On Friday, the UK government announced that it was urging Nigeria to become part of the green economy. Its timing was key given that it was released online in the same week that the Paris Agreement came into effect – yet it avoided any mention of the UK’s conflict of interests on the issue and its attempts to gatekeep Nigeria’s economy.
The speech, delivered by Paul Thomas Arkwright, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, emphasised the need for a close working relationship between the UK and Nigeria, but failed to mention the substantial interests UK companies hold in the country.
Nigeria needs to be part of that positive agenda, and the global green economy, weakening its dependence on oil and strengthening its green industry.
Yet corporations based in the UK are the ones who are extracting oil from Nigeria. The New Colonialism, published this summer, has researched and documented the control that UK companies and investors exert across Africa and its influence within Nigeria is stark. It found that Shell’s licenses to control 691 million barrels of oil mainly concerns Nigeria. Shell works in partnership with the Nigerian government, but the UK has always been slow to curb the interests of companies based in the UK from exploiting other regions.
Shell in particular has gathered much media attention for its conflict with efforts to tackle climate change, but by governments it has largely been unchallenged due to their reliance on oil and the huge profits the company brings in.
However, Shell has already hit the headlines this year for its activity in Nigeria. In March, Shell was being sued for the second time by a claimant in London over oil spills in the Niger delta. It followed on from a damning Amnesty International report that stated that claims Shell had cleared the area from contamination were untrue.
Shell’s reach is broad and it is not the only company with vested interests in extracting oil and gas from Nigeria. The London Stock exchanges’ biggest players in Nigeria include Lekoil Ltd and Eland Oil & Gas Plc, the latter of which has two onshore wells producing 3500 barrels per day.
With so many companies with ties to the UK economy depending upon oil and gas extraction from Nigeria, the UK risks being accused of erasing its own responsibility by placing the onus on Nigeria to tackling climate change.
Theresa May announced on Wednesday that the UK would be working in partnership with Colombia ‘in the oil and gas sector’. The tough emphasis on avoiding a reliance on oil was only iterated towards Nigeria, and it has not been a consistent message from the government.
— UK Prime Minister (@Number10gov) November 2, 2016
Nigeria may wonder as to why the UK is singing a different tune to different nations.
One of the biggest problems in fighting climate change is the fact that growing economies often rely heavily on oil and coal which are disastrous for the planet. However, these nations are fighting a battle against poverty and to raise the living standards of their people. They are simply following in the footsteps of similar actions the Western world took (including the United Kingdom and the United States of America) in building their economies, and the only difference is that they are doing this in an age where we now understand climate change and its causes. It is unjust of rich nations (who often developed a large portion of their wealth by using the resources of other nations, particularly in Africa) to then tell developing nations that they cannot pursue the same agenda that they once did.
Yet the government also faces calls of hypocrisy due to its poor record on its own green industry. When Theresa May came to power, one of her first acts was to scrap the Department for Energy and Climate Change. It was a deeply unpopular move and drew criticism for putting the UK’s (and the world’s) future at risk by allowing climate change to go unchallenged.
— Kirk (@Dr_KTaylor) October 27, 2016
What the frack! Accelerating climate change seems to be as central to Theresa May's politics as demonising foreigners!
— Another Green (@Anothergreen) October 7, 2016
The government faced further speculation about its true commitment to environmentalism when on Wednesday the High Court ruled for the second time in eighteen months that plans to tackle air pollution were illegally poor. The government had been found to have blocked plans to charge diesel cars in certain towns and cities which were the most affected by pollution as a way to tackle the issue. It follows on from May’s own reversal of opposition to the Heathrow expansion. The PM had previously argued against such a decision because of climate change but that was disregarded as the government announced that a third runway would, in fact, be built.
While the United Kingdom tells Nigeria that it needs to cut its reliance on oil, the UK is not willing to live by its own statements. Its failure to tackle the issues regarding air pollution as a result of fuel and its erasure of the investment of UK interests in Nigeria shows the High Commissioner’s speech to be lacking in any real value.
Nigeria has continued to be one of the leading exporters of African nations to the UK economy, stretching back to 2004. It will be interesting to await its reactions to the speech that has been delivered. What is clear is that both countries are deeply wound together by their interests in oil, and the United Kingdom cannot pretend otherwise.
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