Infernal Oil Pipes of the Niger Delta

Perhaps the most horrendous crude oil pipeline incident of 2015 was an explosion that occurred on 9 July while repairs of a damaged pipeline were ongoing at Azuzuama, along Nigerian Agip Oil Company’s Tebidabe-Clough Creek route. The explosion and raging inferno occurred during a Joint Inspection Visit (JIV) embarked on to determine the cause of an ongoing oil spill there. The explosion and ensuing inferno claimed at least fourteen lives, including those of two government officials.  The tragedy was followed by contentious processes of identifying the victims and according them decent burial – a near impossible due to reported reticence of Agip and the fact that some of the victims were burnt to ashes.

In reaction to the Azuzuana tragedy, Iniruo Wills, the Commissioner for Environment in Bayelsa State said, “It is time to declare a State of Emergency on the Environment in the Bayelsa State in particular and the Niger Delta in general, in order to save the lives of our people and the future of our communities. For the people of Bayelsa State and especially the families of the victims and staff of the Bayelsa State Ministry of Environment, July 2015 will go down as the July of death, on account of the needless deaths inflicted upon our beloved ones and colleagues by the Nigeria’s environmentally irresponsible oil and gas industry… We are grieving, but we must now also insist yet again that it is time to take decisive action to stop this perilous hazard that has become a routine threat to life and ecology in Bayelsa State and the Niger Delta.”

We recall that in 2000, a fire resulting from a faulty machine claimed the lives of eighteen youths that were assisting in repair works along the Agip’s Brass-Ogoda pipeline. On 29 July 2012 another fire erupted along the same company’s pipeline at Ayambele/Kalaba community. At this 2012 incident sixteen persons, including military personnel and community youths narrowly escaped death.

A sad tale

Haphazard treatment of oil spills has remained a worrisome trend in the oil fields of the Niger Delta. Forests and wetlands have been set on fire as oil companies and their contractors try to hide oil spills. In other instances, attempts have been made to cover up crude oil spills with imported soils or simply by turning the soil at the point of incident. These futile efforts have left horrific environmental scars across the oil field communities of the region.

Several oil spills have been reported by community field monitors. We will pick examples from the last six months.

A major spill occurred on Christmas Day at Agip’s Tebidaba Well 9 at Ikebiri. As the crude spewed into the fragile ecosystem the community was faced with the dilemma of either permitting the oil company to shut down the polluting well or to wait for a JIV before any shut down was permitted. However, shut down was effected to save the environment. The visit comprising officials from NOSDRA, Agip, security personnel, State Ministry of Environment and community representatives, was conducted on 27 December 2015 only to be declared as inconclusive, to the chagrin of the community. An earlier JIV following a spill that occurred at the same oil well in November 2014 was equally declared to be inconclusive and nothing has been heard of it ever since.

Erosion of confidence in regulatory agencies is extremely dangerous in a highly polluted environment such as the Niger Delta. It should be noted that the equipment used for tests during the JIVs are often provided by the oil companies involved.

Community monitors are rapidly losing confidence in regulatory agencies over their handling of oil spill incidents.

“How do they expect us to have confidence in them if they cannot say the simple truth of what they saw? They are all bad and criminal-minded folks who ought to be neutral but fail to be so. I will never trust the regulators again; whether from NOSDRA, DPR or Ministry of Environment,” fumed a community leader at Ikebiri. Erosion of confidence in regulatory agencies is extremely dangerous in a highly polluted environment such as the Niger Delta. It should be noted that the equipment used for tests during the JIVs are often provided by the oil companies involved.

Shell notched some spills within the period, notably the ones at Odau community on 2 June 2015 and at Adibawa Well 8 on 12 July 2015.  The spill at Odau, in Rivers State, spread to Oruma/Yibama community in Bayelsa State. The spilt crude went up in flames some months later, causing severe environmental damage in the Oruma/Yibama community. These incidents highlight the cross-border nature of environmental pollution and the consequences of environmental impunity.

A significant dimension was also highlighted by the multiple spills close to the Okordia Manifold at Ikarama community on 12 August 2015. Terror was unleashed on Ikarama community following that spill and some community members including the paramount ruler were arrested and detained. The arrests were peacefully protested by Ikarama women. Disagreement over surveillance contact arrangement between Shell and community youths was fingered in the incidents and resultant conflict.

Crude oil from ExxonMobil’s offshore facilities washed up on the shores of Ibeno, Akwa Ibom State in November 2015 with tales of woes for shoreline communities.

Another Agip spill was noticed by community monitors when they saw spreading crude in the creeks of Emago-Kugbo on 12 July 2015. The spill site was reportedly set ablaze on 25 July. A community farmer, Dumani Lucky, was burned and choked to death as he attempted to boat through the polluted area to his farm.

A monitor captured the situation this way, “The fire also burned the barge, tug boat and other equipment mobilized for the clamping by Agip or company contractor. In fact, the tug boat sank and is now only serving as an anchor to the barge. After they set the spill site ablaze the whole community environment was as dark as if there was no sun. People had to stay indoors to avoid the smoke. Visibility only improved from midday. Later that day we had a heavy rainfall and the entire community was flooded with dark water. We don’t know what to do because Agip has been treating us badly for so long a time.”

Oil SPill at Ibeno

Death, ecological destruction and inconclusive JIVs portend more harm to the Niger Delta environment. With the delay in proposed clean-up of the Ogoni environment, no seriousness to halt gas flaring and with the continued piling of more pollution, we have to construct a new ecological consciousness on the part of citizens. This consciousness must necessarily include tough resistance to so-called inconclusive JIVs – a not so clever way of blaming the victims and claiming that oil spills are caused by third party interferences rather than putrid pipelines and ill-maintained equipment. The new consciousness should include constant monitoring and reporting and insistence on urgent clean-ups and strict liability on the part of polluters.

I intended to share a Happy New Year greeting, but we are concerned about the survival of our environment and peoples. Nevertheless, have a watchful New Year!

—-

Last photo of Exxon spill at Ibeno by Peace Point Action. Others are photos of Agip incidents by Alagoa Morris

Between Subsidising Polluters and Thieves

The movement against subsidising the fossil fuel industry continues to grow and is an integral part of the keep it in the ground struggle. However, in places like Nigeria, contentious subsidies are those related to the importation of petroleum products. The debate is yet to fully focus on the cost of production and related malfeasances.

Keep it in the soil

The last mass national mobilisation in Nigeria happened in January 2012 when the pump price of petrol was raised from 65 Naira to 141 Naira per litre. The reasons given by the government then was that the increase in pump price of petroleum products was necessitated by a removal of subsidies.

