The European Parliament adopted a new resolution that denounces the development of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) on the grounds that the project — if completed — will unavoidably lead to environmental degradation and a surge in human rights violations. In response, the governments of Uganda and Tanzania — the directors of this ambitious enterprise — have signaled their own condemnation of members within the European Parliament. Lawmakers from both African nations have accused the EU of encroaching upon their sovereignty, racism, and economic sabotage. At its core, the stark divide between the will of those who support the EACOP project and those who wish to halt its completion reanimates a pivotal question — should developing nations be expected to sacrifice their growth to fight climate change?
In a statement to The Citizen, Ugandan Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa rationalized that “it is imprudent to say that Uganda’s oil projects will exacerbate climate change, yet it is a fact that the EU block with only 10 percent of the world’s population is responsible for 25 percent of global emissions, and Africa with 20 percent of the world’s population is responsible for 3 percent of emissions. The EU and other western countries are historically responsible for climate change. Who then should stop or slow down the development of natural resources? Certainly not Africa or Uganda.”
Tayebwa’s statement colors a dimension to the discussion of fighting climate change that is often neglected by developed nations. There is an unmistakable trade-off between sustainability and development. Should the EU have it their way, their pressures would compel Uganda and Tanzania to choose the environment over the development of a pipeline that government officials expect to boost their countries to middle income status, sustain Africa’s growing fossil fuel demand, and create jobs in various sectors.
Still, that is not to say that the concerns addressed within the EU resolution are not entirely unwarranted. The pipeline, which will span across 846 miles, could potentially contaminate water supplies, harm wildlife, and displace around 100,000 people. While proponents, such as Tanzanian Minister for Energy January Makamba, have insisted that the pipeline has been designed to minimize the environmental and social impacts, there is no guarantee that devastating environmental and social impacts won’t still ensue. In fact, it is not even clear that by the time of projected completion — 2025 — the oil pipeline will fulfill its economic expectations. International consumers are proceeding toward initiatives that shift to renewable energy; accordingly, by the time Uganda and Tanzania realize their oil production efforts, the market for crude oil beyond Africa may have considerably dwindled.
Fundamentally, this trade-off constitutes an impasse. On one hand, there is the acknowledgement that, as Felix Okot Ogong puts it, “billions of dollars are siphoned from Africa in form of raw materials and as you try to add value, [foreigners] interfere. The Pan African Parliament has resolved [that] no one should dictate what we do with our resources. Our government should stand firm as a sovereign state.” Ogong is right in his assertion.
African countries should not be expected to sacrifice their development initiatives to account for a phenomenon that they bear very little responsibility for. After all, there is very little alternative for these nations to extricate themselves from the depths of impoverishment without these development projects. Yet on the other hand, the European Parliament is not entirely wrong in their evaluation, the EACOP could prove to be ruinous. Nonetheless, developed countries cannot just simply tell their developing counterparts to sacrifice industrializing because of its inherent environmental dangers. Thus, it will be the greatest challenge of all actors to find a middle ground. All members of the international community will need to rethink growth and climate strategies to ensure that efforts to halt the threat of climate change are reliable, accessible, and economical for all.
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