Technofixes and the State of Our Biosafety

Technofixes and the State of Our Biosafety. A time like this demands and permits only sober consideration of where we are coming from, where we are and where we are heading to. The world is virtually shut down due to the ravages of a virus. This is no time for grandstanding or for anyone to claim that they have got anything under control. Interestingly, the virus is not a new organism. It has been around. It appears the consternation is over new variants that have emerged. If the virus has jumped to humans from bats, that would be a strong rebuke over the reckless ways that humans have degraded habitats of other organisms on the planet. If it has emerged from some biological weapons laboratory then it shows both the evil genius of humans and the strong warning that it is a short distance from rides on the back of a tiger and becoming dinner for the canine beast.

Addressing the issues of agricultural technofixes and the state of our biosafety gives us the template to consider the current situation in our world and the unpredictability of what could happen next. We are in precarious times. While scenario planners may have foreseen a pandemic of the scale that coronavirus has provoked, it comes as a total surprise to the average person.

We have had occasion to warn that things can go deeply wrong and out of hand if humans persist on toying with the genetic makeup of living organisms for the concentration of power in a few moguls, and for profit. Everyone knows that Nature is alive and active. She is not dormant and always responds to the manipulations of men. And so, when humans engineer crops to make them act as pesticides, Nature offers super pests or super bugs. When toxic herbicides are produced to kill all other crops except the ones genetically engineered to withstand them, Nature responds by offering super weeds. In either case, humans get trapped in needless and unwinnable battles against Nature. Today many farmers in the USA are suing Monsanto/Bayer over their exposure to one of the most notorious of these herbicides, called Roundup Ready. They are suing because they claim the glyphosate in the herbicide caused them to suffer from cancers. These herbicides are freely available for our farmers in Nigeria without any warnings.

Recently the mainstream genetic engineering has progressed to the level of editing genetic makeup of organisms and not necessarily having to engage in trans-species transfer of genetic materials. This has focussed on becoming extinction technologies – useful for killing off undesirable species and supposedly clearing the way for preferred species to thrive. This technology is the one proposed for gene drive mosquitoes to be released in Burkina Faso and possibly also in Uganda.

While modern biotechnology promoters like the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and the regulator, National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), feel confident that they can handle any sort of technicalities in both the mainstream and new fields of extreme technofixes, we are deeply concerned that their grandstanding would not stop the purveyors of these technologies from weaponizing them.

The current pandemic has often been described as warfare. The subtle implication is that the virus could well be a biological weapon. Whether it is a biological weapon or just a freak occurrence in Nature, some of the countries most affected by the outbreak and governments have had to rely on the armed forces as the only institutions that can mobilize the amount of resources needed to tackle the scourge. Do we have a military that can mobilize to tackle a biological attack or accident in Nigeria?

We are in precarious times indeed. It is a time when fear and panic are freely propagating terror among populations. We see the generosity of men on display as some donate needed medical supplies and health workers expose themselves to great risk to help the sick. We hear calls of mutual support and care among nations. In the midst of all that we see the drive for self-preservation that brings out a non-cooperating side of peoples and nations. We see this through the closing of national borders and promoting national interests before any other consideration. What we are seeing seems to say that when the tyre hits the tarmac it is everyone on his or her own.

Nigeria took the wrong step by setting up a biotechnology promoting agency before setting up a biosafety agency. By the reason of the promoter midwifing the biosafety agency and consolidating this scenario by law, separating the two has become a herculean task.

For the few days that humans have been forced to be quarantined or restricted by lockdowns, Nature has begun measures of self-healing. The air is getting fresher in some cities and water bodies are getting clean again. Aquatic ecosystems are coming back to life, just because humans have been restrained to their habitats or homes. Do we have to wait until a disaster before we rethink our ways? Do we need a total breakdown of our biosafety before we wake up to the fact that when disaster unfolds propaganda will not erase the challenge?

These are some of the questions we need to ask ourselves. Nigeria took the wrong step by setting up a biotechnology promoting agency before setting up a biosafety agency. By the reason of the promoter midwifing the biosafety agency and consolidating this scenario by law, separating the two has become a herculean task. The truth is that this situation will only be resolved through legislation and through having a biosafety agency that is neutral, regards the opinion of citizens and accepts the basic biosafety plan of precautionary principle.

In the global north, one of the platforms on which GMOs have been permitted to be allowed into the markets has been that they must be labelled. We have painstakingly explained that because of our socio-cultural setup it is impossible to effectively label GMOs in Nigeria. Genetically engineered beans have been released into the environment and we all know that no one will label and give citizens a choice between eating akara or moi moi made from this variety of beans. Genetically modified cotton has already been introduced into the environment. Our people will eat cotton seed cakes and oils without the slightest inkling that they are consuming GMOs. Where is the choice? We have surveyed the markets for imported GMO products, and several have been found, proudly displaying NAFDAC approval numbers. Did these products pass through the approval processes before they were sold to our people?

Our regulators require to accept that they are not infallible and that they need help. Even the Supreme Courts do meet sometimes to review themselves. Biological weapons facilities are sometimes forced to shut down for decontamination exercises when accidents occur before they dare to reopen.  We cannot keep running blind-eyed to technologies that portend so much danger and for which there are viable and proven alternatives.

 


Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), at the Stakeholders Conference on Biosafety hosted by HOMEF and holding on 23 March 2020 in Abuja

Petroleum’s Fatal Seduction

PollutionThe world has been fatally seduced by petroleum. Multiple oil spills continue unabated in the oilfields of the Niger Delta. While the oil companies claim that they have bettered their sense of responsibility by detecting and remediating oil spill sites, these largely remain tales for the gullible. For communities whose soil, water and air have been assaulted for decades, hopes of having a safe environment, as suggested in the Objectives of State in Chapter 2 of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution, or as clearly stipulated in Article 24 of the African Charter for People and Human rights, remain but pipedreams.

It has often been said that provisions of Chapter 2 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 – whether amended or non-amended versions are not justiciable. The cavalier treatment of the environment in the constitution underscores the lack of consideration of the fact that the state of the environment directly impacts on the quality of life of our peoples. One would expect that in a society where the majority of citizens live on and derive their livelihoods directly from the environment, environmental rights would be expressly justiciable.

Sadly, in instances where officials have thought of taking actions to improve on the quality of the environment, the attention has been on the draconian locking down of states from 7 to 10 am on the last Saturdays of every month. That so-called Environmental Sanitation is a relic of the dark days of military rule when the State could easily avoid its duty and foists the burden on hapless citizens.

The cavalier treatment of environmental concerns has seen the dramatic trashing of the Nigerian environment and the related destitution of the people. The filth around us is so pervasive it takes wilful blindness for anyone to avoid seeing them. Plastics dumped everywhere. Trash thrown out of windows of exotic cars. Makes you cringe.

The state of the creeks and swamps has been emblematised by the Ogoni environment. However, that in fact is like more than half the story not being told. Reports emerging from Bayelsa State are very worrisome. One case is the gas/condensate leakage that is suspected to have happened due to third party interference on a pipeline operated by the Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC) on 28th July 2019 in the Taylor Creek at Kalaba Community in Yenagoa Local Government. A field report by Alagoa Morris and Akpotu Ziworitin of Environmental Rights Action informs that the spill has remained unattended for 7 incredible months after the fact of the pollution. The spill persists unattended as we write this.

Overall, the petroleum civilisation has seduced humanity to think that there are no viable alternatives to crude oil and its many derivatives. Feeding this myth means accommodating unconscionable ecological degradation, including climate change, as a minor price to pay. 

The report quotes an official of the community as saying, “The situation is posing threat to lives, as people pass through that area to their farms and lakes. We are urging Agip to come and do something; by clamping and clear the environment of crude oil so that our lives and livelihood would be protected. Right now, they are not protected. The leadership of the community has reported to several authorities concerning the spill. But even at that, there has been no communication so far in respect of this spill. I don’t know the intentions of Agip; whether to crucify us through this process or to suffer us through this process.”

Obviously, extreme pollution is not limited to Nigeria. Oil fields and locations of toxic industrial installations are more or less crime scenes. Crimes against Nature and against communities and individuals. They are locations of environmental racism as well as other forms of irresponsible exploitation. It is time that nations pay attention to how the South African Environmental Protection Agency captured the essence of environmental justice in these words – “no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental and commercial operations or policies.”

The Environmental Protection Agency of the USA defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.” Citizens have to collectively push for the operationalization of these and similar policies. At present we see that in many countries these declarations are little more than mere platitudes.

One country that can be said to have impacts comparable to Nigeria in intensity of pollution, if not size, is South Sudan. According to reports, the country currently produces about 166,000 barrels of crude oil per day compared to the production level of about 350,000 barrels per day in 2013 – before civil war broke out. Although the country has just signed another peace agreement, the pollution continues, just like it did in Nigeria after our government declared amnesty for militant agitators in the Niger Delta.

