Stockholm+50: Activists urge phasing out of fossil fuels

A man working at an oil refinery.

A man working at an oil refinery. Experts and activists attending the Stockholm+50 conference in Sweden have urged governments to address what they describe as the top threat to climate, global peace and security, biodiversity, human health and water — fossil fuels.

Photo credit: Haidar Mohammed Ali | AFP

Stockholm, Sweden

Experts and activists attending the Stockholm+50 conference in Sweden have urged governments to address what they describe as the top threat to climate, global peace and security, biodiversity, human health and water — fossil fuels.

They say fossil fuels have undermined every sustainable development goal, warning that producing countries and corporations plan to significantly expand coal, oil and gas extraction despite these threats.

Isaac Ssentumbwe, 25, who hails from Uganda, is worried about what he describes as a disastrous investment made by TotalEnergies, which is investing heavily in the East African Crude Oil Pipeline project, or EACOP.

“It is a 1,443km pipeline which is going to transport crude oil from the Tilenga area of my country Uganda to Tanzania. It is something that has already started affecting communities as people have lost their lands, biodiversity is being lost, aquatic life is at risk as we speak right now,” he said.

“This is why I came to Sweden for the Stockholm+50 conference as I feel the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, if put in place, will help save my country, wildlife, the environment and my people from the ongoing ruin.”

Major oil resources

TotalEnergies says the Lake Albert region in Uganda has major oil resources estimated at over one billion barrels.

Uganda wants to develop them under the projects Tilenga, operated by TotalEnergies, and Kingfisher by China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC).

“The oil will be delivered to the Tanzanian port of Tanga by a cross-border pipeline, built and operated by EACOP,” TotalEnergies explains on its website.

“The Tilenga and EACOP projects are situated in a sensitive social and environmental context and require land acquisition programmes with close attention to the rights of the affected communities.

“Third-party reviews have also been conducted to ensure that the projects are compliant with the best social and environmental practices.”

But Mr Ssentumbwe said: “The world needs to be not only conscious about how such fossil fuel projects are disastrous but also the need to shift to sustainable renewable energies”

Ms Hamira Kobusingye, 25, another climate activist who is also from Uganda and works with the Rise Up Movement, argues that big oil companies do not care about the loss and damage they cause in the global south.

‘Destroying lives’

“EACOP is destroying lives back at home right before our very own eyes. It is painful and sad; the world needs to realise that it must now stop digging up the earth for fossil fuels. Our country does not have the capacity to deal with the aftermath of fossil fuels.”

She claimed that 6,400 hectares will be acquired for the project.

TotalEnergies notes that 723 primary residences will be relocated and this “will affect a total of 18,800 stakeholders, landowners and land users”.

“Each family whose primary residence is being relocated may choose between a new home and monetary compensation. An accessible, transparent and fair complaints-handling system will be running throughout the process,” the company says.

Ms Kobusingye says officials “make it sound so good and classy but on the ground, my people are suffering; they are being forced to move from their homes and it is devastating our entire ecosystem and our future as young people. It has to stop”.

TotalEnergies projects that $3.5 billion in investments will come to Uganda and Tanzania during the construction phase, with an export flow rate of 216,000 barrels per day.

Milking Africa dry

But to Ms Kobusingye, the West is milking Africa dry at the expense of innocent lives that will have to live with the consequences of the actions of a big oil company that is only interested in profits.

Fossil Fuel Treaty, a global organisation that calls for the total phasing out of fossil fuels, says that while the Paris Agreement is a historic international climate mechanism, it does not mention coal, oil and gas and must be complemented with a specific treaty focused on managing a just transition away from fossil fuels.

‘Truly dangerous radicals’

The UN has begun to acknowledge this threat and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently stated that “the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels”.

“We must end fossil fuel pollution and accelerate the renewable energy transition before we incinerate our only home,” he said.

This comes after the United Nations Environment Programme’s (Unep) Production Gap report flagged a significant gap between planned expansion of fossil fuels and chances of meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement.

“For Stockholm+50 to be a success, governments must acknowledge, recognise and highlight the risk that fossil fuels present to a healthy planet and prosperity for all…,” the organisation observed during a panel discussion in Stockholm.

Governments must also “recognise the urgent need to end expansion of any new fossil fuel production, commit to equitably, phase out existing fossil fuel production, taking into account each country’s capacity to transition, level of dependence on fossil fuels and historical responsibility for climate change and ecological crises [and] propose new and enhanced international focus and cooperation on the just transition from fossil fuels”.