energy transition
Earth works at a central processing facility location where crude oil will be filtered before it goes to the pipeline and oil refinary in Western Uganda

Pushing for energy transition, climate activists protest against the East African oil pipeline

Activists want the government to stop the project in order to reflect the government’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions and energy transition.
Activists want the government to stop the project in order to reflect the government’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions and energy transition.

Local and international climate change activists are pushing against the construction of the world’s longest heated oil pipeline known as East Africa Oil pipeline (EACOP).

With the aim to export more fossil fuels to the international oil market, the construction of the 1445 kilometer-long pipeline from Kabale near Lake Albert in Uganda to Tanga in Tanzania is already ongoing.The Final Investment Decisions were signed between the government of Uganda and oil companies in February 2022.

The governments of Uganda and Tanzania along with French oil giant Total Energies EP and Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) are set to be the project developers for this pipeline. Total Energies is leading the EACOP, with 62 percent shareholding, followed by Uganda National Oil Company and Tanzania Petroleum Development Company with 15 percent each, and China National Offshore Oil Corporation with a 8 percent shareholding.

However, climate change activists have launched a campaign dubbed #STOPEACOP in a bid to stop the multi-billion project which is feared to increase greenhouse gas emissions. The activists want the government to stop the project in order to reflect the government’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions and energy transition. They are also demanding local and international financial institutions to desist from financing the project.

energy transition

Activists raise climate and human rights concerns

This is not the first time that climate activists have voiced their concern about the pipeline. This March, another group of activists met with Pope Francis at the Vatican to ask for his support to stop the construction of the EACOP. In 2021, an alliance of over 260 African and international environmental and human rights organizations claimed another win when some international banks indicated opting out of funding the project. Two years ago in 2020, activists sought orders from French courts to seek an injunction against the Uganda oil project, while some groups sought similar orders in the Arusha-based East African court of Justice.

More recently, in 2021, another case was registered with the Uganda High Court, when a group from the US applied to the High court of Uganda as amicus curiae to “save Uganda and Tanzania from an environmental disaster”. In a ruling delivered on 4th May 2022, the High Court dismissed their baseless application on ground that the applicants have previously declared very biased positions against the Uganda oil project.

Dickens Kamugisha, the chief executive officer for African Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) says that the project poses dangers to climate change and biodiversity. AFIEGO has been part of the campaign to stop the pipeline project.  

In their 2020 annual report, Kamugisha states that they mobilized and sensitized communities to engage the project developers to stop the human rights abuses against the EACOP-affected communities. They even worked with community monitors and their partners to mobilize over 870 EACOP-affected households to file a petition against the project developers in November 2020 to end abuses against people.

Robert Turyagamba, a resident of Kikuube district’s Butimba East says there has been delayed compensation of people whose land has been earmarked for the construction of the pipeline. ‘‘It has been almost four years since the valuation process started. They have been giving us empty promises and up to now they have not paid us,’’ Turyagamba says.

Some insights into the potential environmental impacts and risks posed to local communities is also highlighted in the 2021 report ‘East African Crude Oil Pipeline: New risk developments, A new spatial risk analysis of the EACOP’ by BankTrack. In this report, the Stockholm Environment Institute performed a spatial overlay of the planned pipeline trajectory and biodiversity, water resources, communities, and seismic zones. The analysis then found that Ramsar wetland sites, population centers, rivers, and lakes were at risk due to the pipeline.

In February 2021, 52 civil society organizations from Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo in their joint communiqué faulted the government of Uganda and oil companies for signing the final investment decisions without providing tangible mitigations measures against carbon emissions.

‘‘In  addition,  the  civil  society  groups  observed  that  family  break-downs,  school  drop-outs and other social challenges were unaddressed. The impacts of over 34.3 million metric tonnes of carbon that will be produced upon burning of the oil transported by EACOP also remains unknown,” reads a part of the joint communiqué. 

AFIEGO’s Kamugisha adds that the campaign has forced some international financial organizations to distance themselves from financing the EACOP project.

“We  participated in the 2020 UN Business and Human Rights Forum in November 2020 through which we lobbied for action to stop the climate change, environmental and social impacts of the EACOP project,” Kamugisha added in the report. With these efforts, the African Development Bank reiterated their commitment to investing in clean energy as opposed to fossil fuels. 

But, the Ugandan government has continued to staunchly support the pipeline project.

energy transition
Officials from Petroleum Authority of Uganda displaying the chart map of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline in May 2021

Government’s stance

According to Dr. Joseph Kobusheshe, the Director of Environment, Health, Safety and Security Petroleum Authority of Uganda, the country’s oil projects have been technologically designed to generate the lowest possible carbon footprint. Overall, the projects fall within the category of “low emission”.

In a statement published on the Petroleum Authority of Uganda’s website, Dr Kobushehe presents some numbers: “The carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emission per barrel of oil for Uganda’s upstream and midstream projects is estimated to be in the range of 20-45 kgCO2e. This is well below the global average of 70-100 kgCO2e”.

He also says that the oil and gas industry is a solution to Uganda’s green-house gas problem. 