The mobilisations lasted a full week and literally brought the government to its knees. The debates during and after the protests threw up many questions:

  • Why should Nigeria export crude oil only to import refined products?
  • Why are the refineries not functioning as they should despite heavy investments in their maintenance?
  • What is the value of the subsidies and would government need to subsidise if the products were refined in Nigeria?
  • Is there in fact any subsidy?
  • What volume of products is actually imported into Nigeria?
  • What quantity of petroleum products are consumed in Nigeria?

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Official responses to the questions were varied – depending on which official was speaking. The public believed there was an unbridgeable gap between the amount of money spent on subsidies and the volume of products actually imported. The questions still remain to be answered.

Eventually the pump price of petrol was brought to 97 Naira (then about $0.60) per litre. The price hike was moderated to 87 Naira per litre in January 2015 due to a downward slide in the price of crude oil.

It is obvious that crude oil is cheap because the true cost of crude oil is not being paid. The environment and the people continue to subsidise crude oil extraction, refining, transportation and consumption.

When President Buhari announced the 2016 national budget on 22 December 2015, he told the nation that the pump price of petrol would remain at N87 per litre in the new year. If there is already a negative subsidy due to the the drastically reduced price of crude oil it appears that right now the Nigerian people are the ones doing the subsidising. Put it another way, the people are being taxed for what they are not consuming.

Keeping the pump price of petrol price at N87 per litre and still paying subsidies in a situation when crude oil price hovers around $36 per barrel compared to about $90 at January 2012 and $47 by January 2015 is not easy to explain. To add to the consternation of many, an official of the NNPC recently stated that the pump price of petrol is higher than it ought to be and that there are many inefficiencies in the system.

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The Group General Manager, of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) told journalists in Abuja on 18 December 2015 that petroleum products were overpriced in Nigeria and that subsidies would not find a space in the 2016 budget. According to him, “Our review of the current PPPRA (Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency) template suggests that there are significant inefficiencies in the current template.”

Earlier in that week the Minister of State for Petroleum spoke of similar inefficiencies but announced that the Nigerian government plans to revert to the old pump price of N97 per litre for petrol in 2016. What are we to believe?

True Cost of Crude

It is obvious that crude oil is cheap because the true cost of crude oil is not being paid. The environment and the people continue to subsidise crude oil extraction, refining, transportation and consumption. This subsidy manifests in extreme pollution as land, sea and air, including as evidenced in the Niger Delta, the Amazonia, the Alberta oil sand fields and the fracking fields of the USA. The environment and the people have absorbed enough beating by the petroleum sector. Lives have been decimated and now the planet is being set on fire.

This mother-of-all-subsidies can only be halted by keeping the fossils in the ground. The challenge is for all humankind. Mother Earth deserves a Sabbath of rest to recover from the abuses that continue to be inflicted on her.

Elimination of subsidy does not necessarily mean an increase of pump price of petroleum products. It indeed essential to eliminate phantom subsidies, save the people from needless taxation, and apply the saved funds to the remediation of the dastardly polluted Niger Delta.

Two Good Days of Inspiring Indignation

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For two days in the Maison des Metallos, Paris, experts, victims, prosecutors and judges presented or listened to cases of crimes against Mother Earth and at the end judgements were passed. There were solemn spiritual moments, moments of awe at the rapacious destructive capacities of humanity and many moments of tears as these destructions, including murders, were painted in words and pictures.

The International Rights of Nature Tribunal held parallel to the UNFCCC’s Conference of Parties where historical and current climate atrocities or real solutions are loath to be mentioned, not even in square brackets.

The Tribunal derives its authority from the peoples of the world as the children of the Earth. The basic framework comes from the Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth (UDRME) that was adopted at the Peoples’ Summit on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in April 2010 after the spectacular failure of COP15 in Copenhagen. At the commencement of the sitting of the Tribunal on 4 December 2015, the presiding judge, Cormac Cullinan, led other judges to vote and formally adopt the Convention and Statutes of the tribunal. These guide the running of the Tribunal and underscore the solemn duty of sitting as judges on the cases of infringements against Mothrer Earth.

This was the third session of the Tribunal, having sat first in Quito, Ecuador in January 2014 and then in Lima, Peru in December of the same year. The Tribunal was hosted by the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature in conjunction with NatureRights, End Ecocide on Earth and Attac France with Natalia Greene heading the secretariat.

As I sat on the panel of judges along with Tome Goldtooth (USA), Alberto Acosta (Ecuador), Osprey Orielle (USA), Terisa Turna (Canada), Felicio Pontes (Brazil), Damien Short (UK), Attosa Soltani (USA), Ruth Nyambura (Kenya), Christophe Bonneuil (France), Philippe Desbrosses (France) and Dominique Bourg (Switzerland) we were repeatedly reminded that all beings on Earth are our relatives and that what we do to anyone of the children of the Earth we do to ourselves. The preamble of the UDRME states that “We are all part of Mother Earth, an indivisible, living community of interrelated and interdependent beings with a common destiny.”

It also came through that the crimes against Mother Earth are often wilfully committed because some people and the transnational corporations see nature as capital and Mother Earth as a dead organism. In a proposed case against cruel treatment of animals we saw shocking video of a wounded bull being butchered alive with hundreds of people gleefully watching.

The prosecutors, Ramiro Avila and Linda Sheehan led the witnesses in bringing out deep systemic alternatives to environmental protection and seeking to show that it must be acknowledged that ecosystems have the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate their vital cycles and that these ought to have legal standing in a court of law. The line-up of witnesses helped to ensure that Indigenous Peoples and oppressed communities had the space to share their unique concerns, knowledge and solutions about land, water, air and culture with the global community.

The presentations by experts and victims showed that climate change violates Articles 2 Sub sections a-j of the Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth, especially the right to life and to exist; the right to be respected and “the right to regenerate its bio-capacity and to continue its vital cycles and processes free from human disruptions.”

Witnesses underscored the fact that although climate change is caused mostly by human activities, it is inaccurate to place that blame and the burden for action on all humans. In his presentation, Pablo Solon stressed that 10% of the richest individuals in the world contribute 49 per cent of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 90 companies contribute over 60 per cent of all GHG emissions. The top corporate polluters include Chevron, ExxonMobil (USA), Saudi Aramco (Saudi), BP (UK), Gazprom (Russia) and Royal Dutch Shell (Netherlands).

Evidence were adduced to show that the trio of governments/politicians, transnational corporations and the UNFCCC are complicit in the climate crimes as they work together to ensure that real solutions are avoided, binding commitments to cut emission are set aside in preference for voluntary or intended actions. In addition, the tribunal rejected the claims that destructive actions were taken on the basis of the necessity of development or that when emissions began to happen, and grew, the polluters did not know or anticipate the outcomes, are unacceptable.

