by Charles Mankhwazi.
The EACOP, a dilemma
What happens when a country discovers fossil fuels in the face of a global climate crisis? Does it prioritize development or climate action? This is the case of Uganda.
Uganda’s discovery of crude oil reserves in 2006 was the largest onshore oil discovery in sub-Saharan Africa in over two decades . Following this, an intergovernmental agreement was reached between Uganda and Tanzania in 2017 to construct one of the world’s longest crude oil pipelines, the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) . The multibillion dollar project stands to spur economic growth in the East African region but also poses major threats to human rights, biodiversity, environmental sustainability, and climate change.
Source: SEI/IGSD, The East African Crude Oil Pipeline – EACOP: a spatial risk perspective (2020)
Uganda’s development is threatened.
Uganda’s oil reserves, comprising an estimated 1.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil  are expected to contribute at least $20 billion in crude oil revenues, an increase in tax revenues for both countries, at least 15,000 direct and indirect jobs , increased energy security and a boost in support for other sub-sectors such as education and healthcare.
Fossil fuelled development is a threat.
Whilst the economic justification for the EACOP is compelling, it is also important to take into account the environmental and social impacts (ESI) that the project will have. For instance, the new crude oil pipeline’s route will pass through seven forest reserves, two game reserves, two game-controlled areas, and one open area that supports wildlife management, covering a total of 295 km of conserved and protected lands. Nearly 2,000 square kilometers of protected wildlife habitats and endangered and vulnerable species will be negatively impacted by the project .
Notably, the project will displace 13,000 households, whilst a total of 118,000 individuals along the projected EACOP route will be impacted . Several land disputes have already been reported whereas human rights abuses are likely to also occur if safeguarding is not enforced and effective grievance mechanisms are not put in place .
The construction of the pipeline is also expected to leave a large footprint behind – whilst potential oil spills pose significant environmental and health risks, particularly in the Albertine graben area – one of the most biodiverse regions in Africa.
Deep Wells, Superficial Claims.
Despite passing the ESI assessments, the consortium of EACOP partners including Total Energies, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), as well as Uganda and Tanzania National Oil and Petroleum Companies, have been accused of making superficial claims of sustainability to obscure the project’s actual environmental impact, a strategy called ‘greenwashing’.
Independent assessments, including one conducted by the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (2022) noted significant gaps in these claims, citing shortcomings in:
- Project-related assessments and consultation processes;
- Improper land valuation, acquisition, and compensation processes;
- Harm to protected areas and natural resources;
- Improper handling of hazardous waste and oil spills;
- Threats and retaliation against human rights and environmental defenders, and community leaders .
It is imperative to also highlight the possible options that Uganda could consider as alternatives to fossil fuel extraction that still enable the country to remain on a development track.
Investments in renewables and cleaner fuels such as wind, solar, hydroelectricity, and natural gas are more sustainable alternatives that could both ease the country’s energy demands and increase foreign direct investments.
Investments in renewable energy also present massive co-benefits that could drive growth in the agricultural sector, which accounts for more than half of the country’s exports.
However, African countries are currently not receiving the adequate finance required for the green transition. According to an International Energy Agency (IEA) 2022 report, available finance for fossil fuels is three times higher than that for green energy .
The right to develop.
For leaders in the East African Community (EAC), the contribution that the EACOP will make to their economic growth is far too significant to ignore. Both the Ugandan and Tanzanian governments believe that they still need fossil fuels to develop, highlighting the unequal benefits that developed countries in the Global North have been able to reap from fossil fuel extraction for such a long time .
As sovereign countries, they argue that they have the right to decide what to do with their resources.
However, the project still draws skepticism regarding who will benefit more from the EACOP, considering the fact that the project is being driven by foreign oil companies and interests such that the majority of the oil is likely to be exported to overseas markets.
In conclusion, the EACOP project raises very important questions about how countries should use their fossil fuel resources in the face of the global climate crisis. With the project scheduled to kick off in 2023, it is important for the consortium partners to strike a balance between economic development and environmental protection. Ultimately, the future of the global energy market must be sustainable, equitable and aligned with the Paris Agreement temperature goal.
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 Petroleum Authority of Uganda (2022), The East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) Project, https://www.pau.go.ug/the-east-african-crude-oil-pipeline-eacop-project, accessed 16 February 2023.
 A. Langer et al (2020). Oil Wealth and Development in Uganda and Beyond: Prospects, Opportunities, and Challenges.Leuven University Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvt9k690
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 Africa Institute for Energy Governance, Inclusive Development International, and BankTrack (2022), Assessment of East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) and Associated Facilities’ Compliance with Equator Principles and IFC Performance, Inclusive Development International.https://www.inclusivedevelopment.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/EACOP-EPs-assessment.pdf
 International Energy Agency (2022), Africa Energy Outlook 2022, World Energy Outlook Special Report.https://iea.blob.core.windows.net/assets/6fa5a6c0-ca73-4a7f-a243-fb5e83ecfb94/AfricaEnergyOutlook2022.pdf
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