The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has warned Botswana and Namibia that they risk an international backlash over the effects of climate change as a result of oil drilling.
Botswana has granted a licence to a Canadian based company to carry out oil and gas drilling activities in the iconic Okavango Delta.
The latest warning by IUCN – an independent watchdog dedicated to the measures needed to safeguard the status of the natural world – comes a few weeks after that of UNESCO.
UNESCO has warned Botswana that exploration activities close to the buffer zone by Canadian based company, Renco Africa, are being monitored.
In a new note, IUCN warned Botswana to tread with care because “the Okavango Delta is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the world’s largest Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, and part of the five-nation Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA).”
IUCN reminded Botswana that the Working Group 1 contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that human influence due primarily to fossil fuels has warmed the atmosphere, oceans and land.
“Many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia” and that “the International Energy Agency (IEA) has stated that “[N]o new oil and natural gas fields are needed in the net zero pathway.”
The IUCN also warned Botswana to remember that “the ecosystem diversity of the Okavango region and the KAZA TFCA is home to many indigenous peoples and other local communities as well as many endangered species of fauna and flora.
It also called on Botswana to recognize the fact that the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights guarantees the rights to a healthy environment and free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) and “that at the 2016 World Conservation Congress (Hawai’i), Members recognised protected areas as no-go zones for industrial activities, including oil and gas exploitation (Recommendation 6.102 Protected areas and other areas important for biodiversity in relation to environmentally damaging industrial activities and infrastructure development).”
IUCN also reminded Botswana of “the decisions of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) that environmentally damaging industrial activities and infrastructure developments are incompatible with World Heritage status and that States should avoid negative impacts on World Heritage sites from such activities outside their boundaries.”
The international watchdog also cited a recent concern by the World Heritage Committee which “expressed concern about the granting of oil exploration licenses in environmentally sensitive areas within the Okavango river basin.” It called on Botswana and Namibia “to ensure that potential further steps to develop the oil project are subject to rigorous and critical prior review, including through Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) that corresponds to international standards.”
The IUCN World Conservation Congress at its session in Marseille, France urged all Member States to ensure that human rights and other international law obligations are a primary consideration in all policies and decisions regarding oil and gas exploration and development, and other extractive activities.
It also urged Botswana and other Member States to ensure that decisions regarding oil and gas exploration and development and other extractive activities respect the right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) and that consent processes include comprehensive consultation on the adverse impacts of climate change, the impacts of the proposed activities on the climate, and risks to water resources, flora and fauna, forests, food security, livelihoods and culture.
The IUCN Congress called on “the governments of Botswana and Namibia to ensure, in line with Decision 44 COM 7B.80 of the World Heritage Committee, that strategic and comprehensive environmental impact assessments adhere to international standards, are subject to rigorous and critical prior review and are conducted prior to any further exploration and any future development of oil and gas resources and other extractive activities in and/or affecting the Okavango River basin and its people.”