The case was established that at play is the logic of capital and power and that the major corporations who have caused the problems are the sponsors of the COPs and have hijacked the system.

The fact that the extreme forms of extraction promoted by humans are crimes against Mother Earth came through very forcefully when the case of hydraulic fracturing or fracking was taken. Fracking was presented as a RAPE of the Earth and is one of the worst threats against the planet. Facts adduced in this case include that it sets stage for disaster each frack uses up to 2-8 million gallons of fresh water and that one well may be fracked up to 18 times. The process involves the use of up to 750 chemicals many of which, including benzene and formaldehyde are toxic. Billions of gallons of “frack fluid” and 60 per cent of chemicals used remain or are stored underground while the remainder are stored in open air pits.

“We all need nature to survive and it is fundamental that we protect her. Governments should hear the indigenous people who are in the frontlines of defending nature…My struggle is for you, for all of us and for the future of humanity and for the future of our children.”

The Tribunal received evidence of radioactive wastes, toxic waters being left everywhere fracking takes place: in farms, schools, neighbourhoods as well as offshore. Witnesses and experts also insisted that fracking is guaranteed to pollute ground water. Testimonies of health impacts, deaths, rapes and other social disruptions dropped a pall of grieve over the venue of the meeting.

In the case against the Belo Monte and Tapajas mega dams in Brazil, the Tribunal was informed that 60-70 dams were being planned to be built over the next 20 years. Belo Monte alone will destroy 5000km2 of the forest and related biodiversity. The social impacts were described as ecological and cultural genocide against the indigenous communities.

Speaking forcefully about his lifelong work defending the Amazon forest, Cacique Raoni Kayapo told the Tribunal, “We all need nature to survive and it is fundamental that we protect her. Governments should hear the indigenous people who are in the frontlines of defending nature.” Looking piercingly at the panel of judges and then at the audience he intoned, “My struggle is for you, for all of us and for the future of humanity and for the future of our children.”

Other highlights of the sessions include the presentations that demanded that fossil fuels should be left under the ground in line with the findings of science requiring that this be done if we are to avoid catastrophic temperature rise. Oilwatch International presented the case for the creation of Annex Zero (0) nations, sub-nations and territories that have already taken steps or are in the process of doing so, of keeping fossil fuels under the ground. This was presented as real climate action and points at the pathway to a safe world. Examples were given of sites of such initiatives in all the continents of the world. Another highlight was the case for the recognition of ecocide in international criminal law.

The Tribunal accepted new cases including those that will try crimes against animals, the depletion of marine life, the Rosia Montana Mines in Romania, the extreme damage of the environment of the Niger Delta by the polluting acts of Shell and the crimes tied to the extraction of tar sands in Canada.

These were two days of plain talks and truth. They were days in which the raw injuries inflicted on Mother Earth and her children were laid bare. They were days of pain as well as of joy. Tears flowed freely from all sections of the hall. Indignation did not give birth to paralysis but to a resolve to stand up for Mother Earth.

In spite of the pains, the aches and the cries of Mother Earth that her children displayed, the words of Cases Camp Horinek kept echoing that the days of the Tribunal were indeed good days.

 

—This piece was first published as Two Good Days When Crimes Against Nature were Exposed by New Internationalist

 

 

 

Shell’s Bad Day in the Dock

The decision of the Appeal Court at The Hague on 18 December 2015 that the four farmers whose lands and creeks were damaged by Shell’s pollution can indeed sue the oil mogul in The Netherlands has come as refreshing news. Goi..OgoniWhile this is a sweet step towards total victory, we are saddened that while the case drags on the polluted lands are yet to be remediated and the victims are still deprived of the use of their lands and creeks.

Shell’s oil spills in the Niger Delta are well known and the oil company’s claims that such spills are caused by third party interferences often ring hollow, if you know the real story. The history of the spin by Shell that oil spills from their facilities are caused by third parties has been on since the 1980s. Although there was a spike in such interferences between 2005 and 2009 due to armed responses in the region, much of the spills are still attributable to equipment failure or poor maintenance.

In the particular set of cases filed in the court at The Hague in 2008, farmers from Ikot Ada Udo (Akwa Ibom State), Oruma (Bayelsa State) and Goi (Rivers State) all in the Niger Delta complained of devastating spills they suffered between 2004 and 2008. In Oruma it was an eruption from a pipeline buried to a depth of more than a metre underground. At Ikot Ada Udo it was capped well head that spewed crude oil into the air, land and waters for months before Shell stopped it. Goi is a special case. The community has neither an oil well nor a pipeline crossing its territory. What Goi has is a creek that is fed by an upstream river that brings crude oil spill from an oil facility. It also receives tidal flows from Bodo a bit downstream. The crude oil spill and resulting fire that sacked this community came from Shell’s spills from other communities.cropped-cropped-with-eric-at-goi.jpg

Ken Saro-Wiwa must be chuckling at this turn of events. In his last testament before his execution 20 years ago, Saro-Wiwa declared that Shell will one day be in the dock. Now, the presence of Shell in the dock is not only happening but will pick up speed.

It was therefore a surprise that the Court of first instance only found Shell culpable over the oil spill at Ikot Ada Udo and not for the ones at Oruma and Goi in its judgement of January 2013.

The farmers and Friends of the Earth Netherlands, with the support of Environmental Rights Action (ERA), approached the court of appeal demanding an overturning of decisions that cleared Shell of responsibility. Shell also appealed against the verdict against them with regard to the case from Ikot Ada Udo. The Dutch Court decided against Shell’s claim that the court is incompetent to rule on the activities of it’s subsidiary in Nigeria.

With the dismissal of Shell’s competence argument, the substantive case can now proceed in earnest and the question of Shell’s guilt over the damage of the farmers’ lands will now be taken on.

Geert Ritsema, head of campaign at Friends of the Earth Netherlands, also known as Milieudefensie, applauded the verdict as a big blow to Shell’s seven years old argument that the Dutch court cannot rule on the oil pollution in Nigeria. According to him, “these delaying tactics have now come to an end and Shell have to take responsibility for damage to the environment and the property of the Nigerian farmers.”

This is a very significant judgement. It cements the fact that a transnational corporation cannot avoid being held to account at home for their environmental crimes or misbehaviour in other countries. The road to victory is still long, but this again is an example of a David and Goliath confrontation where the oil giant comes with assortment of judicial weapons and the poor farmers beat them with mere slings and stones.

Ken Saro-Wiwa must be chuckling at this turn of events. In his last testament before his execution 20 years ago, Saro-Wiwa declared that Shell will one day be in the dock. Now, the presence of Shell in the dock is not only happening but will pick up speed.

