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Nigerian Environmentalist Nnimmo Bassey: The Global North Owes a Climate Debt to Africa

StoryDecember 08, 2009
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We turn now to one of Nigeria’s best-known environmental leaders, Nnimmo Bassey. He is the founder of Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria, and he serves as the international chair of Friends of the Earth. He has campaigned against Shell Oil’s presence in the Niger Delta for nearly two decades. Last night he spoke at the opening of Klimaforum09. His forthcoming book is titled To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and the Climate Crisis in Africa. [includes rush transcript]

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StoryDec 07, 2023“Green Colonialism”: Nigerian Climate Activist Nnimmo Bassey Says Africa Is Being Sold Out at COP28
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re live in Copenhagen in, well, the only daily global broadcast on television and radio from right here in the Bella Center, where the COP15 climate summit is taking place. We’re in the second day of this summit.

We turn now to Nigeria’s best-known environmental leader, Nnimmo Bassey. He is the founder of Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria. He serves as the international chair of Friends of the Earth. He has campaigned against Shell Oil’s presence in the Niger Delta for nearly two decades. Last night he spoke at the opening of Klimaforum along with Naomi Klein. His forthcoming book is called To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and the Climate Crisis in Africa. To Cook a Continent.

Welcome, Nnimmo.


AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, To Cook a Continent?

NNIMMO BASSEY: Well, Africa has been in the pot for centuries now. It’s where everybody goes to extract resources, to get — right now Africa is divided up. Our land is being grabbed, torn into plantations, torn into agrofuel farms, torn into where people would plant trees and claim carbon credits. Africa is being taken as the backyard where resources are extracted at the least cost and at a maximum profit. Africa is in the pot, and the fire is being stoked by climate change, more than you could imagine.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain climate debt. And what are reparations?

NNIMMO BASSEY: Yeah, you know, when we look at the impacts of global warming, climate change, it’s agreed that Africa is the highest hit. I know the small island states are really hit by it, but we are hearing from scientists that where one degree — the temperature may change by one degree elsewhere, in Africa it’s going to be much more than that. And so, Africa is directly at the front line being hit by global warming. And we all know that Africa is the least contributor to the store of carbon in the atmosphere. So the space has all been taken up. Africa has little space left for development, if we want to follow the same political development paradigm that has caused what we’re facing now. And Africa is being hard hit by the impacts of global warming.

And so, there’s a debt that is being owed Africa by the Global North, by the industrialized nations who are responsible for the climate change that we’re seeing now. And, you know, Africa cannot just be condemned to adapting, adapting, every time adapting to problems they did not create. So the Global North owes a debt — not a gift, not a loan, not a grant, but a real debt — to help Africa develop, to help Africa develop systems that would make it more resilient to the impacts of global warming, as well as helping Africa to adopt technologies that are more green, that are low carbon intensive. And this is in the self-interest of everybody in the world, because if Africa does not now wake up suddenly to begin to pollute as much as others have been doing, then we’re all better off for it.

AMY GOODMAN: Nnimmo Bassey, can you explain the lawsuit that The Hague is now considering against Shell, a decision expected by the end of the year?

NNIMMO BASSEY: Yes, there are three communities in the Niger Delta decided to sue Shell International, Shell Development Company of Nigeria, in The Hague for environmental pollution. This is the first of its kind, because this time around we are not challenging Shell over human rights abuses. We believe they are guilty many times over. We are challenging them for environmental pollution, because over the years they have so brazenly polluted the Nigerian environment. In fact, we have about 300 oil spill incidents every year in the Niger Delta by official estimates. So it’s much more. There is like one spill every day, most of this due to rotten, rusty equipment that the oil corporation deployed in the region.

And so, the communities from Ikot Ada Udo — that’s one, the other one is Oruma, the other one is Goi in Ogoni — are suing Shell for destroying the environment through oil spill. And the case of Goi in Ogoni is very important, because in that community Shell’s pipeline spilled oil in 2004, and Shell has claimed over and over again that they’ve cleaned up the spill. About a week ago I visited Goi just to see for myself what the situation is, and it is like — it’s a devastated swampland, mangroves burnt, destroyed by spills. And there’s just no way the people can fish anymore. The environment is not remediated. Everything is just as it was many years ago by Shell’s spill.

Then another case is that of Ikot Ada Udo in Akwa Ibom state, southeast of Nigeria, in the Niger Delta. Now, early last year, a Shell wellhead suddenly erupted and spilled oil for five months before it was stopped. And it wasn’t stopped until the Nigerian senate sent a delegation to visit the spill, for the spill was becoming like a tourist attraction. Those were — there was an [inaudible] to go to see the wellhead bubbling. And the entire farmland was turned into a crude oil lake. And so, communities are saying Shell has to be held accountable.

And the first hearing came up a couple of days ago in The Hague, where Shell was saying that Shell International cannot be held accountable for what Shell Nigeria does in Nigeria. And that is a big laugh, because they are together. That is a family. They share — they don’t divide the profits. All the money goes to Shell International. So how could they say?

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Nnimmo Bassey, what do you want to happen out of here, when you have world leaders like our own President Obama saying there will not be a binding agreement coming out of COP15, this summit?

NNIMMO BASSEY: It’s really shocking that Obama would say a thing like that, before even coming down here. It’s like telling us that we’ve come here to waste our time. I mean, that kind of statement means to me that we have a lot of time to play around with politics of climate change. But indeed, the world has no time. We’ve run out of time. We are not even in injury time. We’ve gone to the brink. And the United States — President of United States, Obama, has a responsibility to take this matter seriously. It’s an issue of justice. And it’s completely unethical to play politics or play under the table. To make some private secret deals among presidents about climate change, that is totally unacceptable.

AMY GOODMAN: And what are you going to be doing about it, in this last ten, fifteen seconds?

NNIMMO BASSEY: Well, we are here with Friends of the Earth International. We’re here with [inaudible]. We have civil societies, climate justice activists. We’re all here, and we’re going to push as hard as we can that false solutions are not the way to go. Climate change can be tackled, and it must be tackled at the source.

AMY GOODMAN: Nnimmo Bassey, I want to thank you very much for being with us, co-founder of Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria and Friends of the Earth International chair.

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