The East African Crude Oil Pipeline, a 900-mile pipeline between Uganda and Tanzania at the Murchison Falls National Park, is about to be built. The $10 billion project has become a flashpoint in the global battle against climate change, as some African governments with unexplored natural resources seek to resist a global push to limit investment in new fossil-fuel projects.
Opponents such as the U.S.-based Climate Accountability Institute, France’s Friends of the Earth and the European Parliament say the pipeline, which needs to be heated to 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) to keep Uganda’s waxy crude liquid, would produce 34.3 million tons in annual greenhouse-gas emissions… But the governments of Uganda and Tanzania are arguing that they can’t afford not to exploit their natural resources while the world still runs on fossil fuels. It is unfair, they say, to ask poor countries to safeguard global carbon sinks and nature reserves that rich Western countries, which are responsible for most historic emissions, destroyed long ago in pursuit of their own economic development.
“Nothing will stop this project,” Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, said from the garden of his official residence in Kampala. “We shall not accept any pressure from anybody. We know what we are doing.” TotalEnergies SE and China’s Cnooc Ltd. are involved in the project. Fitch Solutions estimates that Uganda could earn as much as $2 billion a year in taxes and royalties from the 230,000 barrels-a-day fields and the pipeline, a significant bump to the $4.5 billion it currently collects in domestic taxes.
Uganda’s neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Congo, has faced criticism, including from the Biden administration, over its plans to auction off oil-and-gas drilling sites inside its famed Virunga National Park, home to some of the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas, and peatland and rainforest areas that absorb carbon. Further south, the government of Namibia is under pressure from the United Nations to put a stop to exploratory oil drilling in the Okavango Delta, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The moves aren’t confined to Africa. In Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has bet big on fossil energy. He is building a large oil refinery, the first one in the country since 1979, which is expected to start production in July, and ramped up public investment in oil exploration and production. In response to criticism from the U.S. and environmental groups, Mr. López Obrador has said that climate change became a fashionable topic among rich countries and accused some them of being hypocritical for defending reducing gas emissions while at the same time boosting oil output.
In the case of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline, more than a dozen international banks and insurers—including HSBC, Barclays and major French lenders that have helped finance previous TotalEnergies projects—have publicly said they won’t support it. ..TotalEnergies says it is confident it can raise the financing necessary to build the pipeline, with South Africa’s Standard Bank, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and Japan’s Sumitomo Mitsui Bank acting as lead arrangers for the project loans. People familiar with the project say the participating banks are asking for higher interest rates, which has helped raise the cost of the pipeline to $5 billion from $3.5 billion.
Some officials in poorer countries say such restrictions on developing new oil infrastructure in poor countries exacerbate global inequities, by allowing countries that already have the necessary infrastructure to profit from their fossil-fuel reserves, while potential newcomers are locked out. Uganda, like other African countries, saw protests over record-high fuel prices last year, while Tanzania’s government introduced a costly fuel subsidy to cushion the hit on households and businesses.
Excerpts from Ncholas Bariyom Uganda, Other African Nations Push for Fossil-Fuel Projects, WSJ, Feb. 22, 2023