COP27, the Loss and the Damage at Injury Time

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

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

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

Assault on the Deltas

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

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

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

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

A Harsh Reality

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

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

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

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

Lost and Damaged

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

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

An African COP?

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

Seeing the Red Sea

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

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

Real Climate Solutions Exist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

01 November 2022

Oil Theft Pollutes Our Nation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeing Red with the Blue Economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biosafety in Shambles

We cannot afford to keep gambling with our biosafety. To do so is to set ourselves up for intergenerational consequences; needless to mention the current crises that are being exacerbated. Genetic modification and other new technologies including gene editing and synthetic biology which are applied in agriculture require critical evaluation for their implication not just on human/animal health but also on ecosystems and on the rights of our people.

Biosafety encompasses the actions, systems and policies that protect humans and environments from exposure to harmful biological agents. In agriculture, it involves the precautions taken to control the cultivation and distribution of genetically modified (GM) crops and products. 

Nigeria is a key actor when it comes to GMOs Biosafety. She signed the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in May 2000 and ratified it in October 2003 in commitment to Global Biodiversity Management. However, questions remain over the implementation of the principles of biosafety, of the continuous assessment of the implications of products of genetically modified organisms on the people/environment and on the level of awareness of the public on the subject.

The Nigerian Biosafety Management Agency Act came into force on 18th April 2015 in the last days of the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. That Act mandated the setting up of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) saddled with the responsibility “for providing regulatory framework, institutional and administrative mechanism for safety measures in the application of modern biotechnology in Nigeria with the view to preventing any adverse effect on human health, animals, plants and environment.”  

Since then, a plethora of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) products have been approved for release in the country. According to our report on the State of Biosafety in Nigeria, as of November 2020, the NBMA had issued nineteen permits for introduction of GMOs into the country – eight (8) for field trials, nine (9) for direct use as food and/or feed processing and two (2) for commercial release. GM Cowpea (beans) and GM Cotton were approved for market placement in 2019.  

In this year 2022, 2 permits have been issued: one for field trial of genetically modified potato and the other for commercial release of the HB4 wheat. 

These products are approved with very little public knowledge and where rigorous assessments are done and objections made by concerned organisations/individuals, they are neglected. This NBMA so far has acted more like a promoter of GMOs rather than as a regulator.

One case of focus today will be the genetically modified wheat (HB4 Wheat) approved in July 2022. Approval was granted to the applicant (Trigall Genetics S.A.) in merely a month after the application was received. No risk assessment document is available on the website of NBMA or the Biosafety Clearing House as of 25 July 2022.

Although it is claimed that the application is for commercialization and not for cultivation of the wheat, there is no guarantee that the GM event will not get into the hands of local farmers and contaminate indigenous varieties. The applicant states that “in the unlikely case of accidental release, risk to humans, animals and the environment are similar to the ones produced by conventional wheat.” This doesn’t make sense as they also say that the “traits found in the GM wheat event are not available in non-GM form of the crop.” 

 The HB4 Wheat was engineered to tolerate glufosinate ammonium which is known to be more toxic than glyphosate. There are thousands of cases in the USA over cancers resulting from the use of glyphosate. Residues of glufosinate in the wheat event poses a direct threat to human and animal health. In the likely event that this wheat is planted by farmers soil and water will be contaminated from intensive use of the glufosinate chemical. Although the wheat is self-fertile, it can cross-pollinate at a rate of up to 14% meaning that the HB4 genes will spread to and contaminate other wheat varieties.

These concerns with the HB4 wheat are common to the several other GM products approved for use in the country. Some GMOs are modified to act as pesticides (e.g the Bt Cowpea approved for commercial release in 2019 and already being distributed to farmers). We may have already started eating a pesticide in the name of beans. GMOs have economical (e.g loss of farmers’ rights to save, reuse and exchange seed), environmental (erosion of biodiversity, loss of indigenous varieties, advent of super pest/superweeds, toxicity of water, soil degradation) and health (immune system disorders, liver and kidney problems, cancers) implications that we cannot keep a blind eye to.

