Climate crisis and the sixth mass extinction go hand-in-hand
The data is clear about the climate crisis: we are on the path of reaching an increase of 1.5°C in the mean global temperature by 2040 in the best-case scenario. If the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are not reduced, the mean global temperature will increase by at
least 2.7°C by the end of the century (IPCC, 2021). The Living Planet Index Report (2020) demonstrates the close relationship between the climate crisis and biodiversity loss and states that both environmental problems need to be viewed as a whole. In fact, an IPBES-IPCC co-sponsored workshop report was released in June 2021 to analyse the relationship between biodiversity protection and climate change mitigation and adaptation. The crucial biodiversity-climate actions mentioned in this report include halting the degradation of ecosystems that are rich in species and act as carbon sinks on land and in the ocean and eliminating subsidies that support activities harmful to biodiversity (Pörtner et al., 2021). Even so, the action plan needs to be carefully evaluated in order to ensure that the benefits for biodiversity and climate significantly outweigh the negative impacts.
“Carbon compensation” or “carbon neutrality” are just oxymorons, not climate actions
The latest report published by the UNEP (Emissions Gap Report, 2021) states that the currently updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) will only reduce 7.5% of the annual GHG emissions in 2030 when a reduction of 55% of annual GHG emissions in 2030 is required to limit the rise in the mean global temperature by 1.5°C. In addition to the existing commitments in NDC, we need to further reduce the annual GHG emissions by 28 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide in eight years. The total carbon emissions alone in 2021 make up to 33 gigatonnes. According to Welsby et al. (2021), concrete climate actions to respect the Paris Agreement would include keeping at least 60% of the global oil and fossil gas reserves in the ground in 2050 and 90% of the world’s coal will have to be left out of factories and power plant furnaces. However, instead of adopting radical measures (Vince, 2019) to reduce GHG emissions and shift towards a just and ecological transition for a safe future, corporates, multinationals and governments are hiding behind fancy terms like “carbon compensation” or “carbon neutrality”. This concept allows them “to keep on emitting carbon dioxide and to come up with a plan such as royalties and taxes to offset their carbon footprint or to protect the environment”. In other words, they have no ambition in reducing their GHG emissions but are trying to trick us into thinking they are doing their best to tackle the climate crisis.
The offshore industry pretending to be a “greener” option
Offshore oil and gas exploitation occur on continental shelves under coastal State Jurisdiction. Continental shelves can be less than a hundred metres deep or hundreds more and hold reserves of oil, gas and minerals (Slouka, 1968). Because they are relatively shallow areas compared to the high seas, continental shelves are rich in biodiversity and hold important ecosystems. At the end of continental shelves are continental slopes, which is a habitat for cetaceans. Since a few years now, there has been a wave of politicians advocating for offshore oil production and stating that these activities produce less GHG emissions compared to any region of the world. It started with a Trump administration official and was backed up again by a Democrat in May 2021 (Leber, 2021). The main tactic used was to deviate the attention from the problem with fossil fuel by focusing on the emissions of oil production, instead of focusing on the combustion of fossil fuel, which accounts for 90% of the carbon dioxide emissions (Heede, 2014). Some of these oil companies are even talking about “responsible oil and gas extraction” and are proposing “net-zero carbon oil” or “blue oil”. To extract oil and gas without causing damage to the climate is impossible – no matter the “compensation” measures to repair the damage caused or “mitigation” measures to reduce the negative impacts of the activity on the environment.
