Campaign to stop EACOP is unfortunate

Raymond Mugisha

What you need to know:

  • The returns of the project can be invested in ways that will guarantee better life for coming generations.

Global climate change, environmental degradation and their accompanying dangers are a concern for everyone. Some of the related grave dangers for Africa are the adverse effects on agriculture and reducing food security as well as general erosion of security of water resources.

Climate change has the potential to significantly worsen the continent’s already bad poverty situation, apart from endangering the livelihood of future generations in critical ways. One could state the dangers in more harsh terms than I have, and one would still be correct about the impending problem.

The above, though, does not justify unidirectional thinking when it comes to assessing the dangers associated with economic activities of today, their value balanced against their contribution to climate change and environmental degradation. We must do logical weighing of the dangers and benefits of economic projects. We have to also put into consideration the possible mitigation measures we can conduct alongside economic projects so that the projects may come to fruition while the impact of the dangers they carry is minimized.

The case of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) should be viewed in the above manner. It is factual that this project will return huge dividends to Uganda and other stakeholders. It is also true that it comes with threats to the environment and will contribute to climate change. What concerned people should be seeking for is the balance of all relevant aspects of the project, so that its benefits are reaped and its dangers managed. Unfortunately, some have opted for the extreme view that the project should be stopped. One may imagine that this is a result of unbalanced zeal or outskirt motivations beyond the project itself as an isolated case.

In managing project risks or dangers, such as those that a project poses to the environment, there are various options to take. In simple terms, they are as follows. Project implementers and stakeholders can elect to simply accept the dangers. This would mean that the project is executed without any actions being taken concerning the dangers. It normally happens when the dangers are not considered serious enough to warrant any action against them. It can also be decided for the dangers to be mitigated or managed.

This involves putting in place measures to reduce chances of these dangers maturing, or to reduce the impact of these dangers if they are finally to crystallize. This is what is done when there are lucrative rewards for implementing a project that presents significant dangers. There is also the option of transferring the risk to other parties, such as is always done through taking insurance policies against risks. When the dangers involved are so grave and there are no viable measures that can be taken to mitigate or transfer them, the logical option is to avoid the dangers. This means abandoning the project, as a means to completely eliminating its dangers.

It is at this last option that those who are pushing for stopping the EACOP project are sitting. They have not amply considered whether the benefits of this project are worth defending with measures to counter the dangers involved. They propose what they possibly view as the easy way out – avoid. In our Ugandan and regional context, this option is neither intelligent nor useful. It is akin to a bank collecting deposits from the public and then fearing to lend monies to prospective borrowers under the fear that they will fail to pay back, ignoring other key elements of the lending cycle such as taking collateral for monies borrowed.

The argument presented that the EACOP project should be abandoned as a positive step towards phasing out fossil fuel is simply trying to move, illogically, ahead of time. Even wealthy nations are still heavily reliant on fossil fuel for both national revenues and actual usage.

The fact that the EACOP project will return significant economic dividends is as obvious as the uncomfortable levels of poverty to which these dividends will be directed. Certainly there are measures that can be taken to mitigate the dangers that this project poses. It is rather strange therefore that people can dedicate themselves to advocating for a complete stopping of the project.

Even future generations, in whose higher interests we should conserve the environment today, would be let down by such an extreme step. The project has to be executed in a safe and sustainable manner that minimizes relevant dangers.

The returns of the project can be invested in ways that will guarantee better life for coming generations. Indeed some of the returns will also make us more financially capable to adapt to wider climate change threats.

Raymond is a Chartered Risk Analyst and risk management consultant


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