Politicians are addicted to extractivism. They do anything to keep oil and gas flowing through pipelines. It matters little what happens to the environment or to the people as long as sufficient quantity of hydrocarbon courses through the pipes to draw in the quantum of petrodollars required for their political projects. If it were not for this attitude, an environmental emergency would have long been declared over the incredible pollution and decimation of the Niger Delta.

The oil flows when the Earth bleeds. Those words from a poem I penned tells half the story of pain. The oil flows as the people bleed. Polluted creeks, swamps and lands are accepted as normal. Birth defects, cancers, premature death and all kinds of anomalies reign in the fields from where oil companies and their cohorts drill billions of petrodollars.

Overall, the petroleum civilisation has seduced humanity to think that there are no viable alternatives to crude oil and its many derivatives. Feeding this myth means accommodating unconscionable ecological degradation, including climate change, as a minor price to pay. However, all is not lost. The petroleum civilisation will have an end. And that end is near. It is for humans to decide if we want an orderly transition or a haphazard and cataclysmic one. The end is inevitable. Like any other addiction, the first step out is to make a decision to quit and to see the horrors in the oil fields as well as the impacts of global warming as challenges that need to be tackled head on.

 

 

Ogoni Clean-Up and the Business of Pollution

Eleme 1Will Ogoni be Cleaned? Recent news making the rounds is that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and their oil company partners, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Total Exploration and Production of Nigeria (TEPNG) and Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC), have “disbursed” a total of $360 on the clean-up of the Ogoniland. This claim is reported to have been made by the Chief Operating Officer for Upstream of the NNPC at an hearing on the clean-up at the Nigerian National Assembly on Monday, 17 February 2020.

Even before this announcement at the National Assembly dusts have been raised over how that colossal sum could have been spent on the Ogoni clean-up without corresponding results. Some usually respectable voices have been raised alleging massive corruption in the ways and manner the Hydrocarbons Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) is handling the contracts. In fact, one report claimed that “it was unfortunate that an overwhelming $350million, an estimated NGN128,000,000,000 (One hundred and twenty eight billion Naira) meant for the cleanup has been largely misappropriated due to the massive corruption in HYPREP.”

While this article cannot respond to the charges of corrupt practices, it is important to deal with the delicate issues of perception and acrimony that presentations of this sort can generate. Let us refresh our memories about the funding architecture of the Ogoni clean-up exercise. Following the UNEP report of 2011, it was decided that a total of $1 billion should be contributed towards the clean-up of Ogoniland by the entities that polluted the area. Out of this sum, 90% is to be contributed at the ratio of Joint Venture holdings by the polluting partners while the balance 10% of the funds would come from a rather nebulous cohort including the refineries.

There is no doubt that the clean-up could be faster than it has been. There is also no doubt that certain emergency measures could, and must, be undertaken. There is no reason why anyone in Ogoni should be drinking contaminated water after a report, from no less an agency like UNEP, has clearly confirmed the fact of such contamination.

Citizens have a right to be emotive over the clean-up exercise because this is a matter of life or death for the present generation and for generations yet unborn. Pollution is an intergenerational crime. Indeed, some places in the Niger Delta will require several lifetimes to recover because the harms that have been inflicted can best be described as ecocide.

The misrepresentation of facts and figures and continuous infighting for whatever reasons continue to generate bad energy over the entire efforts and raises the question as to whether Ogoni will ever be cleansed. And, by extension, will the Niger Delta ever be cleaned?

One of the problems with the clean-up is that some people see it as merely a business opportunity rather than as a duty to ensure that this intergenerational crime is redressed. Indeed, the clean-up of the entire Niger Delta could possible provide employment form a large proportion of Nigeria’s unemployed youths if they are suitably trained and drawn into a comprehensive clean-up corp. In fact, the squabbles over the Ogoni clean-up contracts is a huge distraction at a time when we should be clamouring for an audit of all places in the Niger Delta (and elsewhere) with hydrocarbon pollution.

Chasing after an extremely difficult and complex clean-up without adequate technical and financial capacity is actually a disservice to our communities and peoples. We have seen the poor clean-up exercises carried out at locations where new spills occur. And the fact that it took UNEP to expose the lie in oil company claims that they had remediated polluted places in Ogoniland. The poor efforts at covering rather than remediating pollutions at places like K-Dere and others were all exposed by the UNEP report. A pursuit of the clean-up as “jobs for the boys” or where jobs are given out based on a sense of entitlement or as political patronage cannot portend anything good.

The nature, depth and complexity of the pollution of Ogoni requires the application of best skills and safe technologies from any part of the world. The exercise should be pursued as an ecological emergency where the fact that a company has not previously operated in Nigeria should be a secondary stumbling block. Some of us are convinced that this is the approach that is needed as the clean-up moves to more complicated lots.

