Food, Culture, and Colonialism

 The important position of indigenous food systems in the struggle for food sovereignty cannot be over emphasized. We understand this by reminding ourselves of what the concepts ‘colonial’ and ‘colonialism’ mean. The dictionary defines colonialism as “the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.” As telling as this definition is, it leaves wide swathes untouched. While it is true that colonialism is hugely built around political and economic planks, it also significantly impacts socio-cultural, environmental, agricultural, and other spheres. It impacts all these spheres by controlling and subverting what existed before the conquest. We need to emphasize these approaches: control and subversion. 

The subversion of food systems was intentionally constructed through the colonization of thought, a phenomenon that persists as coloniality. Why subvert a food system? The reasons for this are many. The colonizers needed to displace labour invested for local needs while expanding and consolidating labour to meet the needs of the colonizers. By emphasizing a cash economy, farmers were forced to neglect their own needs, derided as subsistence farmers, and were made to offer their labour in exchange for wages. The colonial powers scored double on this count by introducing plantation agriculture and bringing in the locals as farm hands. 

Plantation agriculture encapsulates the core practice of colonialism. It entailed land use conversion — often through massive deforestation and land grabbing. It also promoted monoculture by growing specific crops to meet specific needs of industry and colonial appetites. Monocultures damage soils as well as labour. In Nigeria, predominant plantations included those of oil palm, cocoa, rubber, and coffee. These crops were termed cash crops, meaning that they were cultivated for cash rather than for food. This approach persists today as our governments see useful agriculture as the one that earns foreign exchange, irrespective of the state of food insecurity in the nations. 

Colonial agriculture thrived not only by producing crops for export, but it also benefited from altering the appetites of the colonized. These changes did not happen only through advertisements, the indigenous foods were denigrated as uncivilized and sometimes simply forgotten due to a chronic absence of the crops or ingredients for preparing the foods. Today, the erosion of varieties is exacerbated by many related factors including the prevalence of junk foods, hybridization of crop varieties, genetic manipulations, and hostile seed laws. 

Farming for cash relegated diverse crop varieties needed to maintain nutritious food systems. The centrality of agriculture and food in our cultures got dramatically eroded through colonial plantation agriculture and the fixation on cash rather than seeing agriculture as a pattern of living. Industrial agriculture has led to the capture of the sector by corporations who care for profit more than the planet. They don’t only muddy the waters in our countries but also do much harm in multilateral spaces where they lobby to erode regulations and safety measures.

When it is said that farmers are poor and are not making a living from farming due to lack of value addition, we should examine the underlying factors to that state of affairs. And unless those factors are addressed, labelling farmers as resisting change or as lazy misses the point. When farmers become landless, that is a big problem. When farmers’ seeds are criminalized while seeds of doubtful value are promoted, those are debilitating factors. 

Our farmers have selected and preserved seeds, crops, and animal varieties over the centuries. They have kept a stock of varieties that both provide food and meet our medicinal and other needs. They kept the norms that preserved biodiversity. They practiced rotational farming, mixed cropping, and seasonal fishing. They understood the rhythms of nature and maintained the natural equilibrium by being respectful of the Earth. Colonial agricultural production for industrial and external markets led to the promotion of monoculture plantations. The prevalence of investment in industrial agriculture has given rise to monocultures of the mind, to use the title of a book by Vandana Shiva.[2] This mentality elevated the measuring of agricultural productivity per hectare without considering whether the land has been cultivated with a monocrop or with a multiplicity of crops. 

Liberating our Tongues, reviving our culture

Without doubt, the decolonization of agriculture is the way towards the preservation of crop and animal varieties, rebuilding our food systems, thereby, recovering our culture. A decolonized agriculture invests on support systems for farmers, including by providing extension services and providing/upgrading rural infrastructure. It also means preserving local varieties, ensuring that farmers have access to land and, funding research institutions to build a knowledge base on healthy soils and resilient indigenous crops. It would also mean putting farmers on the driving seat of agricultural policy, elevating the precautionary principle in biosafety issues, and outlawing harmful pesticides. It would again mean placing a moratorium on all types of agricultural modern biotechnology as this is a key means of eroding species varieties besides threatening outright extinctions.

