Searching for oil in a ‘no-go zone’

Kavango exploration violates international agreements

13 September 2021 | Environment

Windhoek • [email protected]

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has accepted the application from the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL), with the latter being allowed to submit a last minute motion last week, adding the topic of oil and gas exploration in the Kavango regions of Namibia and the Okavango Delta in Botswana as the 136th item on the agenda of the IUCN World Congress on Conservation currently taking place.
German environmental expert and activist Andy Gheorghiu was delighted in a Twitter message that was immediately picked up by Professor Douglas Rasbash: “This is a huge step forward. [Namibia's President] Hage Geingob and [Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi must now do the right thing and stop exploration until the conditions of the IUCN application have been met.”
In their statements, Rasbash and Gheorghiu refer to the various environmental agreements to which countries like Namibia and Botswana have committed themselves as member states of the UN (specifically the UN development program UNDP and UNESCO).
Interestingly, Dr Gerald Kutney made the comment: “Every disaster movie begins with a government ignoring scientists. The world's governments have already ignored thousands of scientists when it comes to climate change.”
Now that some environmental agreements have come into focus, which Namibia is currently apparently violating or about which the Ministry for the Environment, Forestry and Tourism is silent, it remains to be seen whether the Namibian government intends to make a fundamental change in attitude.

Rights of indigenous peoples
The IUCN Summit addresses localised environmental issues from around the world, with a focus on indigenous peoples and their environment, where they follow traditional lifestyles. This year it is particularly about the final implementation of repeated plans and projects that allow a nature-positive future.
The Nature Positive Organisation enjoys worldwide support, including Birdlife International, Business for Nature, Conservation International, GEF, The Nature Conservancy, World Resources Institute, WWF and many others, including more unusual members such as the Yellowstone & Yukon Conservation Initiative counting.
The motion adopted by IUCN stresses that “the first part of the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that man-made global warming, mainly due to fossil fuels, is already devastating and potentially has caused and will cause irreversible effects”.
If the net zero energy path was followed, there would be no need to develop new oil and gas fields. The Okavango Delta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the world's largest wetland of international importance according to the Ramsar Convention and part of the five-nation Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (the transnational conservation area KAZA-TFCA).
In contradiction to ReconAfrica environmental expert, Dr Sindila Mwiya, the CIEL application points to “the diversity of the ecosystems of the Okavango region and the KAZA-TFCA, in which many indigenous peoples and other local communities as well as many endangered animals live”.
In this regard, the African Charter of Human and Peoples' Rights is highlighted, which guarantees the right to a healthy environment and free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) on the part of the population.
According to the 2016 World Conservation Congress in Hawaii, protected areas were recognised as “no-go zones” for industrial activities, including oil and gas extraction (point 6.102 for protected areas and areas that are important for biodiversity in relation to environmentally harmful industrial activities).

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