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Nigerian Activist Nnimmo Bassey Calls US Emissions Stance “A Death Sentence”


Title Nigerian Activist Nnimmo Bassey   Calls US Emissions Stance “A Death Sentence”
Date released (year) 2011
Production company DemocracyNow
Length 10.15mins
Location South Africa
Keywords/tags Climate change, global warming,   protest, climate justice, Kyoto Protocol, COP17
Link to film
Synopsis Democracy Now! continues its   week-long coverage from the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP 17   in Durban, where negotiators from more than 190 nations are gathered. The   future of the Kyoto Protocol is in doubt as is the formation of a new Green   Climate Fund. With the talks taking place in South Africa, special interest   is being paid to how the continent of Africa is already being heavily   impacted by the climate crisis. Democracy Now! speaks to Nigerian   environmentalist Nnimmo Bassey, Executive Director of Environmental Rights   Action in Nigeria and Chair of Friends of the Earth International. He is   author of the new book, “To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and   Climate Crisis in Africa.”

“We are still in a situation   where the negotiations are being carried out on a big platform of hypocrisy,   a lack of seriousness, a lack of recognition of the fact that Africa is so   heavily impacted,” Bassey says. “For every one degree Celsius   change in temperature, Africa is impacted at a heightened level. This is very   much to be condemned.”


Reviews/discussion On ‘To Cook a Climate’ by Nnimmo   Bassey



There are   some in Africa who argue that having a valuable resource is not necessarily a   curse. They say that nature’s wealth is a blessing and that the curse happens   only in relation to how resources are grabbed, owned, extracted and utilised.   In other words, the curse is located firmly in the social structure of the   world.

Let us start with a caveat about the word ‘resource’, which implies that   nature’s wealth is a bounty, ready for corporate robbery. But we as humans   frame this dilemma of extraction incorrectly if we don’t point out the   intrinsic right of nature to survive on its own terms. Most importantly, we   are part of Mother Earth, not apart from her. Her rights to exist and   reproduce the conditions for all species’ existence are not to be violated.

That said, everyone acknowledges that Africa is resource rich. That the   continent has been a net supplier of energy and raw materials to the North is   not in doubt. That the climate crisis confronting the world today is mainly   rooted in the wealthy economies’ abuse of fossil fuels, indigenous forests   and global commercial agriculture is not in doubt. What has been obfuscated   is how to respond to this reality. Indeed, the question peddled in policy   circles is often what can be done about Africa. And, in moments of   generosity, the question moves to what can be done for Africa.

This book looks at what has been done to Africa and how Africans and peoples   of the world should respond for the collective good of all. The resource   conflicts in Africa have been orchestrated by a history of greed and   rapacious consumption. We ask the question: must these conflicts remain   intractable? We will connect the drive for mindless extraction to the   tightening noose of odious debt repayment and we will demand a fresh look at   the accounting books, asking when environmental costs and other externalities   are included: who really owes what to whom? Isn’t Africa the creditor of the   world, if we take seriously the North’s ‘ecological debt’ to the South?

What makes possible the lack of regulation in Africa’s extractive sectors,   the open robbery and the incredibly destructive extractive activities?   Leading the multiplicity of factors are unjust power relations that follow   from and amplify the baggage of slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism.   From a Nigerian stand-point, but within the tradition of Pan-Africanist   political economy and global political ecology, this book unpacks these   issues and sets up bins for these needless and toxic loads.

Because of my own experiences, the pages that follow pay close attention to   the oil industry in Africa, to the history of environmental justice struggles   in the Niger Delta, to the discovery of oilfields in Uganda’s rift Valley,   and to the big pull of the offshore finds in the Gulf of Guinea. As we   examine the impacts of fossil fuel extraction on the continent, we also look   at massive land grabs for the production of agrofuels and foods for export.

What can Africa do? And once our peoples decide, can the rest of the world   act in solidarity? If not, will we continue on the path laid out by elites, a   path that brings us ever closer to the brink? Must we live in denial even at   a time of a rising tide of social and ecological disasters?