The right to safe and nutritious food is a universal right. GMOs challenge that right with the creation of novel organisms, dependence on toxic chemicals and abridgement of the rights of farmers to preserve and share seeds and to stay free from contamination by genetically engineered seeds.

The NBMA Act 2015 which mandated the setup of the Agency has several fundamental flaws that make it impossible to protect the interests of the public and avert the negative implications of GMOs on our health, economy, and environment. The gaps include lack of access to information, no provision for adequate stakeholder engagement or consultation and participation, defective provision for liability and redress, subjective decision-making, and skewed provisions for appeals and reviews. The law is uses slack terms such as “may” rather than “shall” therefore bestowing enormous discretionary power on the Agency. These loopholes create room for abuse of administrative powers and make allowance for gross injustice against the people of Nigeria and the environment.

Today as we discuss the issues surrounding GMOs biosafety, we hope you will focus particularly on the NBMA Act and see if the Agency as constituted is wired to serve the best biosafety interests of Nigeria or if it should be fundamentally reviewed. We hope that you, as legal experts, consider if there are issues of conflict of interest in a setting such as that of NBMA where board members such as National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) are promoters of the risky technology and are also applicants that have benefited from the very first application to have come before the Agency. 

We hope that you will examine the implications of GMOs and advise whether they obstruct avenues for safety, justice, fairness, probity, and equity in our collective struggle for a food regime that ensures that we are not turned into guinea pigs by those pushing to colonize our food systems and expose us to avoidable risks.


Welcome words at the Workshop with Judiciary Officials on GMOs and Biosafety in Nigeria held on 4thAugust 2022 at Abuja

The Ikarama Paradox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiddling while the Planet Burns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oil, Rot and Divestment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the conversation we must have.

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

Time for a Peoples’ COP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Politics of Turbulent Waters

The fact that Africa can be completely circumnavigated has advantages and disadvantages. One of the advantages is that the continent can be accessed by sea from any direction. This means that the seas can be a ready tool for wrapping up the continent and promoting regional integration and cooperation. We would be stating the obvious when we say that this spatial disposition has also made the continent prone to exploitation and assault. This position made it easy for Africans to be uprooted and relocated through slavery and this central location of the continent equally made it open to adventurers and colonizers. It is also noteworthy that key terrestrial infrastructure on the continent either begin or end at the shorelines.

The sea means a lot to Africa and her littoral states. The mineral resources and aquatic diversity have attracted entities with interest in legal activities and others with illegal intentions. With the world literally scrapping the bottom of the natural resource pot, there is a scramble for the sea and one way to sell the idea of limitless resources and opportunities has been to dream up the Blue Economy concept. In the publication, Blue Economy Blues, HOMEF stated:

To understand the Blue Economy, one needs to look at the concept that inspired its creation. That concept is that of the Green Economy. The Green Economy is another top-down concept that jars the organic relationship of humans with their physical environment as it essentially deconstructs that relationship and builds up on a philosophy that distances humans and other species from the environment and presents that environment as a thing to be manipulated, transformed, and exploited in a way that delivers gains along subsisting unequal power alignments.

African political leaders, including those at the African Union, are enamoured to the Blue Economy concept particularly when considering what can be done in the areas of fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, transport, shipbuilding, energy, bioprospecting, and underwater mining and related activities. The oceans and lakes simply appear to be spatially limitless and endowed with limitless resources. The truth is that these notions aren’t true.  African waters are among some of the most overfished waters, and this is often not for consumption in the continent. 

Our fisheries provide nutrition to about 200 million Africans and employment for over 35 million coastal fishers.Nevertheless, about 25 percent of fish catches in African waters are by non-African countries, according to an FAO report.