The ‘Offshore Petroleum Bill’: a dangerous joke
On Tuesday 26th October, the Mauritian Prime Minister proudly presented the “Offshore Petroleum Bill” as a tool to facilitate the exploration, exploitation and production of oil in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Mauritius. This bill was shamelessly backed up by the Ministry of Environment, Solid Waste Management and Climate Change, who seems to be forgetting about the consequences of the oil spill caused by MV Wakashio in 2020 and the climate crisis. This act will not be applied in the Joint Management Area (JMA) but on the continental shelf in Mauritius’ EEZ. If we look closely at this map below, the continental shelves (including extended continental shelf) include the Soudan Banks, the Cargados Carajos Bank, the Nazareth Bank, the Saya de Malha Bank, and north of Agalega (see encircled). The continental shelf on the Chagos Bank is also part of the Mauritius’ EEZ but the tensions between Mauritius, UK, and the Maldives can make us assume that this region will not be of interest for oil exploration and exploitation soon. The Soudan, Cargados Carajos and Nazareth Banks are very important for the fisheries industry, although, they can be of interest. This leaves us with two sites: the border of Saya de Malha Bank (see encircled), which has always been on the agenda, and potentially north of Agalega. Saya de Malha holds one of the largest seagrass meadows on the planet, an ecosystem crucial for the climate. Earlier in 2021, Greenpeace’s ship Arctic Sunrise carried out a scientific assessment of the biodiversity on the Saya de Malha bank where various species of cetaceans, fish, corals, and seabirds were found. Weirdly enough, the “construction activities” on the northern island of Agalega by India began in 2018 – a year after the Honourable Pravind Kumar Jugnauth and Honourable Showkutally Soodhun met with the Indian Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas with the latter affirming his support to Mauritius to meeting its energy requirements and the setting up of a regional petroleum hub.
PS – “Offshore Petroleum Bill”: Ignorance is bliss…
The opacity with which the Mauritian government is coming forward with the “Offshore Petroleum Bill” in Parliament is extremely worrying. On Tuesday 26 October, the Prime Minister announced that a French company, CGG, has identified four potential sites for petroleum exploration and exploitation in Mauritius’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). However, they did not determine if there was any oil deposit yet.
CGG has been doing prospects in Africa and in the Indian Ocean (Comoros Island, Seychelles, Madagascar and Mauritius) for a few years now. One year before their services had been retained by the Prime Minister’s Office, in 2019, an event on “Oil and gas business opportunities in East Africa” took place in London. According to the Special Report of the event, CGG already did a study on the Mascarene Ridge where wells were drilled at the southern part of the plateau – The Nazareth Bank and Saya de Malha Bank. They only came across volcanic rocks but believe there could be more sediments underneath.
In June 2019, CGG published on its website its interest in “turning to frontier areas in the region such as West Indian Ocean” with mention of the oceanic crust which formed Mauritius and the submarine ridge between Mauritius and the Seychelles. In fact, according to the Annual Report 2020 of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation published in March 2021, the NGO had submitted its comments on the “Environmental and social impact assessment for a two-dimensional marine seismic survey programme proposed by CGG in the offshore waters of Mauritius” where the NGO “highlighting the unacceptability of risks of oil drilling in the EEZ of Mauritius, with some references to St Brandon”.
It would seem that the regions of interest include the Banks between the Seychelles and Mauritius and near St Brandon (Saya de Malha Bank, Nazareth Bank, Cargados Carajos Bank, Soudan Banks) – a zone which is rich in biodiversity and critical to the fishers’ community.
