Stop exploiting oil reserves to combat climate change

Monday February 17 2020




On Sunday February 9, media reports indicated that Uganda had been invaded by locusts. That same day, the 33rd African Union (AU) Heads of State and Government Assembly commenced in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The two-day meeting was held under the theme: Silencing the guns: Creating conducive conditions for Africa’s Development.

As the leaders deliberated on topics such as conflicts in the Sahel region, sustainable funding of Africa’s development agenda and others, scores of Ugandans panicked over the locust invasion.

A government inter-ministerial meeting was held to discuss measures to address the locusts, which the public was informed could eat food that could feed 2,500 people per year! In addition, army officers and others were shipped off to Karamoja, to address the threat. Several other efforts were made.

While some of the above was ongoing, the AU Heads of State and others deliberated on matters that would improve the wellbeing of Africans. However, they did not discuss how African leaders in alliance with national and international agricultural, oil and other companies are contributing towards climate change and exposing their citizens to more potential locust invasions.

With the permission of African leaders, activities like destruction of forests; Bugoma in Uganda for sugarcane growing and exploitation of fossil fuels (oil, coal and gas) including in eco-sensitive areas; national parks, lakes, rivers and forests in Uganda, Tanzania and Nigeria, among others, are ongoing in Africa today.
Both the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation are drivers of global warming and consequently, climate change.


Yet climate change is part of the reason that Uganda, Kenya and other Eastern African countries are in the predicament they are in today. Moreover, this is a predicament that African countries are ill-equipped to deal with.

As pointed out by the UN Secretary General, Mr Antonio Guterres, warmer cyclones caused by climate change have created the perfect breeding conditions for locusts.
Information from the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) indicates that the warmer cyclones resulted in rains in Oman, which enabled the breeding of the desert locusts.

The locusts invaded Eastern Africa thereafter and have caused serious damage. FAO estimated that 200 billion locusts invaded Kenya. The pests, which eat food equivalent to own weight daily, destroyed pasturelands which had only been rejuvenated after drought.

Further, the damage caused by the locusts in Somalia was so much so that the country declared a state of emergency after the insects damaged about 70,000 hectares of food supplies in the country and Ethiopia.

Experience shows that when food and pasturelands are destroyed, other impacts follow; incomes reduce, children’s education suffers as parents have no money to pay school fees, and even domestic violence rises due to increased poverty in homes.

Currently, several countries in Africa including Nigeria, Angola, Cameroon, Niger, Algeria, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, the DR Congo and others are oil producers. In addition, several countries; Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Togo and others are planning or undertaking activities to become coal, oil and gas producers.

The above countries argue that they need to produce coal, oil and gas not only to create jobs but to generate revenues to support their economies. However, the burning of fossil fuels is the biggest contributor to climate change.

As earlier noted, climate change has been cited as the cause of the biggest locust invasion to be seen in Kenya in 70 years and in 25 years for Somalia and Ethiopia.
To continue exploiting oil is to exacerbate climate change and put lives of African citizens at risk. Moreover, poorer African states are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. African states have too few resources to manage climate change impacts.

Indeed, government’s response to the locust invasion was testament to this. The country had no standby expert manpower and equipment such as airplanes to spray the locusts.

Communities in Teso Sub-region reported that they resorted to making noise to scare the locusts away.
One may argue that oil revenues could be used to make African states climate resilient. However, experiences from Nigeria, Angola and other oil-producing countries show that oil revenues are never used for the benefit of citizens. Instead, they are largely abused by corrupt government officials at the expense of citizens’ wellbeing.

In line with available evidence that up to a 75 per cent of known fossil fuel reserves must be left unexploited for the Paris climate target to be attained, African countries must adhere. They should invest in other economic activities such as agriculture, tourism and others.

The writer is the Senior Communications Officer at Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO)