The oil industry is devastating Nigeria’s environment – for Germany’s benefit?

Aerial view of an oil spill on a river in Nigeria An oil spill pollutes a river in the Niger Delta (© Marten van Dijl/Milieudefensie) Oil pollution in the Niger Delta The oil industry is destroying the lives of Nigerian communities (© Luka Tomac/Friends of the Earth International)

Environmental activists in Africa are pushing back against the fossil fuel industry. Numerous oil and gas projects are endangering human health, the environment and the climate. Yet Germany wants to import more oil and gas from there – from Nigeria in particular. Tell Chancellor Scholz to put an immediate end to this devastating policy.

Call to action

To: Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Minister for Economic Affairs Robert Habeck, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock

“Environmentalists in Africa are pushing back against the fossil fuel industry. Germany must support them and promote renewable energies.”

Read letter

For more than 50 years, companies such as Shell, Chevron and ENI have been operating natural gas and oil fields in the Niger Delta and off the coast, leaving it one of the most polluted regions on the planet. The fossil fuel industry has turned the delta into an apocalyptic hellscape of dead mangrove forests, rivers shimmering with spilled oil, fires and choking smoke.

Nigeria serves as a cautionary tale for environmentalists in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo – where the government is currently auctioning off 30 oil and gas concessions – when warning people about the dangers of fossil fuels. Nigeria provides a vivid illustration of how the oil industry can destroy their lives.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Europe and Germany in particular have been scrambling to wean themselves off of Russian gas imports. The source countries of liquified natural gas in particular are given little consideration: Canada, Senegal, Qatar – and now Nigeria. Nigeria, of all places!

In his concern for Germany’s short-term energy security, Chancellor Olaf Scholz does not seem particularly moved by Nigeria's man-made environmental disaster. On October 29, 2023, he visited Nigeria, acting as Germany’s buyer-in-chief of oil and gas. Nigeria’s contribution to Germany’s energy needs has been negligible to date, but Scholz wants to ramp it up dramatically. Above all, he would like Nigeria to produce and export more gas.

A likely scenario: Encouraged by Germany, Nigeria invests billions of dollars in oil and gas infrastructure. In a few years, Germany will drastically reduce its consumption as it transitions to renewable energy. Meanwhile, Nigeria will remain chained to the fossil fuel industry for decades to come due to its high level of investment – despite the country’s vast potential for solar and wind energy.

Together with environmentalists from Nigeria and other countries threatened by oil and gas projects such as Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, we are calling for a 180-degree turnaround.

Back­ground

Nigeria’s gas and oil reserves

The analysis “Phasing down or phasing up?” provides a good overview of the oil and gas sector and the government’s plans in the face of the climate crisis.

Nigeria has the largest natural gas reserves in Africa, of which the country has only exported a small share to date. Europe currently obtains only 14 percent of its liquefied natural gas imports by ship from Nigeria.

Nigeria’s government has declared the 2020s to be the “Decade of Gas” after 2020 was already the “Year of Gas”.

A planned 4,400 km pipeline to transport Nigerian gas through Niger to Algeria has been on hold since 2009. The main reason appears to be the estimated costs of 13 billion US dollars, as well as security risks such as attacks on the pipeline. Yet the Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano gas pipeline to the north of the country is currently being built.

Despite being one of Africa’s largest oil and gas producers, Nigeria cannot meet its own domestic demand for gasoline and diesel and is dependent on imports. Four refineries have been idle for years, but are due to go back into operation by the end of 2024. Fuel was heavily subsidized in the past. When subsidies were cut, the prices of many products skyrocketed.

Niger Delta disaster area

The Guardian published a photo essay entitled ”’This place used to be green’: the brutal impact of oil in the Niger Delta” documenting the extent of environmental pollution and the suffering of the people.

There are more than 5,000 oil wells, 7,000 kilometers of pipelines and 10 export terminals in the Niger Delta. 75 percent of the natural gas is burned at over 200 gas flares.

According to the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency of the Nigerian Ministry of the Environment, there were 605 oil spills in 2022. More than 7 million liters of crude oil were released into the environment – the equivalent of 224 tanker trucks.

Much of the pollution is caused by terrorist attacks, sabotage, the illegal tapping of pipelines and illegal refineries. This shows the risks associated with oil production, as it is not possible to protect plants effectively.

The exploitation of oil and gas has not led to prosperity for the people, but has contributed to violence, crime and poverty. In November 2023, a court in London ruled that more than 13,000 farmers and fishers from the Niger Delta can sue Shell in the UK for polluting rivers and destroying their livelihoods.

Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate

The prominent Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate put it succinctly in her Guardian opinion piece “Rich countries should stop pushing fossil fuels on Africa - don’t we deserve a renewable future too?”:

“(Gas projects) were never in our interests, because burning or selling fossil fuels is a terrible deal for Africa. ... When African people get to choose, we choose renewables. ...

It’s time to decide. Will rich nations’ governments keep holding Africa back by making us a dumping ground for the dying fossil fuel industry? Or will they finally let us lead the world in delivering a secure, just and clean future?”

“Renewables – Not Fossil Gas” position statement

In October 2022, several African environmental organizations published a paper entitled “Renewables – Not Fossil Gas”. It states:

“The recent dash for Africa’s gas as Europe weans off Russian gas does not support the  African ambition of ending energy poverty, achieving prosperity, and building resilience  to the climate chaos. Instead, the dash for Africa’s gas presents multiple risks and  disadvantages for the African people and the world.

Investments in large gas production will lock African countries in the gas sector for the  coming decades ... compromising Africa’s mitigation goals.

Investing Africa’s limited resources in  developing huge infrastructure needed to supply gas to meet the current short term  European demand will leave African countries with stranded assets and unpayable debt,  without addressing energy access crises on the continent thus degrading the lives of  people as they'll be in even greater debt than before.”

Renewable sources of energy

Renewable energies that are particularly suitable in Africa and Nigeria in particular are wind and solar energy. These must be adapted to the location and local conditions.

In particular, industrially produced biomass such as palm oil must be ruled out due to its devastating consequences for the environment. Rainforest Rescue has never considered palm oil to be renewable, and the EU no longer counts palm oil toward its gross consumption of energy from renewable sources.

Letter

To: Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Minister for Economic Affairs Robert Habeck, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock

Dear Mr. Chancellor,

dear Minister Habeck,

dear Minister Baerbock,

The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine has sent your government on a worldwide search for suppliers of natural gas to cover Germany’s needs. Africa has been one focus of your search.

This policy is devastating for the fight against the global climate crisis, for nature and for the people who are already suffering the effects of the climate crisis, particularly in Africa.

Encouraging the government in Nigeria, of all countries, to increase the production of natural gas and oil is particularly shocking in view of the unparalleled environmental damage caused by the extraction of fossil fuels in the Niger Delta. Nigeria should be seen as a cautionary tale, not a country that warrants such encouragement.

Africa needs a more sustainable future:

“We can’t drink oil and coexist with toxic gases. Germany should combine its efforts to stop human rights violations and prevent environmental and climate disasters instead of contributing to injustice and impunity for the sake of dirty profits.” – Maxwell Atuhura (Tasha, Uganda)

“Germany is an important partner for Africa. It plays a major role in the continent’s economic and social development, but it must also assume its responsibilities in terms of environmental protection. We are convinced that Germany can play a leading role in Africa's energy transition. By supporting the development of renewable energies, Germany will contribute to a cleaner, more sustainable and prosperous future for Africa and the entire planet.” – François Biloko (Réseau CREF, Democratic Republic of Congo)

“Oil and gas exploration by multinationals in Africa have been reckless with exploration terms wantonly abused thereby leaving community people and the environment with much more harm than gains.” – Martins Egot (PADIC-Africa), Nigeria

Together, we call on you to:

- Stop exploiting Africa as a source of fossil fuels.

- Stop funding the exploitation of fossil fuels in Africa.

- Pursue a climate protection policy in Europe that focuses on consistently reducing consumption and switching to renewable energies.

- Invest massively in the expansion of renewable energy in Africa. The eradication of energy poverty in Africa must take priority over exports to rich countries.

Yours faithfully,

Topic

How the climate and rainforests are linked

 

Rainforests are complex ecosystems in which a vast number of animal, plant and fungi species are tightly interdependent. They play a major role in the local and global climate: In a process called photosynthesis, plants absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air. With the help of water and sunlight, they form sugar and from it other plant building blocks. In doing so, plants sequester carbon in stems, leaves and roots while releasing oxygen into the atmosphere.

According to estimates, rainforests sequester 250 billion tons of CO2, much of it in peat forests. Globally, this is equal to 90 times the man-made greenhouse gas emissions per year. 40 percent of the oxygen in the atmosphere comes from rainforests. While the metaphor of forests as the “lungs of the Earth” does not fit perfectly, it certainly does underscore their vital role.

