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How Uganda’s oil is detrimental to efforts on climate change

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By Samuel Okulony

On Monday November 6, 2017, an important event for all humanity commenced in Bonn, Germany. The 23rd Confederation of Parties (COP 23), which will end onNovember 17, 2017, got underway with the objective of “advanc[ing] the aims and ambitions of the Paris Agreement”.

The Paris Agreement, which has been ratified by 169 countries including Uganda, aims at mitigating climate change through keeping global temperature rises below 2 degrees Celsius and through enabling countries to adapt to climate change.

Between November 12 and 17, 2017, three of the four civil society organisations implementing the Shared Resources, Joint Solutions Programme in Uganda will participate in the COP 23. Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), which I work for, will be one of these organisations. Others include National Association of Professional Environmentalists and the Environmental Conservation Trust of Uganda.

Our key message at the event will centre on what Uganda’s exploitation of her oil and gas resources means for climate change resilience.

The pre-dominant economic activity in Uganda is rain-fed agriculture, making prolonged droughts, floods and changing weather patterns that are synonymous with climate change, a big challenge for the country and its citizens.

Further, because we are a developing country, we are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change as we cannot easily put together resources to address the effects. Amidst this situation, Uganda is planning on exploiting a fossil fuel, oil, which directly contributes to global warming. With this, one would say that Uganda is digging its own grave.

Further, oil development efforts are a major driver for climate change.

Destruction of biodiversity including forests and wetlands during development of infrastructure for the oil sector, exploiting of oil in sensitive ecosystems such as national parks, lakes, rivers and others, in addition to compulsory acquisitions of land by government or its agents; are going to have a direct and serious impact on global warming.

Let’s take a look at one project, the East African Crude Oil Pipeline. The pipeline is going to be 1,445km long and 30 metres wide. In Uganda, it will traverse through eight districts and 24 sub-counties and in Tanzania, it will go through 24 districts.

This means that hundreds of households across the eight districts in Uganda will be displaced through compulsory land acquisition. Because of the inefficiencies in compulsory land acquisitions in Uganda including under and delayed compensation, there have been incidents of oil project-affected persons resettling in sensitive ecosystems including river banks.

Further, oil activities result in population influxes with speculators driving the population increases. The big population size puts pressure on sensitive ecosystems but also creates economic opportunities in the form of charcoal burning, firewood selling and others, which lead to the destruction of sensitive ecosystems.

This is evident in Hoima. After development of the Hoima Kaiso-Tonya road leading to the oil wells along Lake Albert, charcoal trade sprung up along the road with trees close to River Wambabya and others being destroyed.

Further, forests, wetlands, lakes, rivers and others, get destroyed to pave way for the development of oil sector infrastructure.

It is noteworthy that a lot of infrastructure, including the crude oil export pipeline, the finished petroleum products pipeline, pipelines from various oil wells, central processing facilities, well pads, workers’ camps and others, are planned for the sector before 2020.

Development of all the above infrastructure poses a major threat to Uganda’s and indeed global efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Our message at the COP 23 therefore, is to appeal to government of Uganda to invest more in renewable energy such as solar, to drive socio-economic development. With economic activity borne of increased access to solar power, government will not need to chase money from dangerous fuels such as oil.

We will also call on government to invest more in the planting of indigenous trees as opposed to commercial ones such as pine. Pine and trees of its ilk have small leaves that do little to absorb carbondioxide. This translates into too little being done to mitigate global warming and climate change.

Mr Okulony is the Research and Programmes Co-ordinator at AFIEGO.

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