it will be a huge shame if we play the game of musical chairs. This is the time to hold the Niger Delta Manifesto for Ecological Transformation before the eyes of office seekers or holders. Our recovery from the horrendous happenings in the oil sector will be assured through a conscious focus on righting the wrongs that have been visited on the people, our society, and our environment.

Seeing Red with the Blue Economy

One of the biggest errors anybody can make is to see the ocean as limitless. Without a doubt, nothing on Earth is limitless. We live in a limited, blue planet, a tiny ball floating in the sea of galaxies loaded with larger planets and non-planets. The notion that the ocean is limitless has attracted dreams of the extension of extractivism, grabbing of territories and resources and limitless wealth to offset the human tendency for excessive consumption without intergenerational responsibility.  On a smaller scale we see people using rivers as drainage channels into which sewage and untreated industrial effluence may be dumped. 

With very lax policing of our ocean, we can be sure that there is a high likelihood that official delineation of economic zones in our maritime areas will see reckless activities that would not only ruin local economies but damage our aquatic ecosystems beyond remedy. This prognosis is because 90 per cent of the pollution in the Gulf of Guinea emanates from the Niger Delta.

This grim reality calls for the strict protection of our waters by checking the industrial activities onshore and offshore. With some international oil companies divesting and moving into deep waters after 64 years of ruinous onshore exploitation of oil and gas, it does not require a seer to see that their activities away from the watchful eyes of community eco-defenders will be atrocious. Sadly, the pollution will get to citizens through sea foods and the delivery of pollutants by the waves to the shorelines. 

It should be alarming that by relying on satellite images alone, researchers identified 18,063 oil slicks in the period 2002-2012 covered by the images, mostly caused by spills from shipping vessels and offshore drilling platforms.

More reason to worry is the fact that economic activities envisioned within the blue economy prism include seabed extractive activities including the extraction of oil, gas, and other minerals. Other activities include marine biotechnology and bioprospecting which will pose particularly difficult regulatory oversight, seeing that basic modern agricultural biotechnology is poorly regulated in our nation. 

The concept of blue economy has been built on the back of the green economy. As we all know, the green economy concept gives the impression of ecological care while it is mostly about the marketization of Nature. The green economy is majorly about imputing monetary values on the cycles of Nature, on the “services” that Mother Earth provides for her children — humans, other creatures, and elements. One key caution on this is that we must not presume that lineal economic growth is desirable or that it inevitably yields well-being. As we noted in our publication, Blue Economy Blues, it is a settled fact that economic growth does not necessarily indicate a good measure of human well-being. There are cases where economies are said to be enjoying roaring growth whereas the rate of poverty in such societies was on the rise. As we cautioned, “Building a Blue Economy for the purpose of economic growth may actually be running off the mark.” 

We are focusing on the Blue Economy, Divestments, and the End of the Fossil Age at this School of Ecology (SoE) with the aim of building understanding around the issues and at the same time advancing our proposal for a people-to-policy approach as regards our aquatic resources. We aim to promote a reflection on our socio-cultural approaches to the use of our water bodies by which we ensured the well-being of our peoples while defending the integrity of the ecosystems. We are doing this against the backdrop of the projections that the fossil fuels age is running to an end whether we are ready or not and whether we like it or not. The meaning of the end of the fossil fuels civilization is that Nigeria must assiduously prepare for the imminent transition. That plan must include a setting aside of resources to clean up the entire Niger Delta as well as other coastline communities.

Without a plan, and a redefinition of development and progress, we may end up in a cemetery of junk technologies and bequeath to our children stranded assets in equally stranded communities. A mindless implementation of a Blue Economy may birth sea grab, beyond the coastal land grab and make ocean-dependent communities see red.

Not an African COP

Countries that have been on the receiving end of  climate change have to carefully examine the narratives driving the conversations and negotiations at the Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This is important because for years the debates have regressed from demanding real actions to defending lifestyles and dominant geopolitical power positions. Although the COP is presented as a democratic space it has always been clear that it is actually a space for imperial and indeed colonial domination. 

Calling COP27 that will be held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, an African COP is simply a tale that has a tail aimed at presenting the false notion that this is an opportunity to solve the ravages of climate change on the continent and other vulnerable nations and territories. That this will not be so should be clear. This will be the fifth COP to be held on the African continent — it has been held once in Kenya, twice in Morocco and once in South Africa. Indeed, around the time it was held in Durban, South Africa, storms battered the region leaving stark warnings and tales of woes. Since then cyclones on the South Eastern seaboard of the continent have inched up the latitudes and snuffed the lives out of thousands of Africans. Locust invasions of virtually biblical proportions have stripped dreams of robust harvests and left desolate, hungry populations in the east and horn of Africa. 