Decolonizing our food system will liberate our tongues and bring back forgotten tastes. It is the way to revive our cultures and bring back vibrancy into the lives of our rural communities. Species harmed by chemical inputs in industrial agriculture would recover and play their roles in pollination, assuring farmers of bumper harvests and breaking the chains of import dependence. A decolonized food system uncovers the falsehood of genetically engineered crops presented as climate smart agriculture whereas, if anything, they are truly climate stupid.

Food and culture are inseparable. Food is at the centre of our festivals and ceremonies. Food sovereignty is achievable only in a decolonized food system. In such systems, we know where and how our foods are produced and our farmers are true knowledge holders and cannot be deceived to plant varieties they don’t know or want. A colonized food and agriculture system enslaves farmers, disconnects people from the soil and exposes citizens to great harm.

It is our duty to demand safe food, support our farmers, reject monoculture, and decolonize our foods and minds.


Opening words at the My Food is African media training hosted by Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) on Wednesday, 25 January 2023 in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

[2] Vandana Shiva (1993). Monocultures of the Mind: Perspectives on Biodiversity and Biotechnology. Zeb books.

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.

Imagining a Future with Hope

At Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), we always aim to understand the events unfolding around us by examining their roots and varied manifestations. Our fundamental position is that the crises the world faces are fathered by the broken relationships between humans, other beings, and our Mother Earth. Another way to see it is that we have lost connection with our duty of care to our mother and other relatives. This disruption did not emerge from the blue. It has been carefully sculpted on the building blocks of dispossession, accumulation, and discounting of everything other than our selves. Whereas we are social beings, we have grown apart, enthroned individualism and decomposed communities. 

Scarcity of solidarity, generosity, kindness, love and respect has led to the eruption of xenophobic nationalism, erection of walls between communities and regions, and high levels of sociology-ecological disconnections. The fetishisation of capital has twisted our imaginations and placed humans on a race for expropriation and displacement of peoples and other species.

Destruction of the resilience of ecosystems has directly affected our cultures, spirituality, local economies, and sense of progress. Thus, we see destruction hailed as progress. This is exemplified by the stream of new weapons of destruction being manufactured and tested on communities, territories, and nations through needless wars.

Clashes between species through habitat invasion and destruction lead to unexpected pandemics and will spur more—unless we act now to arrest ongoing ecological misbehaviours and ecocide. 

Disruption of the cycles of Nature is anchored on the neocolonial ideas of taking control of Nature and seeking to make her more efficient through genetic manipulation and geoengineering, to mention two. The quest to appropriate and commodify Nature has given rise to concepts like climate smart agriculture which some have described as climate stupid agriculture. It has given rise to concepts that say the current polluting production and consumption modes can be continued while measures are produced to capture the carbon (or pollution) and store it in some reservoirs. By a sleight of hand, intergenerational responsibilities are blatantly ignored. 

Slavery, colonialism, and imperialism built the notions of sacrificial zones while the controlling powers suffered least harm in their sacred zones. This gave rise to plantation agriculture and reckless mining promoting production for export and hardly for the territories from where these activities took place. It gave rise to discounting of labour and of Nature. These have added up to create the climate crises which is being toyed with by the application of false solutions based on carbon trading—solutions that never touch on the root cause of the crisis which has been universally accepted to be the burning of fossil fuels. With fossil fuels corporations in the corridors of multilateral negotiations, talking about real solutions to climate change, for example, has been tabooed.  

Today, we are inescapably gripped in a polycrisis that can only be resolved through radical surgery. Although this surgical process will be radical, it is rather simple and needs modest thought processes that are in line with Nature. It requires humility to agree that technofixes are often not silver bullets. They create more problems as they shun the complexities in our ecosystem which we do not fully understand. For example, seeing forests as mere carbon sinks can lead to the displacement of human communities and could permit habitat destruction through land use changes.  A notion such as the one that sees plantations as forests leads to the creation of monocultures and ignores the complex communities of beings that live and interact in true forests.

We can tackle the hydra-headed crisis will be through clear analysis and cultural production. By using cultural production, we touch the fundamental impulses drawn from our contexts and help us to recover our memory in the fight for our humanity. The loss of memory of our place in the galaxy of other beings is a measure of the loss of mind. We simply must recover our being beings. 

