Women from Mozambique, Japan and the US are bringing reality of climate devastation to delegates in Sharm El Sheikh
Three women came to Egypt for COP27 from very different backgrounds, with very different experiences – but they have one shared message: stop financing fossil fuels.
Cut the money. Kill the projects. Save the planet.
It seems a logical approach – but the three activists find it is still necessary to spell it out, by speaking out where they can.
Dipti Bhatnagar is fighting a major new gas-drilling development along the coast of her adopted home country of Mozambique.
The project at Capo Delgado is spearheaded by French oil company TotalEnergies, and is backed by other European and US fossil fuel firms, with money from the British government and other countries.
Currently under construction, it will provide a fresh supply of gas that will be converted to liquefied natural gas (LNG), which will then be shipped to rich countries in Northern Europe. As Dipti sees it, this is a fresh supply of carbon emissions. She is aware of the LNG controversy in Ireland, and pleads for us not to go the same route.
Everywhere fossil fuels have been found in Africa, it has provoked conflict, militarisation and insurgency. We know the pattern.
“We need to fight back against it everywhere, in Ireland and Mozambique and everywhere. We do not have any more space to pollute anymore,” she says.
Apart from the obvious emissions issue, she says the project has caused nothing but grief for Mozambique.
“More than 500 families have been displaced, and people dependent on the sea for survival have lost access to it. The fisherfolk can not access the sea. It has provoked an insurgency – and one million people are refugees.
“Everywhere that fossil fuels have been found in Africa, it has provoked conflict, militarisation and insurgency. We know the pattern. That is why say no. That is why we fight it.”
Ayumi Fukakusa from Japan sees the problem from a different angle – her country is one of those financing new gas projects in developing nations – but she views the outcome in the same way.
“These projects, which the Japanese government is saying is supporting developing countries, is not helping them. It’s fuelling the climate crisis – which harms these countries, but it’s profiting Japanese companies.
“Our government is keen to keep fossil fuels in the energy mix. They are saying it’s for energy security – but dependence on imported fossil fuel is not security, it’s vulnerability. So that does not make sense.”
There are 100 oil refineries within a 10-mile radius of where I live
Sharon Lavigne from St James, in the southern US state of Louisiana, has another perspective.
Her own country’s investments in fossil fuels on its own lands has turned the high-school teacher of 38 years’ service into a full-time campaigner.
Sharon’s community lies in so-called ‘Cancer Alley’ – an area dominated by the petrochemical industry, where there is growing evidence of major public health impacts.
“There are 100 oil refineries within a 10-mile radius of where I live,” she says. But when she was a child, the area was lush – with small farms, vegetable patches and sugarcane fields.
The existing industries are one problem, but the oil companies see a day when renewables will diminish their value – and they are seeking new outlets for their product.
Sharon was prompted into activism by plans for new plants to turn the raw fuel into single-use plastics.
“These fuels are hurting the planet and they’re killing our people. Our government sees jobs but we see life. This is not just our fight, it’s a global fight. That’s why I’m here to tell what’s going on.”
Climate campaigner and former US vice-president Al Gore highlighted the problem in a speech on Monday, condemning rich countries’ “dash for gas” in Africa and other parts of the global south.
It’s this lie of gas as a transition fuel, this lie of gas for development – it’s all rubbish
Jacob Werksman, Europe’s chief negotiator at the climate talks, was asked about the issue yesterday.
“It’s a very sensitive issue,” he said. “Obviously the European Union has a responsibility to make sure we have access to the energy supplies that are necessary for our population – and we have to do this in the context where we have seen our supplies from Russia turned off.
“This requires us to go out into the world and find new supplies – with partners that we haven’t reached out to before, and some of them are in Africa,” he said.
He added that this would be done in an “environmentally and socially responsible” way.
He said Europe would encourage the developing countries it buys fuel from to also plan for a transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewables.
Dipti Bhatnagar said: “The action is going in the opposite direction. Europe is pushing Africa to produce more gas, because of the geopolitics going on there.
“It’s this lie of gas as a transition fuel, this lie of gas for development – it’s all rubbish. They need to stop funding fossil fuels and stop using fossil fuels in their own land.
“The countries in Africa say the US and Europe are going to go on using fossil fuels while they’re telling us not to – and it’s just not right. So it’s this hypocrisy of the north is what we’re trying to expose.”