Yet, none of the COPs has shifted grounds to take real climate actions, especially recognizing the fact that the now chic notions of carbon capture or even carbon removal must be approached from the sensible understanding that continual extraction and burning of fossil fuels are counterproductive and injurious to the planet, the people and other beings. 

Rather than taking the glaring global heating pathways as real threats to life, and leaving fossil fuels in the ground, the world is locking itself on the path of voluntary emissions reductions and weakly whispering a commitment to “phase down”  the continued use of coal. Whatever that means. 

How can Sharm El Sheikh (SES) be an African COP when Africans ravaged by floods, droughts, receding coastlines and forests are unaware that political leaders and technocrats are toying with their fate under the shadows of the pyramids. How can this be an African COP if the victims of climate change are not at the negotiation tables, and are debarred from defending their life-giving forests and ocean and have no access to the tourist haven where decision makers will be ensconced for two weeks in November 2022 to perpetuate the rituals of carbon trading and hoist distant flags pointing at when their grandchildren will attain net zero carbon emissions. 

The COP has transformed itself into a platform for avoidance of actions and the appropriation of ideas and ideals of indigenous peoples of the world who have been fighting for the respect of the rights of Mother Earth with a clear understanding that to do otherwise spells doom for humans and other species on this Blue Planet. This is why at the COP there will be cheeky proclamations of nature based solutions that do nothing but market the gifts of Nature.

Corporate profit interests, political and military dominance have perpetuated the myths that the climate debacle can be solved with mathematical formulae while certain lifestyles and investments are secured by destructive activities including irresponsible extraction, consumption and wars. 

The coming COP will probably throw down some corn and coins in the guise of climate finance and the payment for loss and damage caused by ongoing climate inaction and false solutions, but will studiously avoid historical harms that have virtually exhausted the carbon budget. Even the net zero and other colourations of carbon offsetting will be couched in languages that permit Europe to throttle Africa with pipelines of discontent as the continent is forced to meet the fossil fuels shortages arising from the Russian war on Ukraine. While the industrialized nations test their bloody war machinery in Ukraine, the fangs of the fossil fuel companies are being sunk into the necks of Okavango in Namibia and Botswana; Saloum Delta of Sénégal and the Virunga forests of Democratic Republic of Congo. Rather than halting the predatory moves in these World Heritage sites, new pipelines of discontent are being planned to suck gas from the Niger Delta for delivery to Europe through Morocco and Algeria. Others are planned to convey heavy crude from the Lake Albert region of Uganda to an export terminal at Tanzania. While it is yet inconceivable for rich nations to take climate action,multinational forces are set in battle array to defend the gas pipelines and other investments in the killing fields of Cabo Delgado, Mozambique. 

COP27 could have been an African COP if African leaders and others from vulnerable, exploited and exposed regions were not marching into traps that dangle shinny mirrors that present polluting activities as development and hold up ruinous tipping points as desirable destinations.  It could have been an African COP if our leaders were going there to demand Climate Justice and insist on the payment of a climate debt for historical and current harms. The value of this debt can be approximated to about 2 trillion dollars that the industrialized nations spend on warfare and armament annually. Clearly, the problem has never been one of a shortage of cash.

It could be an African COP if the marketization of Nature, including through diverse forms of carbon trading are denounced and rejected. It could be an African COP if the gathering agrees that investment should be in agroecology with support for the majority of farmers, rather than industrial, colonial or plantation agriculture that depends on fossil fuels, promotes risky technologies and continues to devastate the environment, displace communities and feed climate change. 

It could be an African COP if binding emissions cuts return to the negotiations and polluting nations agree to do their fair share on the basis of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) rather than the so-called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that so far have not dented more than 2 gigatonnes of the 27 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent needed to keep temperature increase to not more than 1.5℃ above preindustrial levels as per the Paris Agreement of 2015. 

It would be an African COP if the Paris Agreement is overturned and a new upper temperature target of well below 1.5℃is set with a clear understanding that 1.5℃ global average means 2.2℃ for Africa and that such a temperature scenario will utterly cook the continent.

The Ikarama Paradox

There are communities in the Niger Delta that would compete to have the dubious notoriety of being the oil spills capital of the world due to the regularity of oil spill incidents they experience. Ikarama community in Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State is one of such communities. A major community in the Okordia clan, it is also well known for her location on a road that forks off the East- West Highway at Zarama where the highway crosses the Taylor Creek. Travelers on this highway regularly must squeeze their way through the colourful, massive and boisterous Zarama market that emerges at this intersection on Fridays. It is a day when traders and farmers in communities within the region bring their wares and produce for sale to buyers who come from far and near to buy yams, plantains and bananas, cassava products, vegetables, meat, seafood, and an assortment of imported goods. The market is so massive that and speaks out on the highway that it literally takes up one wing of the bridge that straddles the Taylor Creek at this point. The colourful umbrellas under which business is transacted here is a sight to behold. But it doesn’t give any hint of the oil pollution that swirls in the swamps and creeks beyond.