If HYPREP stands firm on the quality of project delivery, as we believe they should, and if jobs are let on the basis of local capacities only, the outcome may be massive delays as jobs that should be completed quickly will have to be redone repeatedly to meet set milestones and indicators. We have seen this in simple construction projects given out to less than competent contractors. The outcomes have been shoddy deliveries, delays and abandonment of sites. Neither HYPREP nor the Ogoni people can afford that scenario.

Back to the matter of cash. When the NNPC chief announced that the polluters had disbursed $360 million the impression people get is that HYPREP had spent the cash. Few understand that the funds contributed or paid by the polluters are held by an Ogoni Trust Fund and not directly in HYPREP’s accounts. The NNPC chief may not have told the world exactly when they disbursed the 2019 tranche of the funds to the Ogoni Trust Fund. If the sums were paid at the end of the year or at the beginning of 2020 how could anyone think or believe that the money has been spent or spirited away in the clean-up process?

The misrepresentation of facts and figures and continuous infighting for whatever reasons continue to generate bad energy over the entire efforts and raises the question as to whether Ogoni will ever be cleansed. And, by extension, will the Niger Delta ever be cleaned?

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Fires, Missiles and Climate Change

fires2These days no one can ignore the sad stories of Fires, Missiles and Climate Change. Watching a video of a cyclist offering water to a koala on highway in Australia, then helping it up a tree on the side of the highway was so touching. The animal turned around and waved back as the man turned to leave. Other photos of people helping scared animals have been posted on social media and they all indicate the basic human instinct of love for all species, human and non-human. There are various estimates of the number of animals that have perished in the inferno in Australia. We will never know the exact figure because some species may never have been known to humans. However, we are told that up to 500 million animals and birds may have perished. Some of the species may even be pushed to extinction.

There are loses of trees and plant varieties besides the animals and birds. We have seen posts of valiant efforts to protect gum trees by my friend Cam Walker of Friends of the Earth, Melbourne. On 4 January 2020, Walker made this Facebook post of the stress of defending the trees: “I am trying to sleep but I’m so wired. We were fighting the fire at Dinner Plain today. It was a monster. It sounded like a jet engine as it came up the hill and we were ordered to evacuate. I was gutted, more than I can say. We waited 2 hours at Mt. Hotham and were given the OK to go back in. I expected we would find the place burnt to the ground. Some of the fire was horrendously hot, but lots of old snow gums survived. And the village of Dinner Plain was completely unburnt. It felt like an absolute miracle.”

It has been tragic for so many animals. Photos of burnt sheep and other animals trapped in the raging fires are so heart wrenching. Even so, I could not but think of people setting fire on bushes in Nigeria so as to scare, kill and eat escaping rabbits, rodents and other animals. No matter what love Nigerians may have for game, it is doubtful that anyone would celebrate the sort of wildfires that have ravaged Australia in recent weeks.

In the 19th Century, some camels were introduced into Australia, from India and Afghanistan, for the purpose of using them for transportation and in construction. They were thereafter released into the wild. Today, there are 1.2 million camels in the country, and they are wreaking havoc on some communities, breaking fences and seeking water from taps, troughs and air conditioners. Reports have it that 10,000 of these camels will be shot from helicopters and the carcases may be left to dry off before they are either burned or buried. They are being slaughtered because they drink too much water.

Think of how easy leaders of nations can set these off to annihilate populations of innocent people. Think of the horrors of human suffering orchestrated by war. Then ask yourself: all that to what ends? Think about how these funds could be spent on cultural exchanges and on building solidarity across the world, sharing love and shedding less tears. Then ask yourself: why not?

Due to its rather remote location, Australia has had to import other animals into their country. Camels were imported for their utility, but rabbits were said to have been imported to bring a touch of home to the territory. We are told that Thomas Austin imported 24 rabbits from England to Victoria, Australia in the 1850s on the justification that “the introduction of a few rabbits could do little harm and might provide a touch of home, in addition to a spot of hunting.” In less than one hundred years, the rabbit population had risen to an estimated 10 billion. The population was eventually reduced to 100 million by biological control through the introduction of the virus-disease, myxomatosis. That was after trapping, shooting, poisoning and fencing had failed. In fact, from 1901 a rabbit proof fence was built and by 1905 stretched 1,166 kilometres from Point Ann on the south coast through Cunderdin to stem the advancement of the spreading rabbits. There are currently about 200 million rabbits in that country, although a chunk of that must have been killed by the fires.

