Cape Town — Ugandan activists have met Pope Francis to ask for his support in stopping the East African Crude Pipline (EACOP) - a heated crude oil pipeline planned to run from Hoima in Uganda to the port of Tanga in Tanzania. The proposed project will cover an area of 1,443-kilometres and run near Africa's largest freshwater reserve - Lake Victoria - posing a huge threat to local livelihoods and biodiversity in the region. According to 350.org, more than 100,000 people are being forced off their land and are facing expropriation.
The oil deal signed in February by France's TotalEnergies and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation is looking to exploit crude oil reserves under Lake Albert, on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. If this project goes ahead it will be the longest heated crude oil pipeline in the world.
Climate justice activist Vanessa Nakate, together with Diana Nabiruma of the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), a non-profit based in Uganda and Maxwell Atuhura, the Executive Director at Tasha Research Institute Africa Limited, based in Uganda, met with the Pope.
"Pope Francis has been consistent in support of a global shift away from fossil fuels, providing a moral framework for a clean energy transition outlined within his 2015 encyclical 'Laudato Si', and more recently urging Catholics to stop investing in fossil fuels in 2020", according to 350.org.
Diana Nabiruma says that "the tour has helped us to mobilize youth and activists in Europe to create pressure on Total, banks, insurers, the legal system and others to stop the EACOP. In Uganda, we don't have much space to mobilize and engage in actions such as protests that are needed to create pressure. We hope that the youth and activists we have engaged can continue to create pressure through protests, financial advocacy, engaging insurers and more."
The visit comes against the backdrop of the ongoing Russian attacks on Ukraine that have placed pressure on global gas and petroleum supplies and is pushing some countries to accelerate plans to move away from fossil fuels even as others see an opportunity to replace Russia's supplies on the global market.
Activists, indigenous peoples and even the United Nations Chief António Guterres have repeatedly called for divestment from fossil fuels as the impact of the climate crisis becomes increasingly dire around the world but more so in Africa, where countries have contributed least to the current crisis.
A recent UN report has drawn attention to the possible role of groundwater in mitigating the impact of global water shortages as droughts become more frequent and rains more unpredictable. But mining poses a risk not only to water bodies but can pollute groundwater as well.
350.org say this project will contribute and additional 34 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year, even as countries are not reducing emissions at level sufficient to meet the target of keeping global temperatures to an increase of 1.5 degrees celsius.
"This meeting with Pope Francis is vital because activists, environmental defenders and scientists have been reaching out to world leaders about the dangers the people and the planet are facing, for years now. We've demanded that they take action but instead we continue to see continued investment in fossil fuels. It is time to escalate our efforts to end the age of fossil fuels and having the Pope acknowledge our campaign to StopEACOP lends even more moral authority to our demands," Vanessa Nakate said.