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Climate Activists Strike Raw Nerve Among Ugandan Officials Over EACOP

Calls from European activists to block the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) over its potential negative impact on the environment have struck a raw nerve among officials within Uganda’s energy industry, with many of them telling off the developed world to back off a project they say will improve thousands of lives.

What has gotten the Ugandan officials angry this time is a recent video by Dominika Lasota, a 20-year-old student from Poland, and a climate and social justice activist, according to her Twitter profile, where she makes an aggressive demand to French president Emmanuel Macron to publicly denounce the EACOP.

In the video, Lasota appears to push Macron to publicly denounce the project even though the French president said he had stopped public funding for such fossil fuel projects.

“Will you be the president that will end the era of fossil fuels?” she asks Macron in an unscheduled conversation on the sidelines of what appears to be a conference.

She adds: “There is the East African Crude Oil pipeline that goes through Uganda and Tanzania. We need you to stop this. Stop this investment that’s done by Total. Stop it this year, right now, by the time of Total’s Annual General Meeting.”

A map illustrating the EACOP route

TotalEnergies, which is the lead company behind the EACOP with a shareholding stake of 62 per cent, will hold its AGM on May 25 in the French capital of Paris.

Macron defends himself by saying that he “stopped all public financing to this type of project” but he respects the decisions made by sovereign states such as Uganda and Tanzania. An earlier statement from the Uganda Media Centre, dated May 1, 2021, acknowledges Macron’s support for the EACOP.

In reaction to Lasota’s video Ruth Nankabirwa, Uganda’s Minister of Energy and Mineral Development, tweeted: “they (activists) should know that as a country we are eager to start producing our oil and gas come 2025. Uganda is striving for responsible exploitation of its oil and gas resources through appropriate policy and regulation aimed at energy integration rather than energy transition.”

Tweets from Uganda’s Energy Minister

Another highly placed official from the same Ministry, who declined to be named, said: “This is a global neocolonialism agenda to keep countries poor. These countries [Western world] already benefitted from their petroleum resources and are now changing the rules.”

Marcella Karekye, the director of the Government Citizen Interaction Centre, a Ugandan body in charge of disseminating government information to the public, was not cordial, and did not mince words, noting: “Should we go and uproot all the pipelines in the different seas, and all their pathways? Nonsense.”

The debate about the potential climate effects from the EACOP has emerged as one of its biggest hurdle to financing. A number of financial institutions, such as UKEF, have dropped any plans of funding the EACOP.

The EACOP needs about $3.5 billion. Already, some of the main engineering and construction contracts for the project have been awarded. Construction of the pipeline is expected to start before the end of this year.

While the activists pose a threat to the progress of the pipeline, the project is likely to go on.

The discussions around climate-related risks from the EACOP have shifted to a ‘them-against-us’ scenario as Uganda accuses the western world of double standards.

Some officials from Uganda point to the new licensing round for petroleum licenses in the North Sea that the United Kingdom intends to hold as it secures its energy future.

President Yoweri Museveni also added his voice to the same debate recently in an opinion article published by UK newspaper, The Telegraph. Museveni called for a rethink on how the transition to green energy is made.

Other players have argued that the amount of emissions from Europe’s automobile industries alone make the entire amount from the EACOP a joke, adding that the western world, and not Africa, should pay the price for what is being emitted to the environment.

The climate risk rotates around the carbon emissions from the project, which, at 1,445km, will be the longest underground heated pipeline in the world.

Climate change activists place the amount of emissions from the EACOP at 34 million tonnes, a figure that pales in comparison to projects in the United States and China.

The US is believed to contribute more than 400 billion tonnes of carbon emissions, with China coming second at just below 200 billion.

Carbon emissions have been blamed for contributing towards drastic weather changes such as droughts and floods; factors that have left many people hungry and homeless.

However, Uganda’s officials say that the oil industry is well-regulated to mitigate any risks that might emerge from the EACOP.

Ali Ssekatawa, the director of Legal and Corporate Affairs at the Petroleum Authority of Uganda, reacting to Lasota’s video, said: “The EACOP has Environment Social and Impact Assessment certificates and independent third party audit reports. [The project is] designed based on best environmental and safety standard technology and IFC standards.”

Ssekatawa added his voice to the debate

The Uganda National Oil Company and Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation each hold a 15 per cent stake in the EACOP. China’s CNOOC accounts for 8 per cent.

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