Before the advent of oil exploitation activities at Ikarama it was a community that was fertile both for fishing and for farming. It’s location in the Bayelsa National Forest marked it out as a custodian of a rich biodiversity. The benevolence of nature has been brutally threatened by oil over the past decades. 

When oil spill is mentioned within Okordia clan in Yenagoa local government area of Bayelsa State, Ikarama and neighbouring communities including Kalaba readily come to the mind of anyone familiar with the history of oil spill incidents in that axis of the Niger Delta. Ikarama community is host to Shell’s Okordia manifold, oil wells and pipelines owned and operated by the Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC).

Reports of oil spill incidents are as numerous as they are disturbing. At a visit to an area impacted by oil spills in the community way back in 2014, it was amazing to see that those who pretended to have cleaned up the spill had merely turned the soil over to cover up, not clean up, the pollution. The grass over the area shone from the stubborn oily sheen that refused to be hidden and the fumes in the air was so thick residents whose houses were close by had to relocated for safety reasons. I was accompanied on that visit by Alagoa Morris, the ace monitor of the despoliation of the Niger Delta environment and Jay Naidoo, an African elder, activist and politician, who was the founding Secretary General of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), and later a minister in the government of President Nelson Mandela of South Africa. Naidoo went on to reference the ecocide in Ikarama in his excellent book, Change: Organising Tomorrow Today. 

Naidoo was shocked by what he saw at Ikarama, Rumuekpe and Ogoni. He wrote in his book that rather than paralyzing him, what he saw made him determine to do something to help restore the land to the rightful owners, the people who work with their bare hands and only take from nature what she yields to them. He continues in that struggle to this day by organizing and by mentoring young people as a key knowledge holder on our continent.

My last visit here may have been in 2014, but I have studiously followed the pollution trajectory here from way back to in 2007. And that is why I am returning to Ikarama today, 8 years after. 

A major incident occurred in February 2018 when a resident was hit by the pungent smell of crude oil, and the sound of spraying liquid, on his way to farm. That spill was traced by the Joint Inspection Visit (JIV) to have resulted from what is termed “third party interference.” The response to this incident was brutal as officials of the Civil Defense Corps descended on the community in the wee hours of one morning, shot a youth in the hand and on both legs, and arrested and took away a lady in lieu of her husband, a logger, who was away in the forest at that time.

Mr Udoki Orukori, the arrested woman’s husband told reporters then that he did not know where his wife had been taken to. “I was informed it was Civil Defense (that arrested her). For now I don’t have money, so there is no access for me to go after her.” Mr Orukori’s extreme exposure and helplessness illustrates the state of affairs of community people all over the Niger Delta who have to confront multiple security forces in the murky waters of the region and in the murkier business of securing oil and gas facilities.

Before the February 2018 incident, the last observed spill in the community was recorded two years earlier and that one was attributed to Shell’s equipment failure. From that month the incidents of spills resumed with the regularity of a tom tom beat of a festival drum.

There was another major oil spill here in the evening of 11th June 2018 at Shell’s Okordia Manifold. That spill spread to neighbouring Kalaba community. The cleanup of the spill was slow and ineffective and over subsequent months the swamps remained heavily impacted with ensuing floods further compounding its impact and spread. 

Although both Shell and ENI have a fair share of spills here, most of the pollution incidents have occurred from facilities of SPDC, notably from the Adibawa/Okodia delivery line, Okodia/Rumuekpe pipeline and Okordia Manifold. And most of the oil spills have occurred close to residential buildings, farms and farmlands raiding serious concerns about locating oil extraction facilities and activities within communities. 

Expectedly, community persons have been experiencing diminishing returns from their fishing and farming endeavours, besides the onerous health impact of living in a highly toxic environment. 

Chief (Mrs) Ayibakuro Warder, a community woman in Ikarama, told environmental monitors in August 2021, ‘’Our crops don’t do well again, particularly the cassava and plantains. They die off after planting and we must replant repeatedly. Tuber plants like cassava and yams no longer yield like in the past. The yams rot away before harvest. We feel this could be because of crude oil in the environment as oil spill impacted sites are not properly cleaned up and remediated. We have not been experiencing this before now. Sometimes, in some areas of our farmlands, as we till the soil we see crude oil. That is what we are contending with and, as fisher folks and farmers, this is a threat to our means of livelihood and health.’’

