Africa

Conflicts fuelled, marine ecosystems at risk: Green group report highlights LNG expansion impact in East Africa

Critical habitats along Indian Ocean coastline threatened, violent conflicts in Mozambique ignited

 
By Maina Waruru
Published: Tuesday 11 June 2024
LNG reservoirs. Photo for representation: iStock

A new report by non-governmental organisation Earth Insight warns of the dire consequences of continued liquefied natural gas (LNG) development worldwide. The report highlights the endangerment of critically important marine ecosystems and species along the Indian Ocean coastline, along with fueling violent conflict in East Africa.

The report, Anything But Natural: Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) Infrastructure Expansion Threats to Coastal & Marine Ecosystems, was launched on June 8, 2024 to commemorate World Oceans Day. The Western Indian Ocean East African coastline is rich in biodiversity because it contains a variety of habitats such as shallow lagoons, fringing reefs, deep oceanic waters, submarine canyons and seamounts, all of which are now under threat, it said.

The paper pointed out that export infrastructure is being developed in the coastal breeding grounds of the Important Marine Mammal Area (IMMA), where Southern hemisphere humpback whales mate, calve and nurse off the coast of LNG-rich Mozambique.

It discovered that, with an estimated 2.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves, exploration and development in general could have a negative impact on the Comoros Islands (off the East African coast) chain IMMA, which is also an important marine protected area located near the proposed facilities.

This is due to the multiple LNG proposed export terminals proposed, all of which are located in or near the Mozambique Coastal Breeding Grounds. The projects in particular endanger marine mammals abundant and diverse in the area, ranging from endangered Indian Ocean humpback dolphins to dwarf sperm whales and dugongs, all of which are threatened by the construction of the offshore export infrastructure.

It reveals that LNG development jeopardised the survival of three critically endangered species: Great hammerhead, spotted eagle ray and largetooth sawfish.

The Indian Ocean humpback dolphin is also endangered and the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin is considered near threatened. Sperm whales are also in danger.

“There are plans to expand LNG infrastructure off the [East African] coast, near the border between Tanzania and Mozambique. There is currently only one LNG export terminal operating in the region, with capacity for 3.4 [million tonnes per annum] mtpa. But there are plans to build nine new terminals in Mozambique which will increase the LNG export capacity with an additional 57.3 mtpa,” the paper said.

In 2023, Mozambique earned $1.7 billion in revenue from LNG sales, a 218 per cent increase from the previous year. With the upcoming expansion, the country hopes to increase these earnings to a whopping $91.7 billion in the coming decades.

Nevertheless, community groups claim the projects are riddled with “tax avoidance” that could lose the country billions in taxes over the project lifecycles, plus “unfair benefit-sharing terms that delay payments to the Mozambique state company for at least another 10 years”.

It is little wonder that Mozambique gas developments, largely led by French oil giant TotalEnergies, have sparked deadly conflicts already causing displacement of local communities besides thousands of deaths.

“The region is experiencing a severe humanitarian crisis because of a violent insurgency in northern Mozambique since 2017, worsened by militarisation in relation to the gas projects. During a single attack on Palma Village in 2021, more than 1,200 civilians were killed or kidnapped and tens of thousands became refugees,” the Earth Institute document explains.

During that attack, the military allegedly focused on gas project sites, leaving the majority of civilians unprotected and civilians were denied refuge in the military-protected area.

As a result, in late 2023, survivors and families of victims of that attack filed a criminal complaint against TotalEnergies for involuntary manslaughter and failure to assist a person in danger, an allegation that French prosecutors in Paris were allegedly investigating.

The LNG resource has sparked unrest in Mozambique’s northern neighbour, Tanzania, where residents of Mtwara, in the country’s south, opposed the Mtwara-Dar es Salaam pipeline, which would transport gas from Mnazi Bay to the port of Dar es Salaam, claiming the government had not taken their concerns into account and that the project would not directly benefit them.

“When the project was finally approved, this local opposition was met with violence and many people were killed, although the exact number is disputed. A few years later, more than 600 residents of Likong’o, a village in Lindi, also in south Tanzania, were relocated to make space for a new LNG terminal,” the report explained.

According to Anabela Lemos, director of the environmental group Friends of the Earth Mozambique, the economic and human rights arguments for halting gas development are compelling, particularly the fact that Mozambique will receive “disturbingly low” revenues from gas development while facing significant liability for project failure.

“We have significant concerns around the gas projects in Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique and have raised these directly with the Mozambican government, financiers and the gas companies involved,” Lemos told Down To Earth

“The region is pristine and supports a wealth of biodiversity — including many iconic species such as the humpback whales. Until recently, these valuable natural resources have been protected through sustainable and respectful use by the many communities who depend on them for livelihoods,” she added.

People should phase out fossil fuel development around the world, including Mozambique, rather than starting new projects that will destroy local economies and stymie the energy transition, she said.

Overall, the paper faults LNG’s role in carbon emissions, warning that it is mostly composed of methane gas and will in the next few years gobble up more than $1 trillion in new investments while leaving behind “multifold” negative consequences, particularly for the world’s oceans.

The report read: 

When methane is burned to obtain energy, it produces less carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels, such as oil or gas. However, methane is in itself a potent greenhouse gas, responsible for almost a third of all global warming we are experiencing today. If current plans materialise, in the next few years governments around the world will spend more than US$1 trillion in new gas infrastructure. The negative consequences of this expansion will be multifold — particularly for the world’s oceans.

It also warned that gas activities cause physical damage to healthy ecosystems, light and sound pollution and the introduction of pollutants such as alien invasive species from ballast water and heavy oils from bilge dumping, which will travel long distances and affect many natural systems and communities that rely on them.

“The livelihoods and economies of local communities are already damaged irreparably by the gas-related forced resettlements and reduced access to viable agricultural lands and coastal and marine resources. The loss of healthy coral reefs and mangroves also makes the region more vulnerable to severe weather events and other climate change related impacts,” it concluded.

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