It is clear that Shell is stuck on losing track and it is best for the oil mogul to accept responsibility, clean up its mess and give the poor farmers the possibility of recovery from the ecocide visited upon their lands.

 

 

COP21 Agreed to A Climate Changed World

 

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COP21 has come and gone, and like most others before it, the response has been varied. Some have applauded the Paris Agreement as a giant step for humankind. Some are claiming a big win. Others take a holistic look at the future scenario the agreement presents and are aghast that after two decades of climate negotiations greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and the Paris Agreement does not indicate any urgency in tackling this fundamental problem even though it does indeed recognise the urgency of the crisis.

The Agreement speaks of a desirability to work towards a temperature increase of 1.5o C while aiming also at a target “well below 2o C.” We wonder how the COP quantifies the difference between 1.5 and “well below” 2 degrees. And which may be greater in this language of diplomats? The Agreement recognises everything that needs to be recognised, including the need for finance and technology transfer, human rights, gender and intergenerational equity, etc., but provides no scope for the operationalising these in a manner that signifies this acknowledgment. Although it is generally agreed that fossils must be kept in the ground if we are to stand a chance of keeping temperature increase below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, the COP, perhaps encouraged by its oil company partners, ignored this and locked the planet on the path of peril.

The scaffold on which the entire COP21 hung was the infamous intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs).  While the COP Itself notes that the figures submitted by countries do not on the aggregate point a way to cooling the planet, it nevertheless stayed the cause of this clearly wrong path. The INDCs if implemented will lead to a temperature increase of over 3 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels wiping out communities of people and sparking unpredictable repercussions. The Agreement recognises that INDCs will also be achieved through removals of GHGs – through sinks and offsets, etc. Thus, the path of the INDCs taken by the COP is an irredeemable self-inflicted injury that subverts real efforts to tackle the climate menace.

In sum, COP21 betrayed the poor, the vulnerable and all those already suffering the impacts of climate change. It set the stage for a climate changed world, and did little about averting it.

Applauding the COP for being a success because for the first time all nations have indicated commitment to tackle climate change on the basis of the INDCs indicates a total disregard of the disregard of climate science and equity as epitomised by this pathway.

Head in the Oven, Feet in the refrigerator (or that Sinking Feeling)

We note that the Agreement speaks repeatedly of “sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases.” These are wedges to keep the door open for all sorts of carbon offset schemes including REDD and all its variants, yet-to-be-proven carbon capture and storage, geo-engineering and such like. We can thus expect intense externalising of climate action on climate victims as well as carbon colonialism – which may include what is referred to in the Agreement as “internationally transferred mitigation” (Article 6) rather than direct in-country carbon emissions reduction.

At the launching of a publication of the No REDD in Africa Network (NRAN) at the Climate Forum during the COP, Firoze Manji, the pan Africanist, described carbon offsetting as putting your feet in a refrigerator when your head is in the oven and hoping to achieve a median temperature for your body. Very apt indeed.

The agreement ties non-market climate solutions to the enhancement of “public and private sector participation in the implementation of nationally determined contributions.” This hints at the privatisation of carbon or pollution, which arguably is already happening through carbon trading.

Climate finance remains grossly insufficient with targets of $10 billion yearly up to 2025 (COP15 said 2020) when this would shift to $100 billion yearly. That these amounts are insufficient can be seen from the fact that the US spent about $68 billion to handle the aftermath of just one hurricane, Hurricane Sandy. Considering that rich countries spend up to $2 trillion annually in needless wars releases equally underscore that what we see are specious power play and climate apartheid. And, by the way, who accounts for the millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases released in warfare besides destruction of lives and wreaking of havoc on nations and territories, especially those that are fossil resources rich. It is clear that the paucity of the Green Climate Fund is not a lack of funds but a determination by rich countries to avoid historical and current climate debt.

 Transition?

The Agreement makes a passing mention of “just transition” with reference to “workforce” and the creation of decent work. Again we see that the COP is so enamoured with dirty energy or fossil driven energy forms that it could not dare name fossils or a call for just transition towards renewable energy. In fact, “renewable energy” is mentioned only once in the preamble to the Agreement and in the context of developing countries. From where did analysts get the idea that the Agreement has declared the obituary for fossil fuels? In case the COP is serious about ending dependence on fossil fuels and thus taking real climate action, the conference can take a cue from Oilwatch’s proposal for the creation of Annex 0 group of nations, sub-nations and territories that are taking steps, or have taken them already, to keep fossil fuels under the ground.

With 2020 as the pivot year for the voluntary emissions reduction, it is clear that between now and then the remaining atmospheric carbon budget may already have been taken up. Whether that happens or not, delayed actions until 2020 presents the planet and all beings on it a very dire future that many will not survive. That also breeches the right of Mother Earth to exist, her right to maintain her cycles and speaks poorly of our understanding of intergenerational equity.

In sum, COP21 betrayed the poor, the vulnerable and all those already suffering the impacts of climate change. It set the stage for a climate changed world, and did little about averting it.

 

 

 

 

 

Social movements united in defiance of false solutions being negotiated at Paris COP

Social movements united in defiance of false solutions being negotiated at Paris COP

10th December, Paris: Representatives of social movements, grassroots and community groups, and environmental campaigning organisations, between them representing millions of people across the globe, have come together today to denounce the failure of the climate negotiations in Paris. At a press conference at the Le Bourget conference centre this afternoon, they spoke out against the false solutions that look set to be enshrined in the agreement, and called on movements worldwide to continue to build their own, just alternatives to the political and economic systems that have caused the climate crisis.

Pablo Solon, former chief climate negotiator for Bolivia and current Executive Director of the Fundacion Solon, said: “The Paris agreement will force us to choose who of our children will survive, because in a +3C world, not all will be able to live.”

Eberto Diaz, speaking on behalf of La Via Campesina in Colombia said: “False solutions only serve to increase hunger and impoverishment in the countryside and in the cities. Agroecology and food sovereignty contribute to the cooling of the planet. We are in constant struggle to change the system, and not the climate.”

Silvia Ribeiro from the ETC Group in Mexico said: “It’s a perverse paradox that US and Europe, whose governments, energy and agribusiness companies are the main historical culprits of climate change, now present themselves championing a 1.5 degrees goal. That goal is needed, but without false solutions such as carbon markets and geoengineering. The dirty secret is that they speak of “net zero emissions”, not real emissions cuts, and try to justify dangerous oil-industry technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) and bioenergy with CCS (BECCS).”