The story has not changed. When Benjamin Warder tried to construct fishponds in March 2021 and again in April 2022 he was greeted by crude oil oozing from the swamp. According to Mr Warder:

“In March 2021 I brought an excavator to prepare a fishpond for me. What I saw was quite unfortunate. I saw crude oil coming out from the ground. I raised alarm by informing the Environmental Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth Nigeria’s Alagoa Morris. Thereafter NOSDRA, Shell and ERA came and some spots in this environment were dug. And it was very glaring that crude oil was coming out from the ground. As a community person, I felt that since even the multinational oil company had come here to witness crude oil coming out from the ground, they would come back to carry out soil tests in the entire environment and carry out proper remediation of the environment. But unfortunately, since August last year till now, nothing has been seen or heard about it from SPDC [Shell Petroleum Development Company]. That notwithstanding, I decided to try and invest again this year and brought an excavator on 26th April 2022. And you know the heavy cost of bringing a Swamp buggy down here from Yenagoa; it is expensive. And when we excavated this time, what we saw was worse than the one of 2021.”

The depth of the environmental destruction at Ikarama and adjoining communities is so extensive that it cannot continue to be covered up or ignored. The people have borne the burden of irresponsible environmental despoliation by oil companies and other entities, and this must be stopped. First the oil companies must change their horrendous habit of not adequately monitoring and securing their pipelines, and their futile efforts at covering up or underreporting oil spills.  They must review and adequately clean up and restore the environment wherever oil spills have occurred over the years. The UNEP report on the assessment of Ogoni environment clearly exposed the false claims of cleanups by the oil majors. 

This is the time for government and the oil majors to take immediate steps to commence an environmental and health audit of Ikarama and the entire Niger Delta and commence a thorough cleanup of the entire region. Funds for this endeavour should be deposited in a dedicated account for this purpose. No entity must be allowed to divest without first making reparations for their ecological transgressions. Anything less is to deny the people their right to live and flourish in their land. Remaining deprived, neglected, and poisoned in an environment that nature has so well-endowed is a paradox that Ikarama must be spared.

Fiddling while the Planet Burns

The third report to emerge from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in the span of eight months has again exposed the folly of humankind on its addiction to dirty energy sources. The report clearly shows that there must be significant reduction in the use of fossil fuels. The Secretary-General of the United Nation, Antonio Guterres, has been forthright in sounding the climate alarm and he did not mince words over the new report when he declared, “Today’s IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership. With fact upon fact, this report reveals how people and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change. Nearly half of humanity is living in the danger zone – now. Many ecosystems are at the point of no return – now. Unchecked carbon pollution is forcing the world’s most vulnerable on a frog march to destruction – now.”

The IPCC report offers policy makers some stark figures on how fossil fuels use must decline. These include that there must be 85% less use of coal by 2050 and 60% less oil. The report also indicates that there must be 45% less use of fossil gas by 2050.

What the IPCC is essentially saying is that the world must move away from fossil fuels, not grudgingly, not slowly, but resolutely and quickly, understanding that this is a “now or never” situation. What the IPCC did not say is that 2050 may be a bridge too far! The world is heating faster than previously thought and the 1.5C and “well below” 2C fig leaves offered by the Paris Agreement are already shrivelled and are blowing in the wind. 

The IPCC is obviously being cautious not to be alarmist even with the alarming evidence before it. Clearly today’s leaders and fossil fuel speculators would prefer to fiddle while the planet burns. Africa is particularly vulnerable to the climate impacts having serious sea level rise, coastal erosion, displacement of communities and over 28 million people at risk of chronic hunger due to weather variabilities.

The thing is that the fossils must be left in the ground. According to the UN Secretary-General, the report shows that “coal and other fossil fuels are choking humanity.” Certainly, this should make sense to a species that prides itself with being able to control and exploit Nature at will.

It is shameful that the world cannot stop pandering to the whims of an industry that desires to keep exploring, to keep digging up and burning fossils and then talk of sucking the carbon out of the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide removal pathways that are often proposed include ocean fertilisation and direct carbon capture and storage. These experiments need to be carried out at planetary scale and kept going permanently. Their efficacy is not assured, and the negative fallouts could compound the problems faced by already vulnerable nations and territories.  These technologies help to lock in fuel fuels use by suggesting that the released carbon can readily be sucked out of the atmosphere. Some of the carbon capture and storage technologies are used to push out more crude oil from oil wells to burn such oils which then release more carbon that keeps the destructive cycle creaking on. 