West African waters that have been among the most fecund have seen shrunken fish populations due to overfishing, illegal fishing and climate change. These illegal fishing activities are often carried out by large foreign industrial trawlers that travel over long distances with the help of harmful subsidies. It is said that about 65% of all reported illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing takes place in the waters of Gulf of Guinea.

The rush to exploit our oceans has manifested in criminal activities including sea piracy, waste dumping (oil spills) and stealing of fishes. Shockingly, 95% of all kidnappings at sea is said to happen in the Gulf of Guinea

Their catches are said to end up being used to feed livestock in Europe and the USA.  According to reports, these trawlers come from China, Russia and countries in the European Union. They catch more fish in one day than what an artisanal fisher would catch in a year. These unregulated and illegal activities largely go unreported. 

IPCC—Oceans warming faster than expected

Warming oceans lead to reduced fish populations and catches as fish migrate to cooler waters and away from equatorial latitudes. Ocean warming has been fingered as triggering more violent cyclones such as cyclone Idai, Kenneth, and Loise on the southeastern seaboard of Africa. The warming has also led to the destruction of coral reefs off the coast of East Africa. This clearly has impacts on fish stocks.

The sixth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) affirmed that 1.5C temperature rise above preindustrial levels may be reached by 2050 due to the continued dumping of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. If drastic emissions cuts are not embarked on, the world is on track to overshoot the Paris Agreement targets thereby literally frying Africa and cooking our oceans. This will make nonsense of any notion of the Blue Economy, except that the oceans could become arenas for geoengineering experimentations aimed at sucking carbon out of the atmosphere or for some form of solar radiation management by pumping sea water into the clouds.

With temperatures rising and polar icecaps melting, the IPCC report assures that sea level rise stays on a steady course. The floods are coming. Submergence of coastal communities and cities will go from being a threat to becoming stark reality. We are already seeing deadly floods on virtually every continent. With sea level rise comes loss of coastal land and infrastructure, as well as loss of freshwater systems through salinization. For a continent that often suffers water stress and has the spectre of water conflicts hanging like the sword of Damocles, real action must be taken to counter climate change. 

One key action that must be taken is the outlawing of new oil or gas fields in our oceans and other aquatic ecosystems. The oil rigs and FSPOs (Floating Productions Storage & Offloading) cut off fishing grounds and engender human rights abuses by security forces who expose fishers to extreme danger just to ensure an expansive off-limits cordon ostensibly to protect oil company installations.

It is equally a time to halt the building of petrochemical refineries and other polluting industries (such as the one at Lekki Free Zone at Lagos) on seashores as they are sure to pollute the waters, poison the biodiversity and negatively impact the food chain. A phosphate factory at Kpeme, Togo, for example, pumps its  wastes into the Atlantic Ocean, literally fertilizing the continental shelf to death. Nutrient pollution can have devastating impacts on public health, aquatic ecosystems, and the overall economy. 

Blue economy sails on the highway of pervasive market fundamentalism that seeks to shrink public involvement in productive endeavours and yield the space for the private enterprises. Market fundamentalism blinds policy makers to the fact that the so-called efficient and profitable private sectors depend on subsidies and securities provided by the public sector. One only needs to think of the bailouts of financial institutions during economic meltdowns, and the elimination of risks by pharmaceutical companies in the race for COVID-19 vaccines. These are, of course, justified by overriding public interests.

The drive to support industries such as those producing plastics, and our love for disposable products, permit highly polluting materials such as plastics to be unleashed into our environment thereby causing great harm to our oceans and aquatic creatures. It has been said that there would be more plastics than fish (by weight) in the oceans by 2050.

Reports indicate that the production of plastics increased twentyfold since 1964 and reached 311 million tonnes in 2014. This quantity is expected to double again over the next 20 years and almost quadruple by 2050. It should be noted that the volume of petroleum resources needed to make plastics has been increasing steadily, and despite the highly visible pollution impacts the demands keep rising with only about 5% of plastics being effectively recycled and 40% ending up in landfill. 30% of the plastics end up in sensitive ecosystems such as the world’s oceans.