Shalmali Guttal, speaking on behalf of Focus on the Global South, said: “An illusion of progress is being peddled here in Paris – of rich and poor countries coming together to save the planet from burning. Of course we want progress, of course we support the goal of 1.5 degrees, but we cannot fall into this trap. The so called high ambition proposed by the US-EU is ambition for corporations, not for addressing the root causes of the climate crisis. Many of us from the South are working with grassroots movements and communities to challenge extractive, destructive development and over consumption of the rich in our own societies.”

Nnimmo Bassey, Oilwatch International, said: “By not addressing the need to keep fossil fuels under the ground, the COP continues to adopt the ostrich posture with its head in the sand. It has been co-opted by polluting corporations and is complicit in global warming. This is no time for ‘intended’ voluntary emissions cut, it is time for drastic and binding emissions reduction as well as payment of historical and current climate debt.”

Colin Rajah, International Coordinator of the Global Coalition on Migration said: “More and more of our communities are being displaced by the devastating consequences of the current global economic system and its resulting climate change. And the false solutions and lack of political will by the governments at this COP again offer little hope of relief, but instead raise more fear that these will contribute to even more displacement and a worsening global refugee crisis. Forced migration is NEVER an adaptation strategy.”

Simone Lovera, Executive Director of the Global Forest Coalition, said: “The land use related elements of the current draft of the Paris agreement open the door to a carbon fraud that is so significant that it will make the entire climate regime meaningless. On top of this, they also risk creating major incentives for massive monoculture tree plantations that will wipe out biodiversity, peasant lands, and indigenous peoples territories.”

Maxime Combes, spokesperson for ATTAC France said: “The new draft agreement has dropped any reference to reduction of GHG emissions from international aviation and martime bunker fuels and any requirement for developed contry to provide financial ressources to address barriers created by intellectual property rights (IPRs), showing how economic globalization is a priority on the climate emergency : this is not coming as a surprise since the UN convention on climage change prohitbits states from taking any action that wouldn’t be consistent with international trade rules.”
Cindy Wiesner, National Coordinator of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, said: “Members of our delegation include a young person from Alaska whose community will be evacuated in the next ten years because of sea level rise. They are mothers and children living alongside fracking wells, coal mines, and oil refineries. We don’t have the luxury of pretending that pollution trading works when we know that it is a hoax. The climate movement as a whole is growing in alignment that our survival requires the kind of leadership and strategies that come from the grassroots.”
The organisations speaking today are part of the Climate Space, [1] a network of groups calling for radical action on climate change, and promoting systemic alternatives to the current climate crisis.

Notes:

[1] http://www.climatespace.net/

Media contact:

Mary Louise Malig, Global Forest Coalition Campaigns Coordinator
+33780734739
marylouisemalig@globalforestcoalition.org

Maxime Combes, ATTAC France
+33624512944
maxime.combes@gmail.com

International Rights of Nature Tribunal Constituted in Paris

PRESS RELEASE – 7 December 2015

International Rights of Nature Tribunal Constituted in Paris

Introduction

In an extraordinary display of global solidarity, vision and determination, communities and organizations from all over the world took the initiative ESPEthis past weekend by formally establishing the International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature.  People flocked to the Maison des Metallos in Paris to listen to more than 65 people from 31 nationalities[1] speaking in 7 languages[2], who participated as judges, Earth Defenders, or witnesses during the two days of Tribunal hearings. More than 300 people attended the hearings on each of the two days and hundreds had to be turned away due to lack of space.

Indigenous peoples from around the world played a leading role throughout the Tribunal as judges, experts and witnesses.  One of the highlights was the signing by the legendary Chief Raoni of the Kayapo people of the Brazilian Amazon, of the People’s Convention that formally established the Tribunal. The judges of the Tribunal reciprocated by signing documents confirming their support for the Alliance of Earth’s Guardians established by Chief Raoni and his delegation.

While governments participating in the COP 21 are locked in tortuous negotiations over the wording of an agreement that will worsen the destruction of Mother Earth, the people of the world demonstrated what genuine global collaboration and solidarity can achieve.  They showed the strong, united leadership that is so lacking at COP 21 by signing the People’s Convention that formally established the Tribunal on 4 December 2015 and opened the way to the creation of Regional Tribunals throughout the world.

The Tribunal bases its judgements primarily on the Universal Declaration for the Rights of Mother Earth and international human rights law, but also recognized ecocide as a crime. The judgements provide clear direction in each case on who is accountable and on what must be done to repair the harm and restore Earth (and communities) to health and well-being.

The panel of Judges

The following distinguished judges constituted the International Rights of Nature Tribunal in Paris: President – Cormac Cullinan (Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, and author of Wild Law- South Africa); Tom Goldtooth (Indigenous Environmental Network, Turtle Island – USA);
Alberto Acosta (Economist and former president of the Constitutional Assembly – Ecuador);
Osprey Orielle Lake (Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network – USA); Terisa Turner (International Oil Working Group, Friends of the Earth – Canada, professor – Canada and USA);
Felicio Pontes (Federal Prosecutor – Brazil)
Damien Short (Director Human Rights Consortium, University of London – UK);
Attosa Soltani (Amazon Watch founder – USA);
Nnimmo Bassey (Health of Mother Earth Foundation / Oilwatch – Nigeria);
Ruth Nyambura (African Biodiversity Network – Kenya);
Christophe Bonneuil (Historian of Sciences, CNRS, Attac – France);
Philippe Desbrosses (Doctor in Environmental Sciences, Farmer, Intelligence Verte – France); – Honorary Judge on December 4th Dominique Bourg (philosopher and author, University of Lausanne, Switerland).

Listening to Nature

The proposed solutions to climate change being presented at COP 21 are almost all abstract, theoretical, market-driven and motivated by self-interest.  The approach at the hearings of the Tribunal could not have been more different. Its findings were based on the first-hand experiences of witnesses, and drew on both scientific knowledge and the cosmovision/ worldview and wisdom of indigenous and local communities.  The focus was on listening to Nature and was based on the recognition that Nature’s laws cannot be broken – an understanding that appears to be absent from COP 21.

The evidence presented at the Tribunal established beyond any doubt that human rights and the rights of nature are inseparable, and that both are being systematically violated by systems based on arrogant delusions arising from the misconception that humans have the right and ability to dominate and exploit Earth.

The Tribunal opened and closed with deeply moving evocations of Mother Earth by indigenous people. They also presented testimonies that drew the Tribunal’s attention to dimensions ignored in the COP 21 negotiations.  Central to these dimensions was how patriarchal, capitalist and dominating mind-sets and world views deny the sacred, and as a consequence, cause the creative feminine principle of Mother Earth to be attacked, resulting in the disruption of vital balances.

