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“Green Colonialism”: Nigerian Climate Activist Nnimmo Bassey Says Africa Is Being Sold Out at COP28

StoryDecember 07, 2023
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Longtime Nigerian activist and poet Nnimmo Bassey joins us at COP28 in Dubai to discuss how “false climate solutions” like carbon trading markets are hurting efforts to reduce emissions and prevent catastrophic global heating. “People are making deals rather than talking about how to cut emissions at source,” says Bassey. “We’re seeing a sellout of the African continent.” Bassey is director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation and received the Right Livelihood Award in 2010 for his environmental activism.

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StoryDec 06, 2011At Durban Summit, Leading African Activist Calls U.S. Emissions Stance “A Death Sentence for Africa”
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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. We’re broadcasting from COP28, the United Nations climate summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where there is a day of rest today, so we’re among the only ones, along with the workers in this vast facility in Dubai at the Expo, that are here.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: This week protesters from Africa gathered at the entrance of COP28 with a call to make the polluters pay. This is Ina-Maria, a frontline climate activist from Namibia, but first, Bhekumuzi Dean Bhebhe with Power Shift South Africa.

PROTESTERS: The people, united, will never be defeated! The people, united, will never be defeated! I say the people, united, will never be defeated! The people, united, will never be defeated!

BHEKUMUZI DEAN BHEBHE: Our leaders have turned this entire expo into a crime scene, which is why we see this. The injustices are undeniable. They are as undeniable as what has been said about the climate science. It’s clear, and we are witness here, we feel feel the impacts more than anyone across the world. The droughts are clear. The famine is clear. The flooding is clear across Africa. The 600 million people without energy access is clear. The 900 million people in Africa without cooking alternatives is clear. We want justice now. And we refuse energy colonialism. We want climate justice now!

INA-MARIA SHIKONGO: When you walk out of this area, just think — just think for yourself: Is this just that your banks, your financial institutions continue to subsidize these climate criminals? Because that is what they are. Tomorrow, when you find your house underwater, just think: Who were the institutions supporting? Were the institutions the people that are being criminalized, like our late Ken Saro-Wiwa? We are your ancestors. We are you. And we are telling you right now: Make polluters pay!

PROTESTERS: Now!

INA-MARIA SHIKONGO: Make polluters pay!

PROTESTERS: Now!

INA-MARIA SHIKONGO: Make polluters pay!

PROTESTERS: Now!

AMY GOODMAN: Climate activists from Namibia and South Africa. But now we head north. That last reference to Ken Saro-Wiwa, a remarkable climate activist in Nigeria, a leading writer, who was killed by the state of Nigeria.

We’re joined now by Nnimmo Bassey, a man who knew him well, a longtime Nigerian environmental activist and poet, who is here in Dubai, director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation.

It’s great to have you back, Nnimmo. In one of these climate summits, you were arrested. I can’t remember which one. Here, there is protest within the bounds of the U.N. summit. It’s not allowed outside. We are in the United Arab Emirates. If you can talk about what is happening here and what you think needs to happen?

NNIMMO BASSEY: Well, it’s interesting you mention about the arrest. That happened in Copenhagen at COP15. And that was when we were insisting that anything more than 1-degree Celsius temperature increase was setting Africa on fire. And now we are here celebrating 1.5, which has been missed already.

So, the COP — my thinking was that coming to this COP, the negotiators would take note of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Emissions Gap Report, which came out just a couple of days before the COP. That report showed that if countries do all they say they’re going to do as nationally determined contributions, the world would be set for 2.9-degree Celsius temperature increase above pre-industrial level. That would mean about 4 degrees for Africa and for some other regions.

But here, we’ve seen that, right from day one, the agenda of the COP appears to be — the COP appears more like a carbon trade fair. It’s like people are making deals rather than talking about how to cut emissions at source. I’m not really very disappointed about this, because I didn’t expect it to be anything different. You have, as we’ve heard of, as we know, an oil company executive leading the COP. The COP is already compromised.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s one of the largest oil corporations in the world, ADNOC, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Corporation, Sultan Al Jaber, who is the head of this COP.

