March 19, 2019

Leadership Nigeria: Why Africa must be wary of Big Polluters

By Philip Jakpor, head of media at Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, Nigeria and Sriram Madhusoodanan Deputy Campaigns Director at Corporate Accountability. This piece appeared in the Nigeria-based publication, Leadership.

You would never invite the arsonist who set fire to your house to put it out by adding more kerosene. So why are Big Polluters (that, for decades, have derailed progress to address the climate crisis) and their dangerous distractions such as market mechanisms poised to be front and center during the upcoming Africa Climate Week?

Despite agreement that climate change is threatening life on Earth, there is a massive chasm between actions needed to address this crisis and the dangerous schemes the fossil fuel industry — with governments in the Global North in its pocket — is pushing. For decades, the international climate policy process — from high-level negotiations to regional climate weeks — has failed people because it has been consistently manipulated by Big Polluters. Their influence has even seeped through the halls of the UN, pushing dangerous, ineffective schemes while blocking the way to real, transformative solutions. This corrosive influence led in large part to COP24 failing to make the progress demanded by peoples movements and organizations from over 130 countries.

As dignitaries, civil society, and celebrities gather for Africa Climate Week in Accra, the Ghanian capital, government delegates have an opportunity to challenge the propaganda coming from the very entities that have long fueled and profiteered from this crisis.

Africa Climate Week is a critical opportunity for leaders to stand alongside people around the world and realign climate policy with the needs of people and the planet, not polluting corporations responsible for this crisis. And yet, history repeats itself. Fossil fuel trade associations like the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) are official sponsors of the meeting, ready to promote ineffective, destructive ploys like carbon markets as magic “solutions” to the climate crisis.

These carbon pricing schemes — putting a price on carbon and regulating it through markets (i.e., commodifying the air we breathe) — have long been pushed by corporations and Global North countries as a fail-safe for the planet. But, carbon markets fail miserably on this count and are accompanied by devastating human rights violations.

Human rights and environmental injustices are well-documented by communities who live near these so-called “clean development” projects. It is Indigenous peoples, small-scale farmers, forest peoples, youth, communities of color and women who are most impacted by these schemes. For example: Kenya Forest Service guards have violently evicted the Sengwer Indigenous people in the Embobut Forest due to pressures from voluntary international offset schemes that provide financial incentives for forest preservation. In Nigeria, a court found that Shell’s gas flaring denied the Iwerekhan community’s’ right to a “pollution-free” and “poison-free” area. What’s more, Shell has — for decades — failed to honor government imposed deadlines. At the same time, Shell has tried to claim carbon offset credits for ending gas flaring, the very practice it has refused to end.

The historical irony is not lost on us. The fossil fuel industry is pushing self-serving schemes rooted in the colonialism and environmental racism that is at the core of extraction that doesn’t keep fossil fuels in the ground. Carbon markets allow for business as usual for polluting corporations and countries, leaving the Global South to offset emissions and endure the impacts.

As if that weren’t insult enough, these schemes have also failed in the UK, the EU, Canada, Australia, and California in the US. But despite the documented global failures of carbon market schemes, Big Polluters and IETA are seeking to make them the centerpiece of climate policy at upcoming milestones, including Ghana’s Africa Climate Week, thinking that the rest of the world won’t notice their failures.

If polluting countries and corporations are successful, ineffectual interventions — like carbon markets — become central to the global response to climate change. The result: soaring emissions, lives lost, hundreds of millions of people displaced and species extinction.

Instead of permitting the very actors that fueled the climate crisis to advance their own agenda, it is time governments embody true climate leadership by embracing the meaningful solutions communities on the frontlines of climate change already have. That can start next week in Ghana on the road to COP25. The solutions are feasible and affordable, and they work. They include pacts to keep fossil fuels in the ground in the Global North immediately, with a phase-out for the Global South; finance and technology transfer; a total and just transition to community-led renewable energy; and a singular focus on keeping Big Polluters out of climate policy-making.

On behalf of the people of the world: We call for Africa’s leadership in rejecting the dangerous schemes the fossil fuel industry is trying to push. The world looks to Africa for its leadership.



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