The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has called on the governments of Botswana and Namibia to ensure, in line with the decision of the World Heritage Committee, that strategic and comprehensive environmental impact assessments adhere to international standards.
They are subject to rigorous and critical prior review and are conducted before any further exploration and any future development of oil and gas resources and other extractive activities affecting the Okavango River basin and its people.
The statement came after motion 136, titled: Protecting the Okavango from oil and gas exploitation, was discussed before the IUCN World Conservation Congress, at its session in Marseille, France on September the 9th.
The Congress further urged all 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 World Conservation Congress conceded that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that human influence due primarily to fossil fuels has warmed the atmosphere, oceans, and land.
The IUCN warned that many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia. Similarly, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has stated that no new oil and natural gas fields are needed in the net-zero pathway. However, the energy sector is the main emitter in the country. In 2015, it contributed 87% of total emissions, excluding land use, land-use change and the forestry sector.
According to its first National Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement, Botswana aims to reduce overall emissions by 15% between 2010 and 2030 – mainly through energy sector initiatives involving stationary and mobile sources.
Namibia and Botswana have issued petroleum licences to a Canadian company for oil and gas exploration in the Okavango region, which could lead to an initial 25-year production license after a commercial discovery. In Namibia, exploration is ongoing; a seismic survey is underway, initial stratigraphic wells have been drilled and more are planned later this year. Exploration in Botswana is slated to begin after initial drilling in Namibia.
IUCN explained that Namibia and Botswana are already threatened by climate change, the adverse effects of which will both compound and be compounded by the impacts of oil and gas development on water resources, the local environment, and global warming.
ReconAfrica’s drilling in the country may eventually counterbalance the country’s ambitions of a 15% reduction in emissions in its fight against climate change. Let alone, the country might as well be shooting its foot in terms of drilling for oil and gas amid aspirations to go green.