Already there is a plastic flotilla or a Great Plastic Patch in the Pacific Ocean that is euphemistically called the 8th continent. The patch is “three times the size of France and is the world’s biggest ocean waste repository, with 1.8 billion pieces of floating plastic which kill thousands of marine animals each year.” Sadly, those plastics will require hundreds of years to degrade if left floating out there.

The politics of economic development and market fundamentalism, allow what would ordinarily be unthinkable to happen. A drop of crude oil contaminates 25 litres of water making it unsuitable for drinking. Imagine how much water was polluted by Shell’s 40,000 barrels Bonga Oil spill of December 2011 or Exxon’s Idoho platform spill of similar volume in 1998. Shell’s Forcados terminal spill of 1979 dumped 570,000 barrels of crude oil into the estuary and creeks, while Chevron (then known as Texaco) released 400,000 barrels of crude oil in the Funiwa incident of 1980. Add to these the Ozoro-1 oil well blowout off the coast of Ondo State in April 2020 that has remained a crime scene more than a year after.

A little help from Nature

Once upon a time, our turbulent seas were embraced by verdant mangroves on our coastlines. Today the mangrove forests have been deforested for energy or to make way for infrastructure or urbanisation.  These forests are key components of a viable Gulf of Guinea. Without them the region has no answer to rampaging waves and sea level rise. The spawning ground for fish species and nurseries for the juveniles gets eroded and lost as mangroves get depleted. Oil pollution turns the mangrove forests into dead zones. Their deforestation opens up space for invasive nipa palms introduced to the Niger Delta in 1906 by a horticultural adventurer.

The call for restoration of mangrove forests must be supported and acted upon. This can be done in cooperation with community groups that are raising nurseries and demonstrating their efficacy through pilot efforts. Support by government can bring these efforts to scale and impact. Alternative energy sources also need to be provided for communities that depend on mangroves for fuelwood.

Protecting selected freshwater and marine ecosystems could be a way of securing thriving biodiversity in our oceans, seas, lakes, and rivers. However, such areas must be delineated with close attention to indigenous knowledge and the cultural protection norms of communities that depend on them for their livelihoods.  Top-down approaches to establishing protected areas end up dislocating communities, harming their economies, and eroding their cultures, spirituality, and dignity. Some of such areas are simply demarcated for officially sanctioned land and sea grabbing. They can, and have been, used as tools of oppression and exploitation. 

In an article titled “Protected areas must promote and respect rights of small-scale fishers, not dispossess them,” Sibongiseni Gwebani stated, “The concept of protecting an identified fishing area, designating marine spatial territory and linking this to specific regulations has a long history in South Africa. These have been influenced by the apartheid spatial planning legislation introduced in the 1960s. Large proportions of coastal land were forcibly cleared for either forestry or marine conservation by using racial segregation laws. The histories of all of the major marine protected areas in South Africa are shaped by racially based removals through land and seascape during the 1970s and 1980s.”

No Politics with our Seas

The statistics rolled out during Health of Mother Earth Foundation’s (HOMEF) School of Ecology on the Politics of the Sea, show a very disturbing situation in the Gulf of Guinea. The gulf has become one of the most dangerous maritime areas in the world. He informed that 90% of sea based environmental pollution footprint in the Gulf of Guinea takes place in Nigerian waters. The region is very laxly policed and is a zone of plunder with hundreds of thousands of stolen crude oil moving unhindered.

When we gaze at the ocean, creek, or river, let us think about life below the surface, not as an SDG goal, but as creatures that have rights to live and thrive as children of Mother Earth. Let us see our water bodies as arenas of life and remind ourselves that we are just a tiny fraction of the biomass of living beings on earth. The seas offer us a canvass for learning positive politics of life rather than scrambling to grab and trash whatever we can lay our hands on.