EACOP plans in Tanzania and Uganda cause Creation to mourn

The East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline would be the world’s longest heated oil pipeline. But the International Energy Agency has already called for no new fossil-fuel projects. Activists, including Vanessa Nakate, recently visited Pope Francis and received his full support ahead of Laudato si’ Week.

By Jonathon Braden

The song of God’s creation can be heard regularly deep in the Biharamulo Game Reserve in Tanzania. The roars of lions; the trumpeting of elephants; and the rumblings of buffaloes reverberate throughout the 1,300-square-kilometer reserve. Smaller members of God’s creation roam as well, including aardvarks, sitatungas, and the red colobus monkey, which has only five homes left in the world.

Yet the peace and tranquility that have accompanied these members of God’s creation for centuries, as well as countless others throughout Tanzania and Uganda, are newly threatened by an ambitious oil pipeline that could cause unprecedented harm to our common home and has led Pope Francis and the Catholic Church to advocate against it.

What is EACOP?

The East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) is a proposed 1,443-kilometer pipeline that, if completed, would be the longest heated crude oil pipeline in the world. The pipeline begins in Hoima in Uganda and ends in the port of Tanga in Tanzania. In between, it tears through national parks, forests, reserves, and farmland. Already, the pipeline, which is still under construction, has displaced thousands of farmers and upended their livelihoods. It has the potential to cause similar harm to millions of Ugandans and Tanzanians.

The pipeline is being built as scientists are ratcheting up the decibel levels on the climate crisis alarm, and after the International Energy Agency has called for no new fossil-fuel projects if the world is to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The EACOP is expected to generate up to 34 million tons of carbon emissions each year.

“The Catholic Church stands with the people of Uganda and Tanzania in denouncing the EACOP project and asking the two governments to look into investing in projects that are in line with preserving and caring for our common home, the poor, and the economy,” said Fr. Joshtrom Kureethadam, coordinator of the Ecology and Creation sector of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

“To the multinational institutions still supporting and promoting the use of coal, oil, and gas in emerging countries in Africa and everywhere, it’s high time that they divested these funds to the renewable sector. Renewable energy has the potential to drive big economies, create sustainable jobs, and bring down the huge electricity bills brought by the overreliance on fossil fuels.”

Meeting with Pope Francis

Activists, including Vanessa Nakate of Uganda, have been leading the urgent fight against the destructive pipeline. Nakate, the first Fridays For Future striker in Uganda, and three other Ugandan activists recently completed their StopEACOP tour, which included time at the Vatican and a special meeting with Pope Francis.

“The meeting with the Pope is important because activists, environmental defenders, and scientists for years have been reaching out to world leaders about the dangers the people and the planet are facing and asked them to take action, but we haven’t seen any meaningful action. We continue to see continued investment in fossil fuels,” Nakate said. “It’s important to have direct dialogues with the Pope and other leaders to share our stories… and have a heart-to-heart conversation.”

She added that building the EACOP would make keeping global temperature increase to below 1.5 degrees Celsius this century “impossible.” The pipeline also would leave “communities to a point of no recovery from the climate crisis. This conversation will possibly change the minds of polluters when they hear fellow leaders joining in the fight for climate action.”

Nakate and the other three Ugandan activists – Diana Nabiruma of the Africa Institute for Energy Governance; Hilda Flavia Nakabuye, founder of Uganda's Fridays for Future movement; and Maxwell Atuhura of the Tasha Research Institute Africa Limited in Uganda – “want to see an end to the funding of any new fossil-fuel” projects, including the EACOP, and an increased investment in clean and sustainable energy.

Advocating for a just transition

Nakate added that the world needs “a just transition for all without leaving the vulnerable and less-privileged communities behind. The pledge for climate finance to the vulnerable communities to be delivered, and money for loss and damage should also be talked about and provided to the communities.”

Nakabuye said it’s crucial activists work to raise awareness across the globe about problems in their regions. “We want people in Europe and around the world to know about the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline. We want financial institutions and other big companies supporting [energy company] Total to withdraw their support. We want to see this project stopped, as well as any other new oil projects in Africa and around the world,” she said.

Catholic Church Teaching

Catholic Church teaching recognizes that the climate crisis is a grave moral issue threatening every living being in our common home, Fr. Kureethadam said. The climate emergency and ecological crisis harm humankind’s ability to protect human life, health, dignity, and security. The dual crises also gravely affect our ability to promote the common good and care for God’s creation.

Fossil fuels are the primary cause of the climate crisis, and their overuse goes against Pope Francis’ vision of integral ecology that he laid out in the encyclical Laudato si’. His Holiness told a group of leaders from major oil and natural gas companies in 2018: “Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization!”

Pope Francis further defined this vision in October 2020, sharing how everyone can work to bring Laudato si’ to life: “One way to encourage this change is to lead businesses towards the urgent need to commit themselves to the integral care of our common home, excluding from investments those companies that do not meet the parameters of integral ecology, while rewarding those that work concretely, during this transitional phase, to put, at the center of their activities, sustainability, social justice and the promotion of the common good.”

Nakate and her fellow activists are working to place the common good at the center of everything in Uganda and Tanzania, even amid documented attacks against environmental defenders and civil society organizations. The entire Church can lift up their work through committed prayer and action.

Fr. Joshtrom said: “All our efforts, united together, have the potential of promoting the Laudato Si’ Dialogue to every person, and this, we pray, leads to a change of heart so that the world stops the expansion of fossil fuel, biodiversity collapse, and the climate crisis.”

This story was produced through a partnership with Laudato Si’ Movement, which serves the Catholic family worldwide to turn Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si’ into action for climate and ecological justice.

24 May 2022, 10:46