‘‘In my previous article, I stated that there is an apparent ‘environmental fashion’ being driven by some activists, which does not consider the uniqueness of developing countries such as Uganda, and the African continent in general. In 2020, the energy (including transport) and industry sectors in the US, powered majorly by fossil fuels, accounted for 76% of GHG emissions. By contrast, in Uganda, these sectors account for just 10%,’’ Dr Kobushehe adds in a statement provided to this reporter by Gloria Sebikali, the spokesperson of the Petroleum Authority of Uganda.

He says Uganda’s oil and gas resources will provide more Ugandans access to cleaner energy, eliminate emissions associated with import of petroleum products, provide alternative sources of livelihoods and lessen dependency on environmentally degrading economic activities and generate the revenue required to invest in climate smart and clean development mechanisms. Therefore, he reiterates that in Uganda, the oil and gas industry is part of the solution to achieve GHG reduction targets, and not the problem.  

But, Brian Nahamya, a civil society activist says there is a need for balancing between environment protection and the appetite for economic gains in the extraction of fossils. Nahamya has worked at the helm of climate change and environment protection advocacy in the oil–rich region of Uganda.  

“It’s very dangerous for the sector to focus heavily on economics and revenues without a strong focus on environment and social cultural values and climate change,’’ Nahamya said in an interview.

He adds, “I wish to see the oil business where environmental safeguards are put in place and executed to save communities from the consequences like oil spills or poor disposal of wastes. Environmental and social management plans must be implemented for betterment of the sector and public financing for climate mitigation measures.” But either way, Nahamya stresses that voices of those against projects like EACOP should not be suppressed.

In a first-ever effort to model a comprehensive energy pathway towards limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius, the International Energy Agency (IEA) published its Net Zero by 2050 roadmap in May 2021. The roadmap finds “no need for investment in new fossil fuel supply” to reach net zero by 2050, indicating clearly that new oil infrastructure like EACOP are incompatible with the global climate goals established by the Paris Climate Agreement.

This is also a signal for banks to stay committed to the Paris Agreement, and adhere to their financing according to the Principles for Responsible Banking or the Net Zero Banking Alliance. Regardless, the government seems to be insisting on fossil fuels. 

energy transition
Government officials inspecting an oil well-head at Kingfisher project in Kikuube district.

Government insists on fossils

In May this year, the deputy speaker of parliament of Uganda, Thomas Tayebwa, slammed climate change and environment activists for tampering the efforts of the development of the oil and gas industry in Uganda.

Tayebwa’s concern followed a recent viral video in which climate activist Dominika Lasota asked the French president Emmaneul Macron on his stance on the ongoing process of constructing the EACOP, funded by TotalEnergies EP Uganda, a French company.

Speaking to thousands of people who gathered at Kakeka playground in Kakumiro town council, the Deputy speaker of parliament of Uganda Mr Thomas Tayebwa said, ‘‘As a house we are very concerned over the so-called activists who are trying to frustrate the development of the oil sector. We have done our part and we want to use this oil to develop our people,” Tayebwa said.

He emphasized that international standards for environmental and social impact assessment were taken into account. He also reiterated that the major oil organizations confirm that this is a sustainable project, and Africa contributes only 3 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. 

Asked whether the government is not bothered by threats of blocking the financing of the project, Tayebwa said that the government will mobilize its own resources to support oil and gas production. ‘‘It’s the high time we come together as Africa and start supporting our own initiatives. Oil is being developed in other parts of the world so we cannot stop it here,” he said.

The spokesperson for the energy and minerals development, Mr Solomon Muyita, while speaking to journalists during a media tour in Buliisa district on Wednesday slammed foreign backed climate change and environmental activists. ‘‘We know there are some elements that are condemning the extraction of oil and construction of the pipeline. As Uganda we are not the first country to produce oil, and the oil we are going to produce is as much as in other countries,” he said. He also remarked that Uganda is fortunate in having reserves of oil and the market for it, and the money that comes in from this resource can benefit several needs of the country.

Oil companies weigh in

Patrick Pouyanné, the chairman and CEO of TotalEnergies while speaking during the signing of the final investment decision in February this year reiterated that oil development is in line with TotalEnergies’ strategy of only approving new projects that are low-cost and low emissions. 

Pouyanné also informed that an Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) had also been signed between Uganda Ministry of Energy and Minerals and TotalEnergues to develop 1 GW of installed capacity of renewable energy. Other benefits would include promoting access to electricity and clean energy, and supporting national climate change objectives through the deployment of carbon footprint reduction projects.

The activists continue to be branded as saboteurs of development and agents of foreign elements that want to cripple the oil development in Uganda under the guise of climate change mitigation. Their efforts and the locked horns with the government and oil companies persist the frosty relationship between these different stakeholders regarding the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline.

Alex Tumuhimbise
Alex holds a Bachelors degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Uganda Pentecostal University in Fort portal City. He also has a diploma in Journalism and has worked in radio, with online news agencies, and at the Daily Monitor for the past 10 years. His work has been featured in international news organizations, such as Earth Journalism Network, Floodlight-US, Mongabay News -US, and The Guardian. Alex has special interest in reporting on climate change reporting, extractive industries, and environmental governance. He’s an alum fellow of the African Center for Media Excellence, Thompson Reuters Foundation, and Earth Journalism Network and Internews.
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