The promotion and pursuit of technofixes are happening at a time when wind and solar are getting more economically viable as replacements for fossil fuels. And there is the option of converting disused offshore platforms and floating vessels into wind and solar farms and thus putting them to cleaner use. It is incredible that humans prefer to bandage the scarred planet rather than halting the crisis at the roots.

The world must wake to acknowledge those in the frontlines of resistance against the expansion of the fossil fuels frontiers as true climate champions.  We must applaud the fishers and communities of South Africa, for example, who have so far successfully staved off the claws of oil companies from carrying out seismic activities in their waters.  The cries of “Fish not Oil,” and “Ocean not Oil” are distress calls by children of the Earth for humanity to recover their common sense and think of the future. When the Ogoni people said not a drop of oil should be taken out of their land and demanded a clean-up of their grossly contaminated environment, they were seeing into the future, a future built without dirty energy. This is the time to applaud these climate champions. 

It is time for the world to invest in building resilience, stop mindless distracting fossil-fuelled wars against hapless peoples and to stop mindless assault on other living beings through industrial, toxic, fossil fuels dependent agriculture. It is time to support agroecology to produce healthy soils, cool the planet and feed the world with safe, healthy foods.

The IPCC report may not have said it, but we need a mind reset requiring the universal recognition of the Rights of Nature and the acceptance of ecocide as a crime in the same order as other extreme and unusual crimes. An exploitative and transactional relationship with Nature has brought the world to the brink. Continuing with the mindset that we can fix Nature by placing her on life supports provided by geoengineering or biotechnology and other synthetic formulations will only lead humans blindfolded on the highway to the precipice.

The IPCC projections cannot be achieved through nationally determined contributions. We must highlight historical and present responsibilities, demand common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) – the foundational base of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Climate justice is not a thing to be cherry-picked. The demands of solidarity require that polluters do their fair share. It requires the payment of a climate debt owed those least responsible for the climate debacle, not a $100bn token which remains promissory. The justice in the just transition requires that no one should be forced to bear more burdens through extraction of more minerals for “green” energy. It is time to pay for loss and damage and halt the reign of carnage perpetrated by wars, mindless extraction, and wastes.

How many times must the IPCC sound the alarm before humanity wakes up? Wake up, world, the fossil age cannot wait until the last drop of oil has been scrapped and burned or the world will be burned up before then.

Oil, Rot and Divestment

The reason why persons or corporations make investments is dependent on the expected or desired outcomes. The same can be said of why investors divest. Investments are predominantly made for profit. For instance, a corporation would estimate how much profit would accrue, in financial terms or material gains, and over what period, for an investment that has been made. In other instances, investments may be made for humanitarian, not-for-profit reasons or for desired social change.  Whether for profit or for altruistic ends, investments are made with gains in mind.

Investments are not made carelessly or by whim. Investors carry out detailed studies or assessments of the objective conditions surrounding the issues on hand to put their resources in areas where they expect the best outcomes.  Controls and regulations are established by governments or other relevant authorities to ensure that the pursuit of profit does not expose citizens and the environment to unacceptable levels of harm. 

It is for this reason that the idea of sustainable development emerged to moderate the inclination of those pursuing the transformation of Nature for profit without consideration of long-term socio-ecological implications, from doing so. It is also for this reason that proponents of physical development projects are required to carry out environmental, social-economic, and other impact assessments before embarking on such projects.

Assessments or studies carried out before projects or investments are approved are site specific, and studies done elsewhere cannot be applied in an entirely different location simply because investors or regulators assume there would be similar outcomes. The point to note here is that some tangible and intangible conditions could differ even where demographics and geographies appear similar. To ensure that such peculiarities are not blindsided, the people living in locations where investors, governments or institutions wish to carry out projects/activities must not only be consulted but must be part of the assessment processes. It is one way by which communities can provide informed consent for investment or development projects to be carried out in their territories.

The situation in the Niger Delta over the years has largely been one of willful neglect and refusal to consult or engage the people in decision making processes regarding investments, development, or even infrastructural projects. Projects are often thrown at communities even when they are not the priority needs of the people. Little wonder that the projects get abandoned during construction or are left to rot after completion. 

The most worrisome case is that of extraction of resources from the Niger Delta. The concerns have remained the same from pre-colonial to colonial and present neocolonial state. There are historic records of kings and leaders in the Niger Delta who were exiled or killed in the pre-colonial days for insisting on their right to have a say on trade, cultural observances or decision making in their territories. The burning of Akassa in 1895 by the British Navy over the control of trade issues remains a clear example of such infractions.

