By Guest Writer
Recently, I have been reading some media articles by the pro-oil activists who have been making a case for Uganda’s oil and gas development amidst warnings from scientists that no new investments in oil, gas and coal must take place if the world is to meet the goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Some of the arguments that caught my attention were that Uganda needs to exploit its oil and gas resources to reduce its Green House Gas (GHG) emissions.
In effect, that oil and gas exploitation will reduce deforestation in Uganda as well as exploitation of Uganda’s oil and gas resources will drive economic growth and create jobs among others.
Being an environmental engineer, there’s no doubt that the use of fossil fuels especially oil and natural gas results in significant climate, environmental, and health costs that may not be reflected in market prices. These costs are known as externalities and each stage of the fossil fuel supply chain, from extraction and transportation to refining and burning, generates externalities.
When fossil fuels are burned, they emit greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide that trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere and contribute to climate change. The formation of acidic rains or ocean acidification is brought about greenhouse emissions. At least a quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuels is absorbed by the waters changing their chemistry (pH). The increased acidity makes it harder for marine organisms to build shells and coral skeletons as well as posing threats to coral reefs, fishing, tourism, and the economy.
It is clear that the global climate is already changing and is posing increasingly severe risks for ecosystems, human health and the economy. The EEA’s recent assessment ‘Climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe 2016’ shows that Europe’s regions, too, are already facing impacts of a changing climate, including rising sea levels, more extreme weather, flooding, droughts and storms. These changes are happening because large amounts of greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere as a result of many human activities worldwide, including, most importantly, burning fossil fuels for electricity generation, heating and transport.
According to the Dame Global Adaptation Index report 2021, Uganda stands 12th of most vulnerable country in the world to climate change and the 49th least prepared to combat its effects. It’s absurd that government is putting much emphasis on oil and gas projects including Tilenga, Kingfisher and EACOP that are estimated to produce over 102 million metric tons of carbon emissions per year for the next over two decades that will further worsen the impacts of climate change and livelihoods of Ugandans.
I know that we can’t deny that for more than a century, burning fossil fuels has generated most of the energy required to propel our cars, power our businesses, and keep the lights on in our homes. Even today, oil, coal, and gas serve about 80% of our energy needs. However, we are already paying the price. Using fossil fuels for energy has exacted an enormous toll on humanity and the environment from air and water pollution to global warming. That’s beyond all the negative impacts from petroleum-based products such as plastics and chemicals.
The estimates show that these fuels contribute 65% of global carbon emissions and with Uganda seeking to exploit its 6.5 billion barrels of crude oil of which 1.4 to 1.7 billion barrels are recoverable, the country will be increasing its contribution to global GHG emissions, and not reducing them. It is estimated that when burnt, the oil transported by the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project alone at peak production will produce over 34.3 million metric tonnes of carbon per year. These emissions are equal to those of nine coal-fired power plants.
In addition, the 1,445km oil pipeline if completed, will be the longest heated crude oil pipeline in the world and the risks of this project to people and environment have been extensively documented. Such risks include significant human rights impacts to local people through physical displacement and threats to incomes and livelihoods, unacceptable risks to water, biodiversity and natural habitats, as well as unlocking a new source of carbon emissions that will either prove financially unviable or produce unacceptable climate harm.
Over 171 villages in Uganda and 231 in Tanzania will face massive physical and economic displacement. An estimated 14,000 households across Uganda and Tanzania have lost or will lose land as a result of the pipeline where hundreds of families will need to be resettled and thousands more will be affected by the associated oil development projects.
With the oil and gas developments, various international commitments that Uganda is signatory are put in jeopardy, including the Paris Climate Agreement, the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), United National Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Ramsar Wetland Convention and others.
However, amidst the above implications brought up by Uganda’s oil and gas developments, Uganda is endowered with other green economy alternatives such as tourism, agriculture, renewable energy and others that have to potential to create positive opportunities to Ugandans including creation jobs, boosting the economy while promoting environmental conservation, climate change mitigation and other related negative impacts that may result from oil and gas developments.
The writer is Patrick Edema, the Environmental Engineer & Projects Assistant at Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO)
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