Nature is alive. She has the right to exist, to maintain natural cycles, to flourish and to constantly regenerate life. However, the dominant world political economy in its legal, economic and political systems, treats nature as an object which cannot have rights – as a slave to be used and exploited. Reverence for nature is replaced with utilitarian and perverse views of nature that seek to commodify and commercialize vital natural processes.

Findings of the Tribunal

The Tribunal’s findings are clear, strong and specific with respect to who must be held accountable and why, and in the practical measures that need to be taken to solve the challenges faced by humanity.  The Tribunal recognized that solutions do exist:  communities and indigenous people have been applying these solutions and have been putting their bodies on the line to protect Earth for hundreds of years. At the heart of the way forward is the recognition that we are living in an unequal world and that the solutions need to be equitable.

The evidence presented at the Tribunal established beyond any doubt that human rights and the rights of nature are inseparable, and that both are being systematically violated by systems based on arrogant delusions arising from the misconception that humans have the right and ability to dominate and exploit Earth.  Evidence presented at the Tribunal also showed how indigenous understandings and knowledge complement scientific knowledge.  It also demonstrated the extraordinary creative energies that are released when diverse peoples unite, inspired by a shared love of Earth, to find the solutions that humanity so desperately needs, especially at this moment in time.

Cases the Tribunal heard in Paris

Climate change

Former Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations, Pablo Solón led the presentation of the Climate Change case.  The evidence showed why geo-engineering, nuclear energy, industrial and “climate smart” agriculture, biofuels, and the accelerated exploitation of fossil fuels are false solutions devised for corporate profit that will increase the damage to Earth.  The Tribunal found that the rights of Nature are being systemically violated by climate change, mainly as a consequence of the acts and inaction of governments and international organizations (including the United Nations), within the dominant global political economy with its legal, economic and political regimes that they have established; and the activities of large corporations amongst which the most culpable are a relatively few companies.  The Tribunal closed the case and a written judgement will follow.

Commercialization of nature

The case of the financialization of nature, presented by Ivonne Yanez, was expanded from the previous Tribunals that before dealt only with REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).  The Tribunal took note of the evidence that there are emerging many more instances of the commodification and commercialization of Nature. These instances include biodiversity offsets, carbon offsets, (so-called) clean development mechanisms, and (so-called) smart agriculture. The Tribunal decided to keep open the case of the financialization of Nature so that more evidence can be collected and presented – particularly with regard to the identity of the perpetrators.

Genetically modified organisms

Dr. Vandana Shiva led the presentation of this case that deals with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the agro-food industry.  The Tribunal heard expert evidence from Ronnie Cummins, Marie Monique Robin, Andre Leu and José Bové; all of whom exposed the damage that GMOs and associated pesticides are doing to consumers, to animals and to soil. The Tribunal decided to keep the case open in order to hear additional evidence especially through regional Tribunals including in Asia.

Defenders of Mother Earth

Two cases of Defenders of Mother Earth were heard in the Tribunal: (1) the criminalization of Defenders in Ecuador and (2) the persecution of Defenders who protest against the pollution in Houston, Texas arising from fossil fuels and chemical contamination. The judges ratified the principle that the Tribunal would defend the Defenders of Mother Earth and hear further cases where necessary.  It condemned the Government of Ecuador’s criminalization of Defenders of Mother Earth in that country, and demanded the restitution of human rights, liberty and the re-opening of closed institutions in Ecuador. The Tribunal closed the Ecuador case but kept the Texas case open in order to gather new evidence.

Fracking

The Tribunal had already conducted hearings about global fracking at its previous sessions in Quito and Lima. The Tribunal heard evidence from witnesses about the damage that fracking is causing in Argentina. Witnesses testified about how in the USA fracking is “breaking the bones of Mother Earth”, causing earthquakes and imposing widespread suffering on the people who inhabit lands that are being sacrificed to unconventional oil extraction. The Tribunal confirmed that fracking results in a range of serious violations of the rights of Nature.  After hearing the new evidence presented in Paris, the judges decide to close this case but recognized that fracking is an ongoing threat that should continue to be examined by regional tribunals.

Mega dams in Brazil

Gert Peter Bruch and Christian Poirier presented the case of mega dams in Brazil, with the powerful testimonies of Antonia Melo, María Lucia Munduruku and Chief Raoni.   The Tribunal condemned the building of Belo Monte and Tapajos mega dams and the planned construction of many more, which will cause horrific destruction of the Amazon and its inhabitants.  It decided to leave the case open to hear additional evidence in a regional Tribunal in Brazil.

New cases accepted for hearing at subsequent sittings of the Tribunal

A number of new cases were presented as probable violations of the Rights of Nature, thus justifying them being heard by the Tribunal in the future.  The Tribunal accepted them all for further consideration and gave directions about how the cases should be developed.

The Corralejas case concerns the cruel killing of animals for ‘entertainment’, notably bulls in Colombia.  The Tribunal found that there was clear evidence of torture and cruelty to animals in violation of the Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth and asked that the case be widened to include other violations of animal rights for initial consideration by a regional Tribunal. The case of the community of Rosia Montana in Romania which has been threatened by proposed gold mining by a Canadian corporation was accepted with the direction that it be widened to consider other instances of destructive mining practices. The depletion of marine life was accepted with the request that more specific information be presented about the identity of the main perpetrators.  The Shell case in Nigeria was accepted and the violence in the area was condemned with the recommendation that consideration be given to establishing a regional tribunal to conduct hearings. Finally, the case of the tar sands in Canada was accepted and the Tribunal observed that there was evidence that this may be one of the most dangerous instances of ecocide on the planet.

Ecocide cases

The Tribunal also re-considered two cases that it had previously heard. The objective of the reconsideration was to determine whether in addition to being violations of the Declaration, there was also evidence that the two cases were instances of the international crime of ecocide. (Severe violations of the Rights of Nature may also qualify as ecocides, because they constitute crimes against humans and the planet.) The Tribunal re-examined the Yasuní case (which involves proposed oil exploitation in a national park in the Ecuadorian Amazon) and Chevron case (which involves responsibility for rectifying huge damage to the Amazon caused by Texaco/ Chevron) from the perspective of ecocide. The Tribunal found that the Chevron case was one of the worst instances of ecocide perpetrated on the Amazon and that restorative justice should be applied.  In preparing the written judgment, consideration would be given to whether or not Chevron itself should be liquidated and its assets used to restore the damage. The Tribunal noted that individuals, such as the directors of Chevron and corrupt government officials, could also be criminally liable in their personal capacity for ecocides.

Regarding Yasuní, the Tribunal decided that it would be appropriate to issue a directive prohibiting future exploitation of the Yasuni oil as a measure to prevent ecocide.