One of the worst gas flares in the Niger Delta is at a former Shell facility   at Oben, on the border of Delta and Edo states. They have been roaring and   crackling non-stop for over 30 years, since Shell first lit them. The flared   gas comes from the crude oil extracted from the oil wells in the Oben field.   As at more than 200 other flow stations across the Niger Delta, these gas   flares belch toxic elements into the atmosphere, poisoning the environment   and the people. Globally, gas flares pump about 400 million tonnes of carbon   dioxide into the atmosphere annually. Here in Nigeria, the climate is   brazenly assaulted both in the short term by gas flaring and over the long   term because of the CO2 emissions from this filthy practice. In the hierarchy   of gas flares infamy, Nigeria is second only to Russia.

Gas flares and oil spills have attracted the attention of the world as the   two most visible assaults on the Niger Delta. It was no surprise that when   the Dutch parliament decided to hold a hearing on the activities of Shell in   Nigeria, journalists and parliamentarians from the Netherlands decided to   visit the region to see things for themselves.

I was at Oben on 18 December 2010 just after the United Nations’ climate   negotiations disaster at Cancun, accompanied by Sharon Gesthuisen, a   Socialist Party member of the Dutch parliament, along with a Dutch diplomat   and Sunny Ofehe of the Hope for the Niger Delta Campaign. Our journey started   in Benin City early in the evening after the parliamentarian had flown in   from Lagos. escorted by a team of Oben community people, we set out on the   hour-long ride along the highway from Benin City to Warri, a road noted for   the high number of military check- points. They would make anyone think that   Nigeria was at war. We meandered through the hazardous roadblocks made with   trash hurled from nearby bushes and veered off the highway at Jesse, just   before Sapele, from where we took a narrow winding road to Oben. Jesse is   important in the tragic history of the Niger Delta: it was the community   where a petrol pipeline fire killed about 1,000 poor villagers in 1998.

We got to Oben at about 7pm and were waved through a military checkpoint set   up to guard the oil flow station and the belching dragons. Gaining entrance   to the heavily guarded facility was easy; leaving was not. As soon as we   arrived, a worker whom we happened across gave us a little talk about what   went on there. People from the community complained about how they had had to   put up with the flares for more than three decades while their dreams of jobs   and development projects faded away.

The Dutch MP was amazed by what she saw. She was happy she had made this   trip, otherwise she would have had to depend solely on the chaperoned visits   arranged by the oil giant Shell in a bid to show how environmentally friendly   they are. The flames leapt and roared relentlessly. We inched as close as we   could before having to turn away because of the unbearable heat. As we turned   to leave, the brightness of the village sky contrasted with the darkness of   the homes that lacked electricity. But we could not leave.

Our cars were surrounded by soldiers of the Joint Task Force (JTF), a   military force that became infamous when an armed unit was created   specifically to punish the Ogoni people in the 1990s. The soldiers demanded   to know by what authority we visited the gas flare site. They would not let   us leave without producing an authorisation letter from the JTF headquarters.   All our explanations that we were there at the invitation of the community   fell on deaf ears. The presence of a Dutch parliamentarian as well as a   diplomat meant nothing to these guys, who apparently knew their script. Hours   went by. The darkness of the night struggled with the glow of the gas flares.   The soldiers stuck to their guns.

The JTF men demanded our car keys and threatened to deflate the tyres. We   would not leave the location that night, they insisted. Threats followed.   Rifles were raised and then lowered. They would not call their superiors.   They were the lords working at the behest of capital.

Eventually a Nigerian journalist who was on our team placed a call to the   media relations officer of the JTF. After much foot dragging the soldiers   wrote down the numbers of our cars and took our names, addresses and   statements before letting us go at midnight. We rode back to Benin City in   silence, each mulling over the hazards faced by communities living in the   oilfields and the human rights abuses inflicted regularly on those who   monitor or question the evils that go on in the land. To the Dutch   parliamentarian, the events of the evening were a good introduction to the   Niger Delta and the operations of the oil companies: exploit, degrade, abuse   and punish the environment and the people. The scenario replays across the   continent.