•Offshore Petroleum Bill (No. XIV of 2021). Link: https://mauritiusassembly.govmu.org/Documents/Bills/intro/2021/bill1421.pdf
•Slouka Z.J. (1968) The Continental Shelf, Its Utilization and Control. In: International Custom and the Continental Shelf. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-011-9210-1_2
•MPA Vision 2040 : La Mauritius Ports Authority lance une série de consultations. Link: https://ionnews.mu/mpa-vision-2040-la-mauritius-ports-authority-lance-une-serie-de-consultations/
•Hilbert, P. (2018) Eaux territoriales mauriciennes : vers la confirmation de la présence de pétrole et de gaz. Defimedia.info. Link: https://defimedia.info/eaux-territoriales-mauriciennes-vers-la-confirmation-de-la-presence-de-petrole-et-de-gaz
•IPCC, 2021: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, A. Pirani, S. L. Connors, C. Péan, S. Berger, N. Caud, Y. Chen, L. Goldfarb, M. I. Gomis, M. Huang, K. Leitzell, E. Lonnoy, J.B.R. Matthews, T. K. Maycock, T. Waterfield, O. Yelekçi, R. Yu and B. Zhou (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press. Link: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGI_SPM.pdf
•Vince, G. (2019) The heat is on over the climate crisis. Only radical measures will work. The Guardian. Link: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/18/climate-crisis-heat-is-on-global-heating-four-degrees-2100-change-way-we-live
•Pörtner, H.O., Scholes, R.J., Agard, J., Archer, E., Arneth, A., Bai, X., Barnes, D., Burrows, M., Chan, L., Cheung, W.L., Diamond, S., Donatti, C., Duarte, C., Eisenhauer, N., Foden, W., Gasalla, M. A., Handa, C., Hickler, T., Hoegh-Guldberg, O., Ichii, K., Jacob, U., Insarov, G., Kiessling, W., Leadley, P., Leemans, R., Levin, L., Lim, M., Maharaj, S., Managi, S., Marquet, P. A., McElwee, P., Midgley, G., Oberdorff, T., Obura, D., Osman, E., Pandit, R., Pascual, U., Pires, A. P. F., Popp, A., Reyes-García, V., Sankaran, M., Settele, J., Shin, Y. J., Sintayehu, D. W., Smith, P., Steiner, N., Strassburg, B., Sukumar, R., Trisos, C., Val, A.L., Wu, J., Aldrian, E., Parmesan, C., Pichs-Madruga, R., Roberts, D.C., Rogers, A.D., Díaz, S., Fischer, M., Hashimoto, S., Lavorel, S., Wu, N., Ngo, H.T. 2021. Scientific outcome of the IPBES-IPCC co-sponsored workshop on biodiversity and climate change; IPBES secretariat, Bonn, Germany. Link: https://ipbes.net/events/launch-ipbes-ipcc-co-sponsored-workshop-report-biodiversity-and-climate-change
•United Nations Environment Programme (2021). Emissions Gap Report 2021: The Heat Is On – A World of Climate Promises Not Yet Delivered – Executive Summary. Nairobi. Link: https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/36991/EGR21_ESEN.pdf
•Welsby, D., Price, J., Pye, S. et al. (2021) Unextractable fossil fuels in a 1.5 °C world.Nature 597, 230–234. Link: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03821-8#citeas
•Leber, R. (2021) The weird argument that offshore oil is good for the climate, debunked. Vox. Link: https://www.vox.com/22543816/offshore-oil-gulf-mexico-democrats-climate-change
•Heede, R. (2014) Tracing anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane emissions to fossil fuel and cement producers, 1854–2010. Climatic Change 122, 229–241. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-013-0986-y
•Petroleum Minister meets Mr Showkutally Soodhun, Vice-Prime Minister of Mauritius. 5 Dariya News. Link: https://www.5dariyanews.com/news/187563-Petroleum-Minister-meets-Mr-Showkutally-Soodhun-Vice-Prime-Minister-of-Mauritius
•WORKSHOP FOR THE PROMOTION OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT OF AFRICA’S DEEP SEABED RESOURCES IN SUPPORT OF AFRICA’S BLUE ECONOMY. Link: https://www.isa.org.jm/event/workshop-3-promoting-sustainable-development-africas-deep-seabed-resources
•WWF (2020) Living Planet Report 2020 – Bending the curve of biodiversity loss. Almond, R.E.A., Grooten M. and Petersen, T. (Eds). WWF, Gland, Switzerland. Link: https://f.hubspotusercontent20.net/hubfs/4783129/LPR/PDFs/ENGLISH-FULL.pdf
PS – References
• Jeffery, K. (2019) Special report: Oil and gas business opportunities in East Africa. Link: http://83a7383a5e33475eed0e-e819cda5edf0a946af164bb0b2f2ae3c.r0.cf1.rackcdn.com/FPEastAfricareport.pdf
• CGG (2019) Hunting micro-continents offshore East Africa and in the West Indian Ocean. Link: https://www.cgg.com/newsroom/news/hunting-micro-continents-offshore-east-africa-and-west-indian-ocean
• Annual Report 2020 (2021). Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. Link: https://www.mauritian-wildlife.org/mwf-files/files/files/MWF%20Annual%20Report%202020.pdf