Some species are also exported to other countries from Australia. What readily comes to mind here is some species of the water guzzling eucalyptus trees. And you can throw in the kangaroo. Rabbits, camels and trees are all visible and efforts can be made to check their spread. When genetically modified or even gene drive organisms are released into the environment, they cannot be identified by physical observation and checking their spread is virtually impossible. This is one reason why we must not allow open, or surreptitious, introduction of those artificial varieties whose impacts on humans and on the environment are not fully understood at this time.

Fires in Australia remind us all of how catastrophic climate change can get if real action is not urgently taken. The threat of droughts and extreme heat will not disappear on its own if we keep digging and burning fossil fuels. Another lesson is that we all share Planet Earth and there is no immediate ways of escaping to another planet. Both polluting and vulnerable nations are in this boat together.

As we write this, the world is watching as threats of escalated conflict between the USA and Iran fills the air. The human cost of war cannot be computed in monetary terms. The vast expenditure on armaments is quite horrendous when climate deniers and polluting nations shrink away from financing climate action and paying for current and historically inflicted loss and damage. Think of the cost of one military drone and the accompanying missile. Think of how easy leaders of nations can set these off to annihilate populations of innocent people. Think of the horrors of human suffering orchestrated by war. Then ask yourself: all that to what ends? Think about how these funds could be spent on cultural exchanges and on building solidarity across the world, sharing love and shedding less tears. Then ask yourself: why not?

 

Climate Change Cooked Africa (in 2019)

Solitary tree, Kano

Solitary Tree @ Dawakin Tofa, Kano. photo by Babawale Obayanju (www.tellthatstory.com.ng

2019 was a year of extreme weather events spread across the world. Sweltering heat hit much of the world. Raging wildfires were recorded in Brazil, Bolivia, Australia and the United States of America. Massive floods ravaged even cities like Venice, famed to be able to handle floods.

Climate change was implicated in exposing over 33 million Africans (spread across Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya) to food insecurity emergencies. The food situation has been compounded by the erosion of food sovereignty due to the loss of biodiversity. Violent conflicts and poverty add another dimension to the dire situation and raises the number of the vulnerable to over 52 million.

Southern Africa warmed at two times the global rate and experienced two massive cyclones in March and April leading to a loss of over 1000 lives. Having two cyclones in one season was a record. The intensity and upward reach of the cyclones on the South Eastern coastline also broke the records. Cyclones Idai and Kenneth impacted close to 3 million persons. Some researchers tie the cyclones to the warming of the Indian Ocean. If this is true, we can expect more cyclones as well as the devastation of marine ecosystems in the region.

If parts of Africa warm at double the global average, it means that if the global 1.5 degrees Celsius target of the Paris Agreement is achieved, we can expect a 3 degrees scenario in Africa. And, if the “well below” 2 degrees Celsius temperature increase above preindustrial level is the result of lack of ambition, Africa will be cooked at over 4 degrees Celsius. We note also that the global lack of ambition or readiness to seriously tackle global warming and the aggregation of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) already points at over 3 degrees Celsius temperature rise – sentencing pasts of Africa to a calamitous roasting.

Southern Africa warmed at two times the global rate and experienced two massive cyclones in March and April leading to a loss of over 1000 lives. Having two cyclones in one season was a record. The intensity and upward reach of the cyclones on the South Eastern coastline also broke the records.

Within the year, the continent experienced a high level of climate induced refugees and migrations. Some of these refugees are internally displaced while many, seeking to escape the clutches of the disaster, lost their lives in the Sahara Desert or in the Mediterranean Sea.

The shrinkage of Lake Chad and the attendant social upheavals are already very well known. From a size of over 25,000 square kilometres in the 1960s, the lake measures a mere 2,500 square kilometres today. What caught the attention of the world towards the end of 2019 is the shrinkage of Victoria Falls to mere trickles due to disastrous droughts in the region.

In addition to the floods, droughts, deforestation, food shortages, violence complicates and escalates the problems. Floods displaced hundreds of thousands in Somalia within the year. It is known that disasters happen when hazards meet vulnerability.  Things cannot get worse than when you live in an unstable society, with violence knocking on the door and then climate change steps in.

In the same year, Nigerians, though warned of impending floods, could do nothing to stem the tide when they arrived. Storms and cyclones brought deadly floods that hit Angola, Namibia, Uganda, South Africa, Burundi, Rwanda, Madagascar, Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo-Brazzaville. More than half a million people were affected by floods in Ethiopia and in South Sudan. According to reports, entire communities were submerged by floods, destroying basic services, markets and farms. Floods between August and October affected more than 420,000 people in Sudan with 78 people dead and 49,500 homes destroyed.

