Giant Cigarettes in the Sky – Nigeria’s Toxic Gas Flares

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Horizontal gas flare, Niger Delta (c) Aloja

Gas flaring is the obnoxious practice of burning natural gas associated with crude oil extraction. To use the words of Joseph Croft of Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN) in the excellent environmental documentary film No Where to Run, the gas flares are like giant cigarettes attached to communities. Some flares are located horizontally, at ground level, posing even greater dangers to the communities. There are several examples, including at Oben, Edo State and Kolo Creek in Bayelsa State.

Communities with gas flare stacks are sentenced to live with these furnaces and cannot avoid the heat, the noise, the poisons and the offensive vista.  It is estimated that flared gas could potentially generate over 25,000 GWh of electricity which would meet a high proportion of Nigeria’s most ambitious power projections.

The Associated Gas Reinjection Act of 1979 outlawed gas flaring in Nigeria with effect from January 1984 and was aimed at compelling oil companies producing oil and gas in Nigeria to submit preliminary programs for gas re-injection as well as detailed plans for implementation. Oil companies can only flare, as an interim measure, if they have site-specific certificates permitting them to flare. Permitted or not, companies are required to pay fines for lighting those giant cigarettes in our communities. Unfortunately, routine gas flaring continues.

About $1.1bn gas flare penalties are reportedly not collected annually. This is more than the amount required to commence the full implementation of the UNEP report on the clean up of Ogoni environment. It simply goes up in smoke annually by way of uncollected fines from gas flaring. This sum could also assist in plugging the deficit in the 2016 National Budget if the reneged oil companies are compelled to pay up.

The penalty for gas flaring remains low and does not offer real incentives to defaulting oil companies to stop the practice. The current penalty for gas flaring in Nigeria was set by a Ministerial directive issued on 15 August 2011 at $3.50 per 1000 standard cubic feet. Attempts by the National Assembly, including through the moribund Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), to raise the penalty to equal the commercial price of natural gas has not seen the light of day.

About $1.1bn gas flare penalties are reportedly not collected annually. This is more than the amount required to commence the full implementation of the UNEP report on the clean up of Ogoni environment. It simply goes up in smoke annually by way of uncollected fines from gas flaring. This sum could also assist in plugging the deficit in the 2016 National Budget if the reneged oil companies are compelled to pay up.

The Nigerian Gas Flare Tracker website informs that, according to a report issued in 2012 by the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force, oil companies often do not pay the fines “and when they do are still paying the old penalty of N10 per 1000 standard cubic feet flared.”

The Task Force reported that the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, was “unable to independently track and measure gas volumes produced and flared. It depends largely on the information provided by the operators. There were no available records or information in respect of gas flare volumes for the years 2005 and 2011.” There are no readily available records for fines paid for gas flared in the period 2012-2015.

The loss of revenue to Nigeria from non-compliance to the 2011 penalty regime is enormous. According to the report of the task force, “Using the DPR gas flare information (irrespective of the inherent errors…) to compute the potential revenues for the relevant years at the rate of $3.50 per scf is $4.1billion versus the $177million computed by the DPR using the N10 per scf.”

The Nigerian Gas Flare Tracker hosted by the Federal Ministry of Environment is a tool that every Nigerian should look up to be informed about the atrocious gas flaring going on at about 220 locations across the Niger Delta. It is a great tool for public information. It is a tool that should spur policy makers into action to rescue our environment.

See the Gas Flare Tracker map here.

 

Dreadful Liars on Heartless Shores

 

Corporatized consciences

Think little of spreading fires

Dreadful liars

Selling adaptation suits for funeral pyres

3 degrees

5 degrees

7 degrees

Flame throwers watch the Planet burn

As fire works herald the New Year so the

Flaming Planet announces the arrival of new species

In islands of belly-churning opulence

Fed by blood from multiple zones of sacrifice

 

Corporatized consciences

Think little of spreading fires

Dreadful liars

Throwing burst life boughs to drowned lands

3 degrees

5 degrees

7 degrees

Lives matter nought

Once fat cats are sated

Other lives don’t matter

Give us today fade out

Survival for future games

In lost memories of tomorrow

 

Corporatized consciences

Elastic tongues propose offset fires

Peddlers of dreadful lies

That though we be charred we aren’t burned

3 degrees

5 degrees

7 degrees

Fat cats hooked on power

Cant stand the heat? Try the cold

Can’t stand the fragrance of the displaced?

Erect Apartheid Walls to enclose privilege

Populate the media, float belly-up

On barricaded heartless shores

 

 

Slow-Tracking the Ogoni Clean up

 

The 30 days ultimatum issued to the Federal Government of Nigeria by the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) over the delayed clean-up of the devastated Ogoni environment did not come as a surprise to observers. The President was widely acclaimed when he declared that the implementation of the UNEP report, released on 4 August 2011, would be fast-tracked. That was five months ago. The initial things that were expected to be done include populating and inauguration of the structures that would over see the implementation exercise. These have not been done. Without these basic structures nothing else can happen.

In the words of the president of MOSOP, Mr. Legborsi Pyagbara, “We are seizing this opportunity to remind the government that the unusual delay for the take-off of the project is becoming unbearable and indeed taxing our patience.” He went on to urge the Federal Government to announce the structures and the roadmap for the implementation of the report in a manner that respects the sensibilities of the communities.

He further stated, “The ongoing delay on the part of the government will continue to be seen as an act of genocide being committed against the Ogoni people. We are giving the Federal Government a 30-day ultimatum to commence the implementation of the report or we will take up a series of non-violent measures to press for our demand.”