Crude oil development and the installation of industrial infrastructure in the Niger Delta were carried out without consultations with the people. Community gatherings organized by the transnational oil companies and their colonial governments were mostly moments for selling dreams of developmental progress that would happen once the wells began to spurt. Some of such events saw the showing of moving pictures of shinny cars, houses, schools and hospitals and nothing of the environmental impacts that would occur in their communities. It did not take long for the dreams to burst and for the gory realities that prevail to this date to manifest.

Efforts to bandage the massive harms inflicted on the Niger Delta has been carried out through various means including oil company driven Memoranda of Understanding with communities, and various government interventions through agencies such as Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB) established in 1961, the Niger Delta Basin and Rural Development Authority (NDBRDA) established in 1976, the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) established in 1992, the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) in 1995,  Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) established in 2000 and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs created in 2008. These bandages seek to cover up festering wounds, without dealing with the fundamental ailments that over six decades of disastrous exploitation has wrought. 

At a global level, foils used by the fossil fuel industry to obscure the fact that they are the major drivers of climate change has now been torn to shreds. The world is at the brink of irreversible climatic chaos unless urgent shifts are made in investments in the fossil fuels sector. However, the industry has so captured government structures around the world that climate negotiations hardly refer to this prime cause of the threat, and governments tend to believe that more investments are needed in the sector to develop safer energy options. Such oxymoronic arguments are simply mind boggling. 

The crisis of the Niger Delta continues to build up. With lands, water, and air polluted and the region ranking among the top ten most contaminated places on earth, bandages no longer suffice to cover the ecological crimes. Making matters worse are the frequent oil spills that are futilely blamed on third party interferences even when the rotten state of the facilities and poor oil field practices are obvious. Recall the AITEO oil well blowout at Oil Mining Lease (OML) 29 that spewed hydrocarbons into the Santa Barbara River at Nembe over a period of six weeks starting from 1st November 2021. Recall the decrepit Trinity Spirit FSPO that recently burst into flames off the coast of Delta and Ondo States. Do not forget the oil well blowout and fire that has been raging at Ororo-1 oil field (OML 95) off the coast of Ondo State since May 2020 with no discernible efforts to stop the disaster. Between 2018 and 2019 the National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) recorded 1,300 oil spills, averaging 5 per day. Add to these, the unmitigated disaster related to bush refineries in the region – a clear outcome of regulatory failures by the state and lack of duty of care by the corporations.

Today the Niger Delta has over 1,481 wells and 275 flow stations, over 7,000 kilometres length of oil/gas pipelines and over 120 gas flare furnaces. The Niger Delta is an exploded ecological bomb and citizens and the environment have since been sacrificed.

Years of agitation for a legislation that speaks to the problems of the petroleum sector, the environment and the communities eventually yielded the Petroleum Industry Act (2021) which still leaves the communities on the lurch regarding economic benefits and environmental protection while pandering to the desires of oil corporations. 

The current drive by oil companies such as Shell and ExxonMobil to divest from onshore and shallow water oil fields or even to leave completely brings up very serious issues. After the oil companies drilled the Niger Delta without consulting the people, to leave the region without as much as informing the communities represents an unacceptable closing of the loop of irresponsible exploitation. In the ongoing confusion over whether ExxonMobil’s agreement to sell its assets /shares to Seplat stands or if the NNPC can take over those assets, there is no talk about what the communities think or desire.  

Communities must rise to demand that oil companies be held to account for historical and present harms inflicted on the environment and the people. They equally must decommission their rotten installations, pay for health and ecological audits, and equally pay for the clean-up and remediation of the entire region.

This is the conversation we must have.

Opening statement at a Community Training on the Petroleum Industry Act and Divestment hosted by Health of Mother Earth Foundation and We The People at the Ken Saro-Wiwa Innovation Hub on Wednesday 9 March 2022.

Reject Seed Colonialism in Africa

It has often been said that one of the ways to colonize a people is by dismantling or subverting their culture. This pathway is also effective for building dependency and disrupting the systems that organically secures the health of the populations. In terms of agricultural and food systems, the disruption is most effective when staple crops are targeted, appropriated through patenting and presented as mere merchandize. Food is fast becoming an instrument of control and power.

Science has been used as a cloak for the introduction of foods of dubious value and quality. The quest to solve perceived problems through artificial means introduces new problems, some of which can be intractable. Today we see unrelenting forces seeking to control our food and agricultural systems with attendant disregard for indigenous knowledge, natural cycles, biodiversity, and livelihoods of communities. 

We are concerned that food is being seen as a mere commodity or a mechanical or chemical product from a factory or laboratory. Truth is that eating is beyond swallowing food to satiate hunger; food has deep cultural and spiritual anchors with special significance in many religious observances. 