General findings and comments

The Rights of Nature Tribunal recommend that the Rome Statute be amended to enable perpetrators of the crime of ecocide to be prosecuted before the International Criminal Court (ICC),

The Tribunal strongly supported keeping fossil fuels in the ground (keep the oil in the soil, the coal in the hole, the gas under the grass and the tar sands in the land) as an essential approach to prevent further harm to Nature.

In regards to Ecuadorian President Correa’s call for the establishment of an Environmental Justice Tribunal, this Tribunal made the point that the peoples of the world had already done so by establishing the existing Tribunal on the Rights of Nature. It called on governments to provide support for Peoples’ Tribunals. It called on President Correa to publically support and help implement the judgements of the Tribunal concerning cases in Ecuador (Yasuni, Chevron and the criminalization of defenders of Mother Earth).

The Tribunal commended the pursuit of the Rights of Nature cases that have been won in Ecuador and the use of local ordinances and other documents that recognize the rights of nature in the USA, as effective means of stopping destruction such as fracking, and recommended that these approaches be considered elsewhere in the world.

The Tribunal noted that the only mention in the official COP21 texts of the integrity of ecosystems and Mother Earth and indigenous peoples (paragraph 10) was in danger of being eliminated.  The Tribunal strongly condemned COP21’s shocking failure to address the real drivers of climate change. It highlighted the fact that the magnificent testimonies presented to the Tribunal proved beyond doubt that the rights of Mother Earth are being systematically violated.

The Tribunal condemned the violence produced by terrorism and exacerbated by climate change.  We need to make peace with Mother Earth to achieve peace among peoples.

Next steps

Judgments will be written and published for all closed cases, as was done and presented in Paris for the Great Barrier Reef and the Yasuní Case. The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature will be a hub for accepting the submission of new cases and for providing guidelines, documents, assistance and intellectual support and training in order to expand the initiative to recognize the Rights of Nature worldwide.

The Tribunal calls on all communities and organizations that share its vision:

  • to become parties to the Peoples’ Convention on establishing the International Rights of Nature Tribunal;
  • to establish more regional tribunals under the umbrella of the International Tribunal; and
  • to take creative action to support the implementation of its judgements.

 

[1] Algeria; Argentina; Bangladesh, Belorussia, Bolivia; Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, France, Ecuador, Germany, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Paraguay, Philippines, Romania, Slovakia South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Tunisia, Uganda, United Kingdom, USA, Austria, Venezuela.

[2] French, Spanish, English, Portuguese, Kichwa, Sapara, Rikbakstsá.

Recognising Climate Crooks

 

The COP is an interesting space where climate criminals prowl about in well cut suits dripping with blood. Of course the COP means two key things: Conference of Polluters and more importantly, Conference of Procrastinators. A really toxic combination. When they tell you that CCS means carbon capture and storage do not believe them. Any location stipulated for such activities are actually Climate Crime Scenes. Just like every mine pit or oil well are.

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Polluters and their lobbyists hold the keys that insert brackets and other spanners in the works to ensure that real climate actions do not take place. While the toxic output of these polluters pile up profits in bank vaults and stock exchanges, they do all they can to to hide the piles of bodies of children, men and women incapacitated or murdered by their poisons.

Today we are gathered to present badges of dishonour to the leading corporations who have stayed the path of resource corruption and have done the most to earn the recognition for setting the planet on the road to incineration.

The year 2015 is significant in the history of climate inaction. It marks a moment that may be lost if all that world leaders can do is to draw up a chart of intentions and make no commitments to radically cut emissions. The procrastinators are already sliding down the road that would see their intentions coming into force by 2030. By 2030? Really? A full 25 years down the road. The same number of years required to clean up the waters of Ogoniland, Niger Delta, of Shell’s toxic oil spills and other wastes.

And do not forget that a climate cabal had also said that fossil fuels will be phased out by the end of the century. By that time all these decision makers would have turned into fossils, but unfortunately not sufficiently so to provide fuel! So, with these post-dated actions, the future is toasted, fried, scrambled and roasted. All for the sake of corporate profits. All at the expense of the planet and of peoples. There is a climate mafia on the prowl!

Today we are gathered to present badges of dishonour to the leading corporations who have stayed the path of resource corruption and have done the most to earn the recognition for setting the planet on the road to incineration.

We urge these corporations to be proud of their achievement, because they have very clearly gone beyond the limits of what would be humanly and morally conceivable. These are awards for reprehensible environmental, ecological, economic and social activities. These awards are given to highlight obnoxious corporations freely voted by citizens of the world in recognition of their social bankruptcy.

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Climate Angels took the climate crooks to the clouds!

The COP provides the best backdrop for these Pinocchio Awards, because you cannot imagine any other space where billions of dollars have been sunk or a space where leaders of nations, that annually collectively spend over a trillion of dollars on military adventures, gather for backslappings and and yet dither when it comes to raising token money to throw a life line to sinking Small Island States and other vulnerable nations and territories that are victims of climate change.

We urge all winners to wear their badges of dishonour with pride and quickly strut into the raised fists of abused peoples who will no longer stand aside and see their future bastardised. Today we roll out the drums in register knocks on these Kings of Infamy, these liars extraordinaire.

–Talking points used at the 2015 Pinocchio Awards held at  La Flèche D’or, Paris on 03.12.2015 #COP21

 

Eco-Defenders Monitor their Environment

From the HOMEF stable is this brand new Guide to Community Environmental Monitoring and Reporting. The thing is that we must be alert to happenings in our environment. Notice any changes or incidents? Report them promptly. Download a copy. If you prefer to have a hard copy drop a mail to home@homef.org.

click here to download a copy: community monitoring guide.homefCVTfoTNWUAAKzCc

We must all be eco-defenders. Do not be left out!

 

Forests on Rocky Soils

Fighting Climate Change in the Burkina Faso Sahel

Nothing prepared me fully for what I would experience on my trip to Northern Burkina Faso. My regular tours are ones to pollution sites, to places degraded by extractive activities of profiteering corporations. This trip was different. I was seeking out The Man Who Stopped the Desert.

Arriving any city by air always provides a rough picture of what to expect in the ground. That is if you do not mind making an aerial survey as the plane heads down to land. And, if the weather is clear you can ascertain of the traffic pattern and if at night you may even see what parts of the city have power supply problems or if the city has streetlights and if the roads are paved and formally laid out. As seat belt signs lit up and the cabin crew made final checks before arrival I could not resist the urge to do an aerial survey of Ouagadougou. I tried to make out the residential and business districts as well as the traffic pattern in the city. But beyond those spatial fixations my mind was rapidly overtaken by thoughts on the dreams that were aborted when Thomas Sankara was assassinated on 15 October 1987.