There are genuine reasons for anger at the inability of the multilateral system to address the climate challenge in a serious manner. Things have gone so bad it has taken the rising of kids to call out dithering adults before they could even come up with fictive false solutions. Vulnerable nations, including those in Africa were forced into a deadlock over Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. That article is the sword that fossil fuel interest groups foisted on the Planet.

The Article 6 promotes approaches that will help governments to implement their NDCs through voluntary international cooperation. The Article seeks to establish a policy foundation for a carbon emissions trading system, that allows polluters to buy the license to continue polluting from less polluting nations. The fossil fuels industry and partner nations love this article because it would require nothing but a monetary exchange for their climate sins. The point is this: the polluters have the cash and the vulnerable could receive the cash, but the Planet will suffer. The first step is to halt extracting and burning new fossil fuels. Next step is a planned systemic change. The alternative will be a chaotic change for those that may survive!

Science informs that the world cannot afford to open new fossil fuel mines or fields. This sector is responsible for 80 percent of all carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution. Rather than halt the extraction of the climate harming fuels, the industry is set to invest US$ 1.4 trillion in new oil and gas projects between 2020 and 2024. It is estimated that this will yield 50 percent more fossil fuels by 2030 and would drive the world to a 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise.

A combination of factors places African nations in a tight corner and requires critical examination of the route forward. First is the fact that while African nations have contributed little to the depletion of the carbon budget, and have been quite ambitious in the NDCs, they are trapped in the catch-up narrative where they make the futile dash to be like the rich, industrialised and polluting nations. They push is for serious climate mitigation actions while ensuring high economic growth and development. Considering that economic growth and development in the current capitalistic and neoliberal framework propel climate change, it should be obvious that that is the wrong way forward.

2020 presents us opportunity to look back, hopefully not in anger. It presents us a moment to interrogate the notion of development and growth in a finite world. It also gives us a moment to deliberate on means of halting fossil fuels proliferation and how to secure a just cooperative future for our peoples. Oilwatch International has proposed that a group of Annex 0 nations be created in the UNFCCC as a means of promoting real climate action. Countries like Belize, Costa Rica, France, New Zealand can already be grouped here as they have halted fossil fuels extraction. Ogoniland can also be recognised as a community that has taken this action within Nigeria. A fossil fuels non-proliferation treaty has been proposed for the halting of a disaster that is more likely to happen than what triggered the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

2019 was a year that sounded a loud alarm. We chose to play hard of hearing. A quarter of a million Australians called attention to the disastrous fires ravaging that nation and petitioned for a halt of the elaborate fireworks to herald 2020. Their government responded that the fireworks had already been paid for and must continue. They did. A perfect example of how we are comfortable with “the normal”, no matter the circumstances or the consequences. The alarms have gone off everywhere. 2020 is the moment for reflection and action. Shall we wake up?

 

 

 

The Coming Green Colonialism

COP25We have entered the era of Nature-based colonialism. Call it the Green Colonialism. The gloves are coming off. The climate crisis in the world is being approached as a mere unfolding change, as business opportunities and not as an emergency that requires drastic action. Nations are comfortable to spend decades on talks and pretend they have ample time to procrastinate or deflect actions. However, this is not a time for propping up fictional ideas and carbon mathematics as though the cycles of Mother Earth are ordered according to some calculus or algorithms.

The climate COP25 held in Madrid is drawing to a close as this is being penned. Not much progress has happened at the negotiations. Indeed, the technocrats who are saddled with actually negotiating the various clauses of the Paris Agreement’s rule book could not conclude work on a number of articles and pushed them over to be handled by the ministers who arrived in the second week. It should be noted that the ministers are basically politicians, and their inputs tend to be weighted heavily on political considerations.

Beginning from the evening of 10 December, a pattern of selective consultations ensued with ministers and not with heads of delegations or negotiators. Considering that Article 6 of the Paris Agreement remains the thorny matter at this COP, observers feared that some of the ministers will be unfamiliar with the details and may indeed be unable to adequately negotiate it due to its complex and technical nature.

It is clearly not a time for propping up fictional ideas and carbon mathematics as though the cycles of Mother Earth are ordered according to some calculus or algorithms.

Issues expected to be handled by the ministers include adaptation financing in the context of the cooperation under Article 6 and use of the approaches for other international mitigation purposes; delivering on the overall mitigation in global emissions; and the governance of the framework for non-market approaches.

