Dear Church Times:
On Earth day we received the devastating news that the Church Commission had decided to side against the climate activists on behalf of Shell. Their commitments are now lagging 20 years behind the Church of England commitment to net zero
This sent a wave of disbelief, pain and anger amongst climate activists, young people and indigenous peoples. I want to speak of the impact of fossil fuel companies in my Province of Southern Africa.
Fossil fuel companies see the future as a move from oil to gas – and they are targeting Southern Africa where they are exploring and exploiting more gas fields.
In our Province we are currently facing two devastating issues. In Namibia, Bishop Luke Pato woke up to discover that exploratory drilling by Canadian company ReconAfrica had already started. Taking advantage of the COVID lockdowns, they had moved forward without the necessary environmental impact assessments. They had gained rights to drill for oil in more than 35,000 square kilometres of the Kavango Basin, an environmentally sensitive protected area that supplies water to the Okavango Delta – a world Heritage site, one of the seven natural wonders of Africa. This exploration violates the rights of the San and Kavango Indigenous people. The drilling threatens the groundwater of Namibia, the driest country south of the Sahara. When the story was broken by the local newspaper, the Namibia, Recon Africa threatened to sue the newspaper. All the Bishops of our Province together with the two Canadian Archbishops have signed a protest petition. https://www.anglicannews.org/news/2021/03/anglican-bishops-call-for-a-halt-in-oil-drilling-in-namibia%E2%80%99s-kavango-basin.aspx
An even worse scenario is taking place in Northern Mozambique – one of the poorest countries on this planet. Vast gas deposits have been found worth an estimated 60 billion dollars. The enormous projects have not benefitted the local communities, people have been forced off their land , and human rights abuses have taken place. This has created a boiling pot of resentment, where young men have been recruited into Al Shabaab. Horrific massacres have taken place, including beheadings of children as young as eleven. Over half a million people have fled the area and are living in desperate straits. The Diocese of Nampula is assisting hundreds of traumatised families. As Bishop Ernesto Manuel says – the violence only occurs in districts where the drilling takes place.
For Climate activists in Africa, to hear that the Commissioners are siding with Shell is particularly painful to hear. For decades environmentalists have been battling with Shell in Nigeria’s Delta region. Human rights abuses, environmental degradation on an apocalyptic scale have been the result of Shell’s activities. The West Coast now has more piracy than the Horn of Africa, as young men, who have lost their livelihood as fishermen due to pollution in the Delta turn to piracy, making the West Coast of Africa now the global piracy hotspot.
In South Africa a decade we have been fighting to stop Shell from “Fracking the Karoo” – one of the most water scarce areas in the country, where pollution of the groundwater sources risks destroying agriculture for generations to come.
Oil companies are now targeting Southern africa as the environmental laws are much weaker than Europe. Sadly, politicians are often open for corruption. The local communities affected by the drilling are often hundreds even thousands of kilometres away from the capital city. Rural and indigenous peoples often do not have land rights, the land being held by the local chief or governor who can hand those rights over to the oil companies if given incentives.
The profits that the Church of England will make over the next thirty years come at the cost of human rights abuses, trampling of the rights of indigenous people, environmental degradation and pollution of water sources.
Canon Rachel Mash
Anglican Church of Southern Africa
Published in the Church Times, 30 May 2021
Image Amnesty International
Reference: An analysis of the violence in Mozambique