At HOMEF we use our Ikike or knowledge platforms to provide a good basis for participatory generating and sharing of knowledge. At the grassroots levels we host diagnostic Community Dialogues and Environmental Monitoring Trainingsessions. Our Schools of Ecology and Sustain-Ability Academies offer spaces for critical interrogation of complex sociology-ecological ideas and serve as platforms for engagements with policy makers, students, academics, and the public. The generation and sharing of knowledge 

Bearing in mind that the root of the climate crisis is capitalism manifesting through the exploitation, consumption, and waste of natural resources, we have a duty to fight these vices. Through the building of solidarity, we can construct cooperation and forge a future that is both liveable and enjoyable. The seeds for these are embedded in our cultural notions of Eti Uwem, or good living, which elevates communality, dignity, and respect for all beings at its core. In Southern Africa, the interconnectedness of our humanity is captured by Ubuntu. We will benefit from studying traditions and cultures in Africa and, by studying these subsisting concepts of well-being that are not predicated on growth, accumulation, or dispossession. This way, the wisdom from Africa will contribute to a more complete understanding and resolution of the polycrisis. 

Cultural production allows us to fight for these humane ethics through stories, songs, sculptures, poetry, drama, and dance. We can enjoy the process of building a hopeful future. We are calling for a revolution that can be televised and is enjoyable.

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

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.

Waving off Climate Action in the Heatwaves

Climate change is a result of human activities with reference to production, movement, and consumption of goods. A whole lot of these goods are products of transformation of natural resources, not to meet the basic needs of humans but to aid the drive for dispossession, accumulation, power, and despoliation. 

Climate change is the outcome of fractured socioeconomic systems. If this is accepted, it should be expected that it is within human capacity to act in ways that would stem the tide, mitigate the impacts, and build resilience. Rather than do this, we are seeing a rise of arguments claiming that market forces can solve the climate polycrisis. Market environmentalism cannot solve problems created by the failure of markets.

The unholy wedlock between fossil fuel industries and governments has locked societies on the fossil pathway and made it seem like dependence on dirty energy is both inevitable and unavoidable. In Nigeria and other African countries, we hear top political leaders insisting that moving away from fossil fuels will spell economic doom, intensive energy deficits and a reign of poverty. It is not hard to see how false these arguments are. The average Nigerian has been plunged into excruciating poverty and massive energy deficit despite 64 years of fossil fuel extraction and exports. Politicians cannot convince anyone that two more decades of destructive extraction and pollution would suddenly turn the horrible indices around.

This School of Ecology on Propelling the Energy Transition aimed to achieve what the name says, force change from bad or dirty to good or renewable energy. With our partners in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa, we believe that there are lessons that can be learned from available wisdom and applied to fundamentally tip the scales away from polluting and harmful activities. We are actively learning from indigenous wisdom which largely encourage living within planetary limits, in harmony with Nature. Our youths can pick up the wisdom of the elders, process and adapt them in innovative ways to bring about the needed change.

The indications from multilateral actions prompted by the Paris Agreement of the UNFCCC are tilting more towards the perpetuation of polluting activities and then embarking on carbon removal from the atmosphere, or at pollution sources — to buy time by delaying climate action while offloading the impacts on the youths and children.

The school denounced the intergenerational crimes connected to insistence on energy forms that harm humanity and the Planet. You have heard of ongoing moves towards divestment which the Niger Delta Convergence Manifesto aptly characterizes as criminal flight, a move to profit from avoiding responsibilities for current and historical ecocide. Still in Africa, there is a push for exploitation of oil in the Okavango Basin in Namibia/Botswana, and insistence on drilling in Virunga (DRC) and in the Saloum Delta in Sénégal. We are already seeing the fires in Cabo Delgado in Mozambique and the resistance in South Africa. All these at a time when investment should be in clean energy modes. 

To worsen the situation, the European Union is displaying an unwillingness to be weaned from fossil fuels as the gas taps from Russia gets constricted on account of the war with Ukraine. Suddenly all eyes are on Africa and our leaders are purring like spoilt cats as they jump at the coming reign of fossil colonialism. 