There is a general tendency for nations to strenuously work towards avoiding responsibility. The current government of the USA shows clearly that nations can simply walk away from the multilateral space and allow the world take care of its problems. The only snag in this way of thinking is that unlike the nuclear deterrent scenario where nations hoped to beat others by arming themselves and projecting possibilities of utter destruction, the impending climate catastrophe does not offer the possibility of any nation emerging as the winner or even as a survivor.

It is doubtful that anyone can survive extreme temperature increases, neither can anyone hope to survive for long under flood waters. You would think that this sobering reality would force politicians to have a rethink concerning their posturing at the climate negotiations.

Climate politicians are churning out new seductive words to obscure intentions and to market ideas that would help them avoid both action and responsibility. The narrative merchants bring up concepts such as nature-based solutions (NBS) which, on face value, is hard to fault. How can you reject any action that is based on nature, that respects nature and that works with and not against nature? The catch is that NBS does not mean of that. At the COP, there were side events that showcased how to include nature in Nationally Determined Contributions. Another one listed Shell, Chevron and BP as founding members for “Natural Climate Solutions.”

So-called nature-based solutions include carbon offsetting mechanisms that allow polluters to carry on polluting while claiming that their pollution or emissions are offset by mitigating activities such as tree planting or corralling off of forests as carbon sinks. Indeed, the NBS can be understood as the wheels of carbon stock exchanges.

“the struggle to solve the climate crisis must be tied to the struggle for economic justice and the struggles against inequality, neocolonialism and neoliberalism. The solution is not as simple as greening our economies or having more electric automobiles. It cannot be about greening the global north at the expense of the global south.”

When nations speak of carbon neutrality, they are basically speaking of solving the climate crisis through mathematics and not through any real climate action. It does not suggest changes in modes of production and consumption. The same can be said of having Net Zero carbon emissions.

As the climate negotiation drags on, we must remind ourselves that it is essential for us to understand what we are fighting for before we can forge the real solution. The acceptance of carbon offsetting and similar notions as epitomes of carbon colonialism give reasons for worry. The burden of climate action is being forced on the victims without any regard for historical responsibilities, without regard for justice. This posture rides on the same track as slavery, colonialism, neocolonialism and their cousin, neoliberalism.

Climate activists made a loud noise outside the plenary hall on Wednesday 11 December voicing the critical need for rich, polluting nations, to remove their heads from the sands and take real climate action. They were urged to quit their push for carbon markets and tricks to aid double counting when it comes to climate finance. They were reminded that there is a climate debt that has neither been acknowledged nor paid. The investment of $1.9 trillion in fossil fuel projects and the expenditure of close to $2 trillion in warfare annually were held up as obscene reminders that contributing a mere $100 billion for climate finance ought not to give the world sleepless nights if there is any seriousness to use the hours spent at the COP to tackle the root causes of global warming, cut emissions at source, help build resilience and pull the vulnerable from their miseries.

As Asad Rehman of War on Want said at the Social Space during the COP, “the struggle to solve the climate crisis must be tied to the struggle for economic justice and the struggles against inequality, neocolonialism and neoliberalism. The solution is not as simple as greening our economies or having more electric automobiles. It cannot be about greening the global north at the expense of the global south.” He warned that anything short of the needed system change is nothing but a precursor of a new wave of green colonialism.

 

 

Infernal Gas Flares

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ground level gas flare

The gas flares in the Niger Delta are absolutely obnoxious. When 2020 was set as the deadline for halting gas flaring in Nigeria it seemed like ages away. As 2019 rolls towards its terminal point, 2020 is already placing its foot in the door. While launching the Nigerian Gas Flare Commercialization Programme (NGFCP) in 2016, the indication was given that the nation would pursue a 2020 flare-out date. The nation also signed unto the Global Gas Flaring Partnership (GGFP) principles aiming at a flares-out date of 2030.

It is interesting to note that the Federal Government of Nigeria has been pursuing two deadlines on the same objective. Given our laziness about meeting deadlines, it was obvious to observers that 2020 was a smokescreen and could not be a date to bank on. Nevertheless, the then Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachukwu, was particularly insistent that the year was sacrosanct.

The reasons for such optimism included the fact that up to 800 companies had submitted bids for the management of 176 gas flare sites in the Niger Delta and of the 800 bidders, 226 had paid stipulated fees as part of their expression of interest to manage the gas flare sites. Needless to say that as 2020 rolls in, that target has quietly evaporated.