Food supply across Africa depends largely on the maintenance of a healthy and thriving biodiversity. Our farmers save, reproduce, and share seeds, understanding that these seeds encapsulate life. These communities engage in mixed cropping and harvest a mix of fruits, tubers and vegetables that yield foods that are rich and healthy, providing needed nutrition and building defenses against illnesses. They have a strong link to what is presented as food and harvests are never mechanical exercises. Moreover, many of our farmers do not see food production as mere business or for profit.

These practices are being threatened by the genetic modification of seeds particularly those that make up our staple foods.

Today we are speaking of the genetically engineered cowpea, popularly known as beans in Nigeria, and drawing attention to the fact that the insecticidal beans can also kill non-target organisms and that even the target pests can develop resistance. In the same vein, when crops are genetically engineered to withstand herbicides, we cannot ignore the fact that they kill other plants and microbial life and not only the so-called weeds. These modifications interfere with the webs of life in ecosystems, and this has intergenerational consequences. 

Although the promoters of the Bt cowpea claim that it will translate to improved food security in Nigeria due to availability of much higher amounts of cowpea, one concern that cannot be overlooked is that this GM variety will utterly contaminate natural varieties through cross pollination. This means that even where a farmer chooses not to grow the GM variety, the preferred natural variety will be contaminated. Thus, rather than promote food security, Nigeria/Africa is stepping into an era of uncertainty, of gross unpredictability and instability of food supply and resultant food insecurity.

The genetically engineered beans (recently approved for commercial release in Nigeria despite objections by HOMEF and several other stakeholders) is modified with the transgene Cry1Ab which has not been approved anywhere else in the world. Most of these genetically engineered events are prepared overseas and brought for testing in Africa and yet we boast that we are adequately equipped and innovative. The genetically engineered cowpea is originally a Monsanto product brought to Africa on supposedly humanitarian grounds. We insist that Africans must not be used as testing ground for novel and risky technologies.

Promoters of these risky technologies fight against strict liability clauses in national Biosafety laws. This has been experienced in Nigeria, in Zambia and in Uganda and so on. In Uganda a clause in their genetic engineering regulatory law was inserted to ensure that producers of GMOs will be held accountable for any harm that may come from cultivation or consumption of their products at any time, even if such effects manifest years later. Since then, GMO promoters and producers scientists have branded President Museveni and the Ugandan parliament as being anti-science. 

There are attempts to overlook the Precautionary Principle which is the bedrock of biosafety regulation. Simply put, the precautionary principle advice that where there are doubts regarding human, animal or environmental safety, we should hold the breaks. Good genetic engineering science must not leave room for doubt and when harms manifest, the producers should be held strictly liable. 

The speed with which Nigeria is permitting GMOs is highly suspicious and offers no assurance that the government is concerned about food safety, the preservation of our biodiversity or the rights of our indigenous peoples. Neighboring and other African countries should beware.

As you are already aware, this press conference is a platform for exposing the grave risks our food and agricultural systems face through the introduction of genetically modified beans. Besides the environmental and health risks, our people’s right to choose what variety to plant and what food to eat is absolutely breached by the introduction of the genetically engineered beans, a staple and critical source of protein for our peoples. The right of choice is eliminated because our food systems do not allow for labelling. This right is fundamental, and our people should not be ambushed to eat any risky material. We call on farmers to reject Bt Cowpea seeds and continue to protect our food system.

My welcome words at the International Press Conference on Bt Cowpea held on 7th March 2022 via Zoom

Time for a Peoples’ COP

THE 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) took place from 31 October to 13 November 2021 and had a loud, but uncertain achievement. No, this was not just about the Glasgow Climate Pact which highlighted the phasing down of coal. It was the facing down of the victims of climate change who are fighting a tough battle against a crisis to which they did not contribute. It was a COP that left its justice foundation on life support and offloaded the burden of climate action unto generations yet to be born.

While COP26 went on, there was a parallel Cop26coalition’s people’s summit which centred on forging real climate action rather than being driven by vested fossil interests. The urgency shown by the popular summit exposed COP26 to best be described as a Conference of Polluters, Conference of Profiteers or Conference of Procrastinators. 

The badge of procrastination in the face of an emergency was displayed in the emblematic Net Zero pledges of the parties. The concept was so pervasive that posters with elephants and whales were displayed at train stations and other public spaces in Glasgow to celebrate it and possibly to announce expanded threats that could emerge with big animals being designated carbon sinks. 

The conference was an avenue for world leaders to showcase their ambition towards tackling the climate menace. The reality was that all they could display was their voluntary pledges to cut emissions iced or capped with pledges on when they would attain net zero carbon emissions. The voluntary suggestions on what levels of reductions countries would take is the linch pin of the Paris Agreement. Nations were excited to endorse and celebrate the Agreement with its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) because it afforded the big polluters the opportunity to avoid making emissions cut based on science and historical responsibility.