The raging heatwaves in Europe and the USA provide enough warning signals that all regions are prone to freak weather events.  With the intensification of climate impacts by way of heatwaves, floods, droughts, and wildfires around the world, it would be expected that emergency measures would be taken globally to tackle the crisis. The NDCs, the heart of the Paris Agreement, is failing to cut emissions at levels necessary to tackle the unfolding global heating just as was foreseen by critical analysts. As politicians willfully avoid climate action what will bring about a respite is a global and organized citizens action in the line of what is already emerging.   

Together we scan the horizon, map dirty energy hotspots, challenge communities and promote the use of indigenous as well as empirical knowledge to influence policy and action. Therefore, we believe in robust grassroots engagements through discussions, and consciously learning from the wise in intergenerational dialogues.

To propel the needed energy transition does not begin or end with opposing continued burning of fossil fuels.  We must propose alternatives that would democratize access to clean energy to all and especially to communities in sacrificial or marginalized zones. Building and sharing knowledge on the socio-economic and climate justice dimensions of the climate catastrophe is the strength of this push. Organizing and building community owned and controlled clean energy systems are the keyways forward. This demands that citizens must consistently resist expansion of fossil fuel fields and denounce the presentation of fossil gas a bridge fuel.

Some words by Nnimmo Bassey at the School of Ecology on Propelling the Energy Transition on 13 July 2022. Updated 19 July 2022.

Waking from the Fossil Nightmare

The Niger Delta is a territory under siege. This siege did not begin today. It didn’t begin yesterday. The siege has been on prominent from before the 15th Century.

The siege has disrupted our ways of living, our communities, our cultures, and our spirituality. It has brought drastic fissures in our relationship with Nature and other beings. This assaulted our routine patterns of living in harmony with nature, our philosophical underpinnings of ubuntueti-uwem and other norms by which communities were built on the platforms of cooperation and solidarity rather than on violence, dispossession, undue accumulation, and wastefulness. 

This disruption has eroded our resilience, harmed our health or broken our biodiversity. Today we breath poisoned air, fish and drink polluted waters and grow foods on toxic soils. 

We must not forget that we were once organized, productive, and progressive nationalities with moralities and communalities that paralleled or excelled their counterparts elsewhere. At that time farming yielded bountiful harvests, and fishing was a great joy before the downward spiral . Today, with broken local economies and environments our story has become an unending struggle for survival. 

History may have been banished from our curriculum, but no one should banish them from our schools of life. They provide markers and memories of where we have been; what we have built; what we fought for, won, or lost. History provides us with more than mere scaffolds for the construction of our future. It gives us the energy needed to confront oppression, degradation, humiliations, and sundry manifestations of ecological racism.

We remind ourselves that leaders of the Niger Delta were not pushovers when the shove came from brutal precolonial and colonial adventurers. We recall the fact that the battle for the control of trade between our peoples and European markets brought much violence against our people. It led to cruel military invasions and horrendous pillage, with the razing of Akassa in 1895 standing out as one of the reprehensible landmarks on the march to colonialism.  The smoke of that assault was still rising when the Royal Niger Company (Unilever) sold Nigeria to the British crown for £865,000 (Eight Hundred and sixty-five thousand pounds sterling in 1899. 

That Akassa massacre was over palm oil. One hundred years later, in 1995, the bloodletting continued with the judicial murder of Ogoni leaders in a bid to continue reckless exploitation of crude oil, without any concern about the environment or the people. 

Oil spills, blowouts, gas flares, and the criminalisation of a people

Today oil spills have become routine occurrence and responses have remained slow or inadequate. Gas flaring continues and deadlines come and roll by while the people and environment continue to be gassed with no respite in sight. Several well blowouts have been recorded over the decades, including Texaco’s (Chevron) Funiwa -5 well blowout of January 1980 which spilled 400,000 barrels of crude and another blowout and rig fire at the same field in January 2012. In recent months we have been witnesses to the AITEO well blowout at Nembe in November 2021 with an estimated 300,000 barrels of crude oil dumped into the environment and the explosion and sinking of an aged and unlicensed floating, storage and production vessel (FSPO Trinity) off the coast of Ondo State in February 2022. One largely ignored well blowout is the one at the Ororo-1 field. This well blow out occurred in April 2020 and has been burning and spilling crude non-stop for over two years now. In which other region in Nigeria or in the world would a disaster of this magnitude be ignored for two solid year and counting? 