NNIMMO BASSEY: Yes. And, you know, we’ve heard so many things going on. And with the fossil fuel industry being so prominent here, with bankers crawling the spaces of the COP, we’re seeing a lot of trade discussions. And, you know, this breaks my heart when I look at the way African negotiators or policymakers, the politicians, are bending back and accepting whatever is being thrown at them by the — through those who are investing in carbon offsetting or carbon trading mechanisms. We’re seeing a sellout of African continent.

And we know the implications for this. One, it means once you sell out a territory for a period of time, you’ve lost sovereignty, so to speak, over that place, over that forest, over that community, over that territory. And then it means negatively — negative impact on communities who live in the area that we are selling out. We’re talking about millions of hectares being mapped out to be sold for carbon credit generative facilities. And, you know, some of this means reforestation or forestation. It means clearing the land and planting new trees. Now, that itself emits, releases a lot of carbon from the soil. And then, of course, these new trees are monocultures, and they don’t — they are not as efficient carbon sinks as natural forests. And so we’re seeing losses in every dimension.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, if you could elaborate on that, Nnimmo? What precisely is being discussed here with respect to carbon trading and the purchase of large tracts of land in many parts of Africa, in particular by this Emirati company Blue Carbon? But it’s by no means the only company to be doing this.

NNIMMO BASSEY: Right. I think the COP has continuously been opening up the space for these kind of false climate solutions. And it’s all embedded in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which allows for a false solution like carbon offsetting, like geoengineering, carbon capture and storage. They’re all — these are things that allow polluters to keep on polluting without cutting emissions at source. And so, we’re having corporations like the one you mentioned advancing into many African countries — Liberia, into Kenya, into everywhere, Zimbabwe and the rest. And they’re “investing” — “investing” in quotes — into large tracts of land. And it’s really scary, some of the things we are hearing. We’re hearing some countries may sell up to 20% of their landmass, many of them 10%. And, of course, we hear about the Nigerian states that also are signing memorandum of understanding to sell out about close to 800,000 hectares of land. This is very disturbing. It’s really disturbing. This is like green colonialism. We’ve heard that over and over. This is clear example of selling off territories for a mess of pottage.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And finally, Nnimmo, if you could talk about — you’re one of Nigeria’s leading environmental activists. You have been for decades. What are the implications of the decisions taken here for Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa and also its biggest oil producer?

NNIMMO BASSEY: You’re drilling the oil aspect. Well, Nigeria is a very important country on the African continent for size and population and for this kind of energy conversation. In fact, we always point people, those who want to open up new oil wells, to look at Nigeria to understand why they should not go that way, because the energy — they say, “Oh, look, energy is passion in Africa.” You know, Kavango in Uganda, in the Saloum Delta in Senegal — everywhere you look, new oil or gas facilities are being opened. And they’re open for export, not for use of the resources on the continent, as it’s all about money, and without any care about the people or about the environment.

And so, in the case of Nigeria, this particular way, the Nigerian government right now is very, very excited about carbon trading, about carbon markets. They’re following the examples of the Kenyan government and others. And it’s all about trying to attract resources, financial resources, without considering the impact on the communities, without considering the impact on the climate. And, of course, we have a very particular system in air pollution in places in Nigeria, with gas flaring continuing. And, in fact, one particular oil well that blew up three-and-a-half years ago is still burning as we speak.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us. This is a conversation that we will continue. Nnimmo Bassey, longtime Nigerian environmental activist, poet, director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, author of several books, including Oil Politics and To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and Climate Crisis in Africa. In 2010, he received the Right Livelihood Award.

That does it for our show. Happy birthday, Noam Chomsky! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, here in Dubai.

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