The Paris Agreement set paradoxical temperature targets that were considered ambitious and chose the voluntary pathway to achieve it. That was a paradox that attempted to seal the pandora box.

The temperature targets set in the Paris Agreement appear to have been purposely ambiguous rather than ambitious. As was noted by the Prime Minister of Barbados during the COP, it is unlikely that NDCs can solve a global problem.  The truth in this position has become evident by the projected outcome of the NDCs and Net Zero pledges. The best possible outcome of the present pledges is given as a 2.4C average temperature increase above preindustrial levels. That average stands beyond the 1.5C and well below 2.0C targets of the Paris Agreement.  We note the apparent contradiction in those targets when we realize that anything that is “well below” 2.0C should be less than 1.5C. The question arising from this is whether an upper limit can be lower than the lower target?

For regions like Africa that have temperatures about 50 percent above global averages, a 2.4C global average possibility translates to an incinerating 3.6C average. It beats the imagination that anyone from these vulnerable regions would accept that possibility as a laudable target. 

There was loud debunking of the net zero concept before and during COP26. It was shown that net zero is not zero and does not herald the stoppage of emissions. It merely projects some mythical action whereas it means a continuation of business as usual, a continuation of burning fossil fuels and stoking the atmosphere with carbon while proposing carbon capture, carbon removals or some measures of solar radiation management. Net zero has also been shown to be a glorified name for carbon trading which helped to portray COP26 as a carbon trade fair.

While nations trade in hot air and negotiate inaction, children and youths are becoming more strident in their denunciation of the procrastinating leaders. They see the pledge to achieve arithmetic net zero by 2050 or 2060 or 2070 as a blatant insult and an attempt to deny them a future. For the youths, the struggle is about justice today and not a promissory note that may not ever be fulfilled, or that would be of no consequence by 2050 should the planet have already stepped into catastrophic climate change by that time. 

The unwillingness to follow the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) was also manifested in the way the issues of climate finance and that of loss and damage were handled. When it comes to climate finance, the Glasgow Climate Pact sounds as if it were a draft or recommendation for people other than parties to implement. It “Notes with deep regret that the goal of developed country Parties to mobilize jointly USD 100 billion per year by 2020 in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation has not yet been met, and welcomes the increased pledges made by many developed country Parties and the Climate Finance Delivery Plan: Meeting the US$100 Billion Goal and the collective actions contained therein.” This May sound like excellent diplomatic phraseology but should be seen as unbecoming in an emergency. A section was also allocated to platitudes on the matter of loss and damage. If the UNFCCC had listened to the call for recognition and payment of a climate debt accumulated over centuries of rapacious exploitation of peoples and colonial plundering of nature, there would be no debate over climate finance. 

The COP26 outcome could not call for a phasing out of fossil fuels even though science clearly shows that it is their burning that is roasting the planet because of the undue influence of the fossil fuels industry. Rather than stop funding fossil fuels the industry is set to pump more finances into the dying sector. In Oil Change International’s report, Sky’s Limit Africa, we learn that the fossil fuel industry plans to sink USD $230 billion into the development of new extraction projects in Africa in the next decade and up to USD $1.4 trillion by 2050. Tone deaf? The COP could not make any move that would hinder the plans of the fossil fuels sector because with 503 delegates from 100 fossil fuel companies at the conference, including being part of 27 national delegations, such a suggestion was dead on arrival. The industry had more delegates than Brazil, who with 479 delegates had the largest national delegation at the COP.

The climate pact is a study in the choice of words to leave room for avoidance of further consideration. A critical example is with reference to climate justice. The pact says, “Noting the importance of ensuring the integrity of all ecosystems, including in forests, the ocean and the cryosphere, and the protection of biodiversity, recognized by some cultures as Mother Earth, and also noting the importance for some of the concept of ‘climate justice’, when taking action to address climate change.” How on earth can a framework ostensibly predicated on justice state that climate Justice is only important “for some”?

Reading the body language of the COPs we conclude that it is time to replace the COP with a Climate Change Conference of Peoples. When Copenhagen flopped, Bolivia convened the Peoples Summit on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba in April 2010. With more than 30,000 delegates from over 100 countries, the peoples of the world came out with a clear roadmap for climate action as well as the Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. It is time to denounce net zero myths and demand real zero emissions. It is time to echo the truth that climate change is a global problem that must be tackled not by xenophobic nationalist self-interest tagged NDCs but by binding emissions cut based on CBDR.