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Environmental activists from the papal Laudato Si’ movement slam Tanzanian bishops for backing pipeline

NAIROBI, Kenya (OSV News) – Catholic environmental activists in Africa are expressing grave concern after a group of bishops in Tanzania approved a crude oil pipeline project, amid growing calls to ditch fossil fuels for combat climate change.

Activists – members of the Laudato Si’ movement in Africa – have flagged the concern, days after Pope Francis urged the world to quickly ditch fuels to end “the senseless war on creation”.

In East Africa, Catholic activists have again drawn attention to the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project (EACOP), warning that it will contribute to increased greenhouse gas emissions greenhouse gases and aggravate the global climate change crisis.

An endangered East African black rhino and her calf are pictured in a file photo in Tanzania’s Serengeti Park. Catholic environmental activists in Africa are expressing grave concern after a group of bishops in Tanzania approved a crude oil pipeline project, amid growing calls to ditch fossil fuels to tackle climate change. (Photo OSV News/Tom Kirkwood, Reuters)

“We are aware of the position taken by a section of bishops of the Episcopal conference of Tanzania,” Prince Papa M’Kowiti, head of programs for Africa at the Laudato Si’ movement, told OSV News on May 31. . “We urge them to reconsider their support for EACOP and advocate for a just transition away from fossil fuels.

The 898-mile pipeline is designed to transport oil from the Hoima oil fields in western Uganda and deliver the product to the Indian Ocean port of Tanga in Tanzania. Uganda hopes to start transporting its crude oil to international markets through the pipeline by 2025, despite growing opposition.

The pipeline was initially a commercial project between Uganda and Tanzania, but in early May reports emerged that Congo had started discussions with Uganda on how it could use the pipeline to transport oil raw. The entry of an additional state actor has drawn the Congo Basin into the controversial adventure.

After the Amazon, the basin is the second largest carbon sink in the world. A “carbon sink” removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The Congo Basin contains some of the largest tropical rainforests in the world and is an important source of water used for agriculture and energy production.

In a video posted on the Tanzania Bishops’ Conference website and YouTube channel, Archbishop Jude Theddaeus Ruwa’ichi of Dar es Salaam said this is not the first pipeline in Tanzania.

He gave the example of the 55-year-old Tanzania Zambia Mafuta (TAZAMA) pipeline, which stretches over 620 miles, bringing crude oil from the capital, Dar es Salaam, and delivering it to the city. Zambian from Ndola.

“The pipeline has been used for many years and for the benefit of Zambia and has not caused any controversy,” Bishop Ruwa’ichi said, explaining that where there are deposits of natural resources – like oil – these resources must be operated in a way that does not harm the people.

“I hope that the Uganda-Tanga pipeline will be constructed with utmost care and consideration for the country’s security and environmental protection, but for the benefit of the people,” he said. added.

The Archbishop said he thinks those who oppose the pipeline could serve their own interests, since Tanzania is not the first country to exploit and benefit from oil resources.

Rehema Peter, a climate activist in Tanzania, founder of the Tanzanian Partnership for a Green Future and host of Laudato Si’, said he was “shocked” by the new bishops’ stance on the pipeline. She said it seemed the bishops had based their position on false solutions and needed to look at the other side of the coin.

“The project paints a picture of good economic development while the other side is environmental destruction. About 80% of this pipeline passes through Tanzania and will result in so many greenhouse gas emissions, destroy the ozone layer and potentially pollute over 200 rivers,” Peter said in the Laudato Si’ release on 31 may.

“I urge them to independently re-examine the issue of EACOP while taking into account science and research and compare it to Laudato Si’, the message to the whole world.”

Ashley Kitisya, a fossil-free activist for Africa with the Laudato Si’ movement, made a similar call, while emphasizing that the role of the church in protecting people and the planet is paramount.

“TEC (the Episcopal Conference of Tanzania) has the unique position and moral authority to advocate for social change and environmental justice, especially for vulnerable communities in East Africa,” Kitisya told OSV.

But Richard Kakeeto, a Ugandan Laudato Si’ facilitator and professor of law at the Catholic University of East Africa, said he would not be surprised if the bishops were of the view that it was acceptable for both governments to industrialize and take advantage of fossil fuels.

“So there’s a kind of patriotism emerging here (to oppose the moment when) the West is saying you can’t drill that oil because you’re going to increase carbon emissions,” he said. , adding that it would not be a surprise “if the episcopal conferences of the two countries have similar opinions.

The French company Total Energies owns 62% of the pipeline, which will transport 216,000 barrels per day at maximum capacity. Uganda and Tanzania each hold a 15% stake in the pipeline.

The governments of both countries say the pipeline will attract foreign direct investment, create jobs and spur development, but campaigners warn that those likely to suffer the most are farmers, herders and fishing communities.

In November 2019, an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) public hearing conducted by the Uganda Petroleum Authority reported that the pipeline posed significant environmental and social risks.

Campaigners say the pipeline would cause water pollution and biodiversity degradation in the sensitive ecosystems and wildlife habitats it will cross – including the Lake Victoria Basin, Murchison Falls and the Serengeti – all legendary natural sites that the pipeline will pass through. It also threatens to displace local communities, harm livelihoods and violate human rights, environmentalists say.

Highlighting the seriousness of the situation, M’Kowiti said: “Guided by science as well as our faith, we know that the gas pipeline project will have far more diverse negative impacts than what Total Energies is telling the local and international community. .

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