A number of previous plans to visit Burkina Faso failed to work out due to conflicts with other matters. This made touching the soil of the honourable people a specially momentous event for me in April 2015. We should add here that another trip planned for September 2015 was aborted by the uncertainties that accompanied an aborted coup in the nation.

The major reason for my visit was to get to Ouahigouya in northern Burkina Faso to meet a man whose work on restoring biodiversity in otherwise barren lands has received much attention and acclaim. My task was to meet and learn from a man who has fought the forces of climate change with bare knuckles and is winning.

Before heading North it was essential to set my eyes on the graves wherein lie the remains of Thomas Sankara and those that were also felled by the assassins’ bullets on that treacherous and infamous day. Understandably, those that benefitted from the death of Sakara did not take any steps to immortalise him. As great a son of Africa as he was, the idea appears to have been to brush his existence out of memory. So, while Sankara has been celebrated in other countries and has inspired hope of the possibility of revolutionary changes on the continent, one could not find even tiny mementoes in his own land.

A truly man of the people, Sankara’s life was exemplary especially with regard to gender rights, self-reliance and dignity of labour. After his assassination, his remains and that of other compatriots were buried in a nondescript cemetery in the Dagnoen part of Ouagadougou. With the help of a guide we made our way to the cemetery.  As we went thoughts of touching the cold slab over his grave and taking photos that would enable me take away memories of the visit loomed large in my mind. In the past one has been privileged to visit, touch and have photos taken at the graves of Nkrumah of Ghana, Martin Luther King of the USA and Yasser Arafat of Palestine. The resting place of Samora Machel lies in a traffic intersection close to the international airport at Maputo and can be seen by all.

Today, standing by Sankara’s resting place would be an epochal experience. As we approached the cemetery we noticed a military post by the entrance. My guide explained that since the October 2014 popular uprising that led to the fleeing of Blaise Compaore from the presidential seat soldiers had to be stationed to guard against possible interferences with the graves. When we arrived there were three soldiers in the tent. Two were watching while one appeared to be having a siesta on a camp bed. As we approached the tent, one of the officers came out to meet with us. We quickly told him what we were there for. To assure the officer that we meant no harm, my guide showed him a copy of my poetry collection, I Will Not Dance to Your Beat. Pointing at the drawing of a clenched fist on the cover of the collection, she told the officer that I was a revolutionary poet (how flattering) who had come all the way from Nigeria to pay homage to the great revolutionary son of Africa.

With a smile, the officer told us that the grave was off limits to visitors and that we could not even take photos of the grave – not with or by it. Strict orders. He was gracious enough, however, to allow is into the cemetery. That was splendid. So we walked in. The officer explained that the cluster of graves that were cordoned off with metal rails and ribbons were where Sankara and his comrades were buried. No photographs. We got up to a point where we could read the names on the headstones of the graves. One grave was alone to the front while twelve others were arrayed behind it. The lone grave at the front bore the names Noel Isidore Thomas Sankara. The officer announced we could not get any closer than where we stood. He himself was not authorized to get any closer than that to the graves. We paused for moments of silence in honour of this great son of Africa, of these great sons of the soil who were sacrificed in their brilliant youth, as were Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral and others who dared to toe an alternative path from that of predatory capitalism. We paused. No photographs allowed. But the film in my heart captured this moment in a manner that cannot be deleted.

Two of the graves behind Sankara’s bore the name Sawadogo. That struck a chord immediately because the farmer I was billed to meet in Ouahigouya is also a Sawadogo. One of the first persons we met at the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development at Ouahigouya was the new director of forestry. Guess who she is? It was exciting moment for us to find out that she is from the larger Sankara family. Dressed in military fatigues, I could not but notice how jauntily her beret sat in her head. Just like how that Thomas Sankara’s use to sit.

Simple things in this land drove home the meaning of its name – the land of honourable people. Two days earlier when I was checking into my hotel in Ouagadougou I insisted on making cash deposit to cover the room charges since their POS was not functioning. On checking out the receptionist brought out the cash I had deposited. I discovered that the cash had been wrapped up and kept in a notebook. I actually did not need to have made a deposit. Dishonourable people could just stay in the hotel and walk away without payment since there was no form of security to ensure that bills could not be dodged. That may happen in some Hotels in Nigeria if you were a well-known customer. But here I was a complete stranger to these folks. At our hotel at Ouahigouya we were told upfront that we could settle our bill on departure the next day. No security. I thought about how many people would simply enjoy the accommodation and hospitality and then walk away – in other countries. Did I mention Nigeria? But then, this is “the country of honourable people” as the name Burkina Faso implies.

One interesting fact that emerged from the visit to Ouahigouya and environs was that most of the farmers engaged in using local knowledge systems to create forests in this Sahel environment all took to farming from the 1970s. At that time the region was largely a dust bowl wracked by

droughts. Some of them had previously been immigrant traders in Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea or Mali. They returned to Burkina Faso with determination to work the land and were driven by stubborn optimism and hope. They tackled the barren soils using the zai techniques of soil regeneration.

One of such farmers, Mr Kindo, got involved in a motor accident on the way back to Burkina Faso and lost an arm in the incident. Losing an arm did not stop him from being a successful farmer with local knowledge and a hoe and machete as his major tools. His 11 hectares farm produces enough to cater for his family’s food needs and leaves a surplus for sale.

The method of soil reclamation is hinged on trapping scarce water, nutrients and seeds in the soil. How do they achieve this? Through zai holes, organic fertilizer and stone ridges. Keeping animals and attracting birds in their farms ensure that droppings from the animals enrich the soil and that seeds are also dropped by the animals and by the birds. With low financial costs and with intense commitment to working with nature, these farmers reap good harvests and soils that would otherwise have gone barren are now teeming with life. In fact, some of their forests, like that of Mr Yacouba Sawadogo whom I had gone to seek out, are considered too thick or tightly packed with trees for an ecosystem in the Sahel.

The zai farmers are connected in a continually expanding association through which they share seeds, ideas. Contrary to what happens in other west African communities where trees are slashed and burned as part of land preparation for farming, in Ouahigouya the farmers plant trees, nurture them and cultivate their crops alongside the trees. Some of them insisted they do not cut down trees, except dead ones.

Seeing the results of the agricultural practices of these farmers and considering that they have shared these ideas beyond Burkina Faso and particularly with farmers in Niger Republic, it became clear to me why southern Niger is greener than northern Nigeria where millions of Naira is spent in annual tree planting exercises to little result. The farmers in the Burkina Faso and Niger Republic Sahel are fighting climate change and showing the possibilities of what can be scaled-up and replicated elsewhere in this epic battle.