* This article forms the preface and beginning of chapter 1 from Nnimmo   Bassey’s forthcoming book ‘To Cook a Continent –   Destructive Extraction and the Climate Crisis in Africa’, published by   Pambazuka Press (ISBN: 1-906387-53-2)
* Nnimmo Bassey is a Nigerian environmentalist activist and poet, elected   chair of Friends of the Earth International   and executive director of Environmental   Rights Action. He was named co-winner of the Right Livelihood Award in   2010.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org   or comment online at Pambazuka News.



Durban COP17:   failures in the making | by Patrick   Bond:



The failure of   Durban’s COP17 – a veritable “Conference of Polluters” – is certain, but the   nuance and spin are also important. Binding emissions-cut commitments under   the Kyoto Protocol are impossible given Washington’s push for an alternate   architecture that is also built upon sand. The devils in the details over   climate finance and technology include an extension of private-sector   profit-making opportunities at public expense, plus bizarre new technologies   that threaten planetary safety.

Politically, the overall orientation of global climate policy managers,   especially from the US State Department and World Bank, eventually will be to   displace the main process to the G20. This did not happen in Cannes because   of the Greek and Italian economic crises, but is likely in future. It entails   Washington’s rejection of any potential overall UN solution to the climate   crisis – which in any case is a zero-possibility in the near future because   of the terribly adverse power balance – and the UN’s dismissal of civil   society’s varied critiques of market strategies. The COP negotiators will   also reject climate justice movement’s strategies to keep fossil fuels in the   ground and its demands for state-subsidised, community-controlled,   transformative energy, transport, production, consumption and disposal   systems.
Recall from last December how disappointed the progressive movement was that   in the wake of the 2009 Copenhagen fiasco, the primary face-saving at the   Cancun summit was restoration of faith in carbon markets. The Bolivian   delegation was the only sensible insider team, and they summed up the   summit’s eight shortcomings:

The   Cancun Summut

  •   Effectively kills the only binding   agreement, Kyoto Protocol, in favour of a completely inadequate bottom-up   voluntary approach;
  •   Increases loopholes and flexibilities that   allow developed countries to avoid action via an expansion of offsets and   continued existence of ‘surplus allowances’ of carbon after 2012 by countries   such as Ukraine and Russia, which effectively cancel out any other   reductions;
  •   Finance commitments weakened: commitments to   ‘provide new and additional financial resources’ to developing countries have   been diluted to talking more vaguely about ‘mobilizing [resources] jointly’,   with expectation that this will mainly be provided by carbon markets;
  •   The World Bank is made trustee of the new   Green Climate Fund, which has been strongly opposed by many civil society   groups due to the undemocratic make-up of the Bank and its poor environmental   record;
  •   No discussion of intellectual property   rights, repeatedly raised by many countries, as current rules obstruct   transfer of key climate-related technologies to developing countries;
  •   Constant assumption in favour of market   mechanisms to resolve climate change even though this perspective is not   shared by a number of countries, particularly in Latin America;
  •   Green light given for the controversial   Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD)   programme, which often ends up perversely rewarding those responsible for   deforestation, while dispossessing indigenous and forest dwellers of their   land;
  •   Systematic exclusion of proposals that came   from the historic World Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change, including   proposals for a Climate Justice Tribunal, full recognition of indigenous   rights and rights of Mother Nature.

Nothing   will be different in Durban, but in the meantime all the worst tendencies in   world capitalism have conjoined to prevent progress on the two main areas of   COP 17 decisions: financing and technology. The latter   includes intellectual property rights barriers which must be overcome,   reminiscent of how militant AIDS treatment activists liberated antiretroviral   (ARV) medicines in 2003 at the Doha World Trade Organisation summit. Before   that summit, Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights provisions allowed   Big Pharma to charge $15 000 per person per year for life-saving ARVs, even   though generic drugs cost a fraction of that sum. A similar push to   decommodify vital climate technology is needed, but only a few activists have   prioritised this struggle.

