Climate activists appeal to pope over East Africa pipeline

ROME – Ugandan climate activists met Pope Francis at the Vatican at the end of his weekly Wednesday audience to ask for his support in their campaign to stop construction of the East African crude oil pipeline (EACOP).

“This meeting with Pope Francis is vital as activists, conservationists and scientists have spoken to world leaders about the dangers people and the planet have faced for years,” said Vanessa Nakate, Ugandan climate justice activist.

“We demanded action, but instead we continue to see continued investment in fossil fuels. It is time to step up our efforts to end the age of fossil fuels and having the pope recognize our campaign for StopEACOP gives even more moral authority to our demands,” she said.

The East African Crude Oil Pipeline is a 900-mile crude oil pipeline project between Hoima in Uganda and the port of Tanga in Tanzania which, if completed, would be the longest pipeline in heated crude oil in the world. French oil giant Total and China National Offshore Oil Corporation are behind the project.

Climate activists say the likely risk of oil spills poses a huge threat to the livelihoods and well-being of tens of millions of Ugandans and Tanzanians, and would generate more than 34 million additional tonnes of carbon emissions. carbon every year – seven times Uganda’s annual total – accelerating the climate crisis.

Pope Francis has been a staunch campaigner in the fight against climate change since the start of his pontificate in 2013. This culminated in the 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’considered the first papal environmental manifesto.

“The oil project requires a lot of land, and they’re taking it from people who need it to grow their crops,” Maxwell Atuhura said. Node Wednesday afternoon. “And people have no other choice, because they receive a small compensation which is not enough to buy land elsewhere.”

Those who are redeemed, he says, live by farming and raising cattle: “Without land, in our region, we cannot survive. People depend on the land.

According to the activist, more than 100,000 people are being forced off their land and the project risks poisoning the water resources and wetlands of Uganda and Tanzania, including the Lake Victoria Basin. More than 40 million people depend on the lake for drinking water, food production and their livelihoods.

“It will violate a host of human rights,” Atuhura said. “The right to property, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to food, the right to education, the right to health, the right to adequate housing, the right to life and security, the right to freedom of expression, assembly and association, as well as the right to free, prior and informed consent, are violated.

He said environmental activists and journalists were being threatened and harassed for opposing the pipeline.

“We need people who can help us amplify our voice as we advocate for saving the whole ecosystem,” Athuhura said. “The Vatican can help us with that. We know that the Pope is one of the most important people in the world and we hope that our presence here will help raise awareness of the challenge we face.

During their visit to Rome, they not only met with Pope Francis at the end of the weekly audience, but also several Vatican officials to discuss the group’s various concerns regarding climate justice and human rights that , according to them, are violated around the building. of the pipeline.

The activists’ meeting with Francis was a stop on the StopEACOP tour across Europe, during which they spoke at the United Nations in Geneva, met with French government officials and met with BNP Paribas officials to demand the end of fossil fuel bank financing.

“The tour helped us mobilize young people and activists in Europe to put pressure on Total [the company behind the pipeline], banks, insurers, the legal system and others to stop EACOP,” said Diana Nabiruma, of the African Energy Governance Institute, a non-profit organization based in Uganda. “In Uganda, we don’t have a lot of space to mobilize and engage in actions such as protests that are needed to create pressure.”

The group says it hopes the people they spoke to during their visit to Rome can continue to press through protests and financial advocacy.

“East Africa’s future lies in building sustainable, diverse and inclusive economies, not letting huge multinational corporations extract resources and retain profits,” Athuhura said.

The activist said “the whole world is realizing that we need to stop burning fossil fuels and therefore the price of oil will continue to fall.”

“Rather than betting its development on a dying industry, we must recognize that East Africa’s economic strength comes from the region’s biodiversity, heritage and natural landscapes,” he said.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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