We should remind ourselves that gas flaring commenced in the Niger Delta in the 1950s. We should also remind ourselves that gas flaring is inevitable in any oil field that has gas associated with the crude oil being extracted. Such gases are usually vented or flared in order to avoid uncontrollable build up of pressure in such installations. The flares are occasionally lit and then put off until when pressure mounts again. However, the gas furnaces that have ravaged the Niger Delta are not lit to relieve pressure from the oil fields, they are simply lit to waste the gas, as if no one would ever complain over the waste or poisons. This sort of burning of the resource is termed routine gas flaring. This routine flaring is the permanent insult that operators have relentlessly piled on our peoples and the Niger Delta environment.

We were told that President Muhammad Buhari is totally against gas flaring in the Niger Delta and was doing everything to ensure that the infernal flames are snuffed out for good. That position seems plausible considering the fact that the decree outlawing gas flaring came into force on 1st January 1984, during his tenure as a military Head of State. Secondly, in 2018 the government issued the Flare Gas (Prevention of Waste and Pollution) Regulation.

… the operators must give accurate data or face the penalty of paying a fine of N50,000 (fifty thousand Naira) or being imprisoned for six months. It is not clear if Nigeria can jail a company. But going by the trend of things that may not be a impossible task to accomplish as our security and judicial officers appear to be getting more creative by the day. But, come on, a N50,000 Naira or a mere $139 (one hundred and thirty nine US Dollars) fine against an oil company dishing out false data? That does not even sound like a good joke.

Notable features of the 2018 Gas Flare Regulation include the fact that the Federal Government now owns all the gas flares stacks and all the flared gas. That sounds rather funny, but the reason the claim is made can be assumed to have arisen from the fact that investors were denied access to the flared gas by operating oil companies. It is not clear whether government would still expect oil companies to pay fines for flaring gas now that government has claimed ownership of the gas flare stacks. Or will the government now be the offending party? By reason of owning the gas flares, access to flared gas to be utilized for commercialization or otherwise is now to be obtained from the Petroleum Minister, who in this case is the President.

The Regulation also requires that the producers are to maintain a daily log of gas flared. The interesting point here is that government agencies are unable to measure or meter the volume of gas flared in the country. Neither are they able to measure the actual volume of crude oil extracted on a daily basis in the country. So, when we say that 8 billion cubic meters of gas is flared annually, we are simply throwing out a guesstimate. Government agencies depend on oil and gas companies to declare the volumes of gas extracted and flared.

This brings us to another point in the Regulation which stipulates that the Directorate of Petroleum Resources (DPR) may demand for gas flare data from the operators. It also adds that the operators must give accurate data or face the penalty of paying a fine of N50,000 (fifty thousand Naira) or being imprisoned for six months. It is not clear if Nigeria can jail a company. But going by the trend of things that may not be a impossible task to accomplish as our security and judicial officers appear to be getting more creative by the day. But, come on, a N50,000 Naira or a mere $139 (one hundred and thirty nine US Dollars) fine against an oil company dishing out false data? That does not even sound like a good joke.

Back to the flares-out deadlines. In the 1960s noises were already made about the need to halt the obnoxious act of gas flaring. As already mentioned, the first deadline was 1 January 1984. That deadline was shifted to 2007 and to 2008 and 2010 and then to 2020. These shifting goalposts have been made attractive to the oil companies because the Decree or Act outlawing gas flaring allows companies to flare gas provided they had obtained a permit to do so from the Minister of Petroleum. Besides obtaining a certificate to flare the harmful gases, they are to pay a fine. In 1979 that fine was pegged at 0.003 US dollars per million cubic feet of gas flared. By 1988 the fine rose to a handsome 0.07 dollars. In January 2008 the fine was set at 3.50 dollars for 1000 cubic feet of gas flared. From report, this figure was simply ignored. In 2018 the fine was pegged at 2.0 dollars per 1000 cubic feet of gas flared.

The gas flare game has continued due to the sort of Joint Venture arrangements in place in the country. The operators call the shots, including with regard to measuring the gas produced and flared as well as oil produced, spilled or stolen. The recent report by Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initative (NEITI) suggesting that an outrageous $11 million worth of crude oil is stolen daily in Nigeria did not raise a significant number of eyebrows, beyond making news headlines. Some observers believe that although the figure shared by NEITI may be conservative, it does suggest that the malfeasance in the oil and gas fields fester on an industrial scale and we should stop blaming the victims.

The entire petroleum sector architecture needs to be urgently deconstructed and reordered, including by stopping gas flares by 2020, by all means necessary. Thirty five years after outlawing gas flaring, and fourteen years after a High Court declared the act an assault on our human rights, we have no reason to further kick the deadline down the road.