After all, technological processes that threaten the earth have intensified,   such as geo-engineering, shale-gas fracking (endorsed by the SA National   Planning Commission), tar sands extraction, and carbon capture and storage   schemes aiming to bury greenhouse gases. The Johannesburg company SASOL   continues to build up the world’s most CO2-intensive factory by converting   coal and gas to liquid petroleum, for which it requests carbon credits from   the UN.

And   in spite of the Fukushima catastrophe, the US and South Africa continue a   major nuclear energy expansion. The mad idea of seeding the oceans with iron   filings to generate carbon-sequestrating algae blooms continues to get   attention. In October 2010, the Convention on Biological   Diversity in Nagoya, Japan called for a halt to geo-engineering, but a year later   British scientists began experimenting with stratospheric aerosol injections   as a way to artificially cool the planet. As Canadian technology watchdog   Diana Bronson put it, ‘This so-called Solar Radiation Management could have   devastating consequences: altering precipitation patterns, threatening food   supplies and public health, destroying ozone and diminishing the   effectiveness of solar power.’

The   financial mechanisms under debate since Cancun are just as dangerous because   austerity-minded states in the US and European Union are backtracking on   their $100 billion/year promise of a Green Climate Fund to promote carbon   trading. That Fund appears set to re-subsidise carbon markets   by ensuring they become the source of revenues, instead of larger flows of   direct aid from rich countries, which activists suggest should become a down   payment on the North’s ‘climate debt’. The markets have been foiled by their   own internal corruption and contradictions, as well as by left critiques in   key sites such as California and Australia, and rightwing climate change   denialism in the US Congress.

But most importantly, the EU’s emissions trading scheme is still failing to   generate even $10/ton carbon prices, whereas at least $50 would be required   to start substantial shifts from fossil fuels to renewables. And world   financial chaos means no one can trust the markets to self-correct.

Even with a rise of 2° C, scientists generally agree, small islands will   sink, Andean and Himalayan glaciers will melt, coastal areas such as much of   Bangladesh and many port cities will drown and Africa will dry out or in some   places flood. With the trajectory going into Durban, the result will be a   cataclysmic 4–5° C rise in temperature over this century, and if Copenhagen   and Cancun promises are broken, as is reasonable to anticipate, 7° C is   likely.

After 16 annual Conferences of Parties, the power balance within the UN   Framework Convention on Climate Change continues to degenerate. On the other   hand, growing awareness of elite paralysis is rising here in Durban, even   within a generally uncritical mass media.

That means the space occupied by activists will be crucial for highlighting   anti-extraction campaigns including the Canadian tar sands, West Virginia   mountains, Ecuadoran Amazon and Niger Delta – the hottest spots at present.


Expanding the Enviro Fightback
Beyond defensive campaigning, transformative politics are crucial. Robust   South African community protests include sustained demands for a better   environment in townships, including increased housing, electricity, water and   sanitation, waste removal, healthcare and education. Connecting the dots to   climate is the challenge for movement strategists, for example by linking the   rising Eskom price to its decision to build new coal-fired powerplants whose   main beneficiaries are BHP Billiton and Anglo American. The post-apartheid   South African government’s lack of progress on renewable energy, public   transport and ecologically aware production mirrors its failures in basic   service delivery, which have generated among the world’s highest rate of   social protest – and to link these via the new Durban Climate Justice network   will offer a real threat, not of ‘Seattling’ Durban but of establishing a   counter power that cannot be ignored.

Patrick   Bond directs the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society in   Durban. His two most recent books are Politics of Climate Justice and   Durban’s Climate

Links to other resources Facebook:

The African Climate Connection:



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