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Threats and abuses of the growing gas industry in Mozambique

Mozambique is rapidly becoming one of the Liquified natural gas (LNG) giants of the world. With little international media coverage, oil and gas monsters such as Exxon, Eni, Chevron, Shell and BP are rubbing their hands at the million dollar business prospects in this African country. Ongoing projects, whilst still in their exploration and construction stages, are already displacing local communities and jeopardizing livelihoods, while greenhouse gas emissions are set to grow exponentially in the midst of a climate crisis.

Two projects which have already received the necessary permits and funding stand out. Extraction operations are expected to begin in 2022, located in the Rovuma Basin, to the North of the country, near the border with Tanzania. One is the “Mozambique LNG Project”, led by US Anadarko, in Concession Area 1. The offshore construction works have not yet started. In May, French corporation Total acquired Anadarko’s African assets, and are set to take over the Mozambique project operations at the end of the year. Meanwhile, the “Coral South Floating LNG” project, led by Italian Eni and also US ExxonMobil, has already started offshore construction works in Concession Area 4.

The new hydrocarbon business in Mozambique also favors other giants in the sector, including British BP and Royal Dutch Shell, as well as French banks such as BNP Paribas, Société Générale and Crédit Agricole, Chinese and Indian state companies, Japanese companies such as Mitsui, and also companies from Korea, among others.

Activist Ilham Rawoot, member of Justiça Ambiental (JA!)/Friends of the Earth Mozambique [1], highlighted in an interview with Real World Radio the current dynamics of the expanding gas sector in Mozambique, including continuous capital injections and different actors who do not take responsibility for the negative impacts they cause.

“Even though we are just in the construction phase, the impacts are terrible”, said Ilham. For instance, the Mozambique LNG Project plans to forcefully remove 556 families from their homes and lands. “They are going to lose their farming lands, their access to the sea, because a lot of them are fishing people”. JA!/Friends of the Earth Mozambique has visited these local communities. In a press statement issued in early July, the environmental organization warned that the compensation agreements between Anadarko and the affected communities are mostly inadequate and have not been entirely implemented.

“People are basically going to lose their livelihoods”, stated Ilham. The activist also explained that “the farmland that farming communities are given are very far away from where they are going to be resettled”, and that “the fishing people are being moved about 10 kilometers from the sea”, which would also be seriously polluted.

In addition, the climate impacts are expected to be massive. The Mozambique LNG Project alone will increase greenhouse gas emissions in the whole country by 10 percent per year by 2022.

The struggle for a Binding Treaty on Transnational Corporations and Human Rights: resistance from Northern governments

In mid-June, Ilham and other environmental and human rights defenders from several countries of the Global South held a ‘lobby tour’ through Madrid, Paris, Amsterdam, The Hague and Brussels, joined by Friends of the Earth Europe [2]. The goal was to push in favor of the Binding Treaty currently under negotiation at the UN on transnational corporations and human rights abuses [3].

This Treaty is particularly important for organizations and social movements around the world, which see it as the only way to ensure justice for communities affected by big companies [4]. The treaty is seen as a threat by the corporate sectors and different governments in the Global North, where the companies are from. In fact, the European Union has tried to derail negotiations since they first began several years ago.

During the lobby tour, the activists met with government representatives, MPs, business executives (even participating in some Annual General Meetings) and members of social organizations. The goal was to build new alliances with different organizations, strengthen existing alliances, and face corporate power. Ilham felt that it was a unique opportunity to see the corporate executives that are today participating in Mozambique’s gas boom, almost all of them from the Global North. “European governments often take European organizations a lot more seriously than they do with African organizations unfortunately”, said the environmental activist.

In terms of the meetings held in Europe with representatives from the gas industry and governments, Ilham considered them “in general quite hostile.” “What I took out of it mostly was that these companies and governments are either very stupid and oblivious or very clever how they hide how much they know”, she said.

The representative of JA!/Friends of the Earth Mozambique attended the Shell AGM with members of Millieudefensie/Friends of the Earth Netherlands [5]. Shell is one of the largest buyers of gas in Mozambique. At the company’s AGM, Ilham asked about the environmental impact studies of gas activities in Mozambique, and the actions by the company in affected areas. But she got no response. According to Ilham, after insisting for an answer, Ben van Beurden, Shell’s CEO, said to her: “I don’t think you really understand climate change”, and then added, “what’s happening on the ground is not Shell’s responsibility; we will not be held accountable for Anadarko’s actions on the ground”. Ilham could only assess from this that “they take absolutely no responsibility for what’s happening”.

The environmental activist was also shocked by a conversation she had with a government official from The Netherlands, whom she preferred not to name. According to Ilham, when she mentioned the Binding Treaty to this person, the response was “but what about China?” The Northern governments are not willing to give up privileges that China could take advantage of. “It’s such a lame excuse”, said Ilham. “So I said ‘are you basically saying that you are not going to stop peeing in the sand because the other bullies are still peeing in the sand?’. And they said ‘well, if we disinvest or we pull out of Mozambique, Chinese companies will still invest in Mozambique’.  So I said: ‘but how can you tell other companies what to do and other countries what to do if you don’t take responsibility yourself?’”

At the end of the interview, Ilham stated that the binding treaty is “crucial for Mozambique”, because “there is absolutely no accountability for any companies to any of their own Governments even”. “The only way we can hold them accountable, the only way we can say ‘actually this is not OK, you need to stop’ would be the binding treaty, there is no other way”.