The criminalization of the people of the Niger Delta has been something of concern to many. Transnational oil companies and public agencies continually plead “sabotage’ or third-party activities as the cause of every oil spill. They never pause to ask how these so-called sabotages occur despite the high militarization of the region.  The oil companies and related public agencies have sung this refrain so much that it has become a tattered fig leaf. Now the situation has expanded with horrendous pollution through artisanal refining in the region. We dare say that this deviant economic activity may have been encouraged by corporations and their cohorts as a mean of offloading pollution resulting from their irresponsible environmental behaviours. It has also arisen as individuals and groups ape the Special Economic Zones concept that officially creates enclaves of economic activities with least control on the guise of promoting national economies.

The Niger Delta Alternatives Convergence

The Niger Delta Alternatives Convergence (NDAC) has been convoked as an inclusive platform for the individuals, civil society groups, political players, community groups, women, ethnic nationalities, and business to come together to address the nagging problems that continue to plague the region. The NDAC is a conference that yields spaces for the interrogation of the outputs of research, community dialogues and the search for alternative resource management pathways as well as examination of laws governing mining and petroleum sectors in Nigeria. The space for engagements of this nature has been often rigged against our communities, but this is a peoples-driven engagement designed to ensure that the communities are heard. It builds on other convening that has been led by many highly respected groups in the region over the years with the aim of extricating the region from the paths of retrogression.

The convergence also aims to produce an inclusive Niger Delta Manifesto for socio-ecological justice highlighting needed alternatives for transformation and social mobilizations for re-source justice. It is hoped that NDAC will provoke a platform for convergence of communities in the region to galvanize action for needed changes for resource access including through demands for legislative changes, debates on the Petroleum Industry Bill, and for critical attainment of re-source democracy – defined as the right of a people to live in harmony with Nature and to retain a right to use, or not use, the gifts of Nature.

Bandages over Festering Sores

We recognize that huge sums of money have been allocated to alleviate the dastard harms caused by petroleum resource exploitation in the region. Such efforts include various Memoranda of Understanding with communities by oil companies, 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) of  1976, the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) of 1992, the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) established in 1995,  Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) set up in 2000 and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs created in 2009. 

These efforts have been characterized by the throwing of money at the problems without a participatory and due consultation with our peoples. Little wonder the outcome has been reigns of corruption and manifestations of abject failure. They have been nothing short of bandages aimed at covering festering wounds without dealing with the fundamental malaise that over six decades of reckless oil and gas exploitation has inflicted on the people and the environment. 

Life After Oil

Considering that the world is moving from fossil fuels and that Nigeria is struggling unsuccessfully to meet her OPEC allowed production quota; considering that oil theft continues apace, oil spills, gas flares and dumping of toxic wastes and sundry ecological destruction continue unabated, we risk not just being left behind by the world, we risk remaining mortally wounded and utterly stranded if we do not brace up insist on urgent transition from this destructive activity, demand and insist on a clean-up of the entire region. Tomorrow will be too late. This is the time to examine and check-mate the moves by transnational companies to divest from their ancient infrastructure, drying wells, polluted fields and sneak away to enjoy their loot. 

We cannot say this too often, but it is time for us to accept that without a healthy environment we cannot be a healthy people. 64 years of oil extraction has brought untold misery and cut life abysmally low in this region. Things cannot continue this way. We have demands and resolves in the proposed Niger Delta Manifesto shared to delegates. Let’s all rise to be counted, demand that politicians declare their environmental plans before they gain our votes; let us demand real climate action including a halt to gas flaring and a restoration of our ecosystems. Let us demand action to stall the washing away of our communities. After 64 years of a nightmare, it is time to wake up, it is time to demand socio-ecological justice. We are not calling for charity, we are calling for justice.

I thank the Chairman of this Convergence, His Excellency, Obong Victor Attah, a man with demonstrated impeccable leadership and wisdom. I thank our keynote speaker, Prof G. G. Darah for what promises to be a rousing call for action based on knowledge. I thank all our academic, activist and community comrades who will take the podium in this Convergence.

I welcome you all, brothers, and sisters.

Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation at NDAC 2022 held at Watbridge Hotel, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria on 23 June 2020.

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.

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.