Rainforests themselves produce a large part of the high year-round rainfall they receive. Evapotranspiration, i.e. the moisture that the plants release through their leaves, is an important aspect here. The forests are hot and humid, but the clouds reflect much of the sunlight back into space – thus cooling the atmosphere. Without this effect, the areas would be even warmer.

As carbon sinks and rainmakers, intact forests play an important role in regulating the climate and are crucial to the fight against catastrophic climate change.

The problem: catastrophic climate change and forest destruction

 

Rainforests are increasingly unable to act as climate stabilizers: When they are destroyed for plantations, grazing area or mining projects, vast amounts of greenhouse gases are released. For example, forest fires in Indonesia accounted for one-third of total global emissions in 1997. The loss of peat forests is particularly devastating.

According to a study published by Nature, rainforests could tip from carbon sinks to carbon emitters solely due to changing climatic and growth conditions from 2035 onward – thus accelerating catastrophic climate change.

Because of the intricate interdependencies of the rainforest ecosystem, the entire web can suffer if it is damaged in one place. Take the water cycle, for example. If drier periods occur as a result of global climate change – and this is already being observed – the cycle may break down. This can lead to evergreen, lush rainforests becoming grasslands with far lower biodiversity. The local climate would become drier and hotter.

The 18 tipping points in the climate system are particularly ominous: If, for example, climate change in the Amazon region reaches a certain point, the process and the loss of the rainforest in its current form will become unstoppable.

One thing is clear: catastrophic climate change is man-made. 98 percent of the scientists who study climate issues agree. Because the climate is a highly complex system, researchers are constantly discovering new relationships, interpreting data in different ways and revising forecasts. This is completely normal in science. However, the findings of climatologists are becoming increasingly alarming.

The solution: rainforest protection is climate protection

 

Rainforests must be preserved because they are indispensable as carbon sinks and their further destruction would worsen the impact of catastrophic climate change. Climate protection is therefore rainforest protection and vice versa.

  • We need to preserve forests and nature and heal damage. Forests are more than just carbon sinks – they are diverse ecosystems and home to millions of people.
  • We need to protect the climate while preserving biodiversity. Catastrophic climate change and extinction are two existential crises that we must tackle together.
  • We need to secure and strengthen the rights of indigenous peoples, who are often the forest's best stewards: We call it the rainforest – they call it home.
  • We need to fundamentally change our way of life and how we do business: This will mean reducing our consumption of energy, food and raw materials instead of maintaining it by turning to “green products”. We must stop burning fossil fuels.
  • We need to reform flawed climate policy: We must end the misguided use of biofuels, especially if they are based on palm oil, soy or sugar cane, and stop burning trees in power plants.
  • We reject offset programs as a modern “indulgence trade” in which companies finance environmental protection measures in return for being allowed to pollute. We also reject supposedly more climate-friendly “bridge technologies” like replacing coal with natural gas.
  • In the wake of the Covid pandemic, we need to rebuild the economy and society in an environmentally sound way. There must be no economic “stimulus programs” based on old formulas.

At the same time, Covid has shown that we are capable of creating rapid and profound change in the face of an existential crisis.

Footnotes

Nigeria

German weekly newspaper Die Zeit emphasizes the topic of gas for the Chancellor’s trip: Bundeskanzler Scholz will Erdgas aus Nigeria importieren


more gas

Scholz’s initiative is not happening in a vacuum: Nigeria’s government is already geared toward gas.

During the COP 26 climate conference in Glasgow in 2021, Nigeria’s then President Muhammadu Buhari announced that his country would be climate-neutral by 2060. This is spelled out in Nigeria’s Energy Transition Plan (ETP).

A government press release states that President Buhari is calling for a “gas-based energy transition” in Nigeria:

Nigeria is actually more of a gas than an oil producing country. Consequently, I am requesting for financing of projects using transition fuels, such as gas.”

However, Nigeria’s government is targeting the domestic market and energy supply in the country and not exports, as Scholz would like.


Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo

The following partner organizations of Rainforest Rescue are directly involved in this petition:

Tasha in Uganda. Tasha is active against the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) and the Tilenga and Kingfisher oil projects of TotalEnergies (France) and CNOOC (China).

Réseau CREF in the Democratic Republic of Congo is fighting against the exploitation of oil in Virunga National Park and against the awarding of 30 oil and gas concessions by the government in Kinshasa.

PADIC-Africa in Nigeria works closely with the rural population in Cross River State and beyond.

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