“The ongoing delay on the part of the government will continue to be seen as an act of genocide being committed against the Ogoni people.”

The struggle by the Ogoni people took on special impetus in 1993 at the maiden Ogoni Day celebration at which event Shell, the oil company most implicated in the decimation of the Ogoni environment, was declared persona non grata in Ogoniland. The present ultimatum was issued at a rally held to mark the 23rd anniversary of the epochal Ogoni Day on 4 January 2016.

Characterising the slow track on which the implementation process appears to be stuck as perpetuating genocide against the Ogoni people may appear to be rather strong language, but what are the true implications of continued inaction? Disease, poverty and very high mortality rates.

The level of pollution in Ogoni is absolutely astonishing. One can easily become dizzy, just stepping into some of the communities due to the heavy cloak of hydrocarbons fumes hanging in the air. Oil spills clog the streams, creeks and swamps and in some places dribbles of the noxious substance are found along community footpaths. Making matters worse is the fact that some of the spills that occurred years and decades ago have been either ignored or have been shoddily handled. Feeble attempts have been made at K-Dere to cover up decades old soil spill with soil.

Examples of crude covered environment dot the K-Dere, Bodo, Goi and other communities. What we see in Ogoni is sheer ecocide.

UNEP specifically called for emergency actions with regard to some of the heavily polluted areas such as Nisisioken Ogale. Here is what UNEP said in a press release issued on the occasion of the release of their report about five years ago:

“In at least 10 Ogoni communities where drinking water is contaminated with high levels of hydrocarbons, public health is seriously threatened, according to the assessment that was released today.

“In one community, at Nisisioken Ogale, in western Ogoniland, families are drinking water from wells that is contaminated with benzene– a known carcinogen–at levels over 900 times above World Health Organization guidelines. The site is close to a Nigerian National Petroleum Company pipeline.

“UNEP scientists found an 8 cm layer of refined oil floating on the groundwater which serves the wells. This was reportedly linked to an oil spill which occurred more than six years ago.

“While the report provides clear operational recommendations for addressing the widespread oil pollution across Ogoniland, UNEP recommends that the contamination in Nisisioken Ogale warrants emergency action ahead of all other remediation efforts.”

The clean up of Ogoni environment will not be a 100m sprint, but a marathon requiring 25-30 years of dedicated work to accomplish. We are inching towards the five years mark since the alarm bells sounded at the release of the UNEP report. It is five months since President Buhari announced he would fast-track the implementation of the report. We cannot see anything happening on the ground, as attested to by MOSOP.

While the report provides clear operational recommendations for addressing the widespread oil pollution across Ogoniland, UNEP recommends that the contamination in Nisisioken Ogale warrants emergency action ahead of all other remediation efforts.”

Dwindling oil revenue should not be an excuse for not cleaning up the environment of Ogoniland, the Niger Delta and other polluted places in Nigeria. It should rather be an impetus for taking the clean up challenge and punishing polluters who are hooked on habitually corrupting our environment. Ecological corruption is more deadly than financial corruption as it sentences whole communities of humans and other species to ill health and death.

Let the clean up shift form the slow track to the announced fast track. And let the 30 days ultimatum be an encouragement to do so. The Ogoni people have been supremely patient and further testing of their patience would not be the best way to go.

 

 

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

A Day with Ex-Lepers

Breaking the barriers

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Christmas season offers us opportunities to show love and remind ourselves that we are all humans, no matter our situations in life. In the midst of prevalent obnoxious consumerist tendencies, the bright lights and funfairs, there are many among us that cannot find a reason to celebrate except that they are alive. And to some, being alive can be a heavy burden if they do not know where the next meal would come from. And there are many who are forced to walk barefooted on the rough roads of life with no shirt on their backs.

Every Christmas, over the past 15 years or so, I with brothers and sisters from church, have endeavoured to spend a day with some folks that are so helpless and someone must help them with virtually everything. Some of them are blind and have lost their limbs to an easily treatable but dreaded bacterial disease, leprosy. Seeing them rejoice and celebrate life should puts political leaders, and others who could help but don’t, to shame.

A Day…everyday

Spending a day with men and women who once suffered from leprosy – but now live with related injuries and are virtually outcasts in society, often rejected by families –  never fails to remind me of the severe erosion of our very humanity. Beholding their lovely, healthy children, raises the question of what would be the case if these youths are supported to receive the best education and are aided to escape the cycle of pain, rejection and poverty they were born into.

Spending time away from the hustle and bustle of life, embedded in the dusts of struggle for survival, prepares me on the eve of every new year to stand with the oppressed in the fights to break the shackles of wickedness, injustice and rejection. Everywhere and every time.

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.

 

 

The Secure and the Dispossessed

This is a synopsis of the great book, THE SECURE AND THE DISPOSSESSED, from the TNI staple:

The Secure and dispossessed

What if government and corporate elites have given up on the idea of stopping climate change and prefer to try to manage its consequences?

The Secure and the Dispossessed shows how the military and corporations plan to maintain control in a world reshaped by climate change. With one eye on the scientific evidence and the other on their global assets, dystopian preparations by the powerful are already fuelling militarised security responses to the unfolding climate crisis.

The implications for social and environmental justice are disturbing. Adaptation to a climate-changed world is desperately needed, but it must protect the rights of all, not just provide security to the few. The authors unveil the dangerous new security agenda, and put forward inspiring alternatives that promise a just transition to a climate-changed world.

To order copies visit

Read an additional online copy of a chapter to the book contributed by us here: RESISTANCE TO THE MILITARY-CORPORATE WEDLOCK IN NIGERIA AND BEYOND

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.