Gas Gospels: Un/Sustainable Development and Environmental Risk in Mozambique
In recent years, Mozambique has experienced several climate related environmental disasters, including dramatic cyclone flooding in the central and northern regions. The country has adopted the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development Goals and has set up a post-cyclone reconstruction office. However, Mozambique is an emerging economy, with high potential in extractivist industry, in particular liquefied natural gas and hydrocarbons. In this project we will explore how these opposing movements and strategies are being perceived and addressed at the local level, studying how governmental, aid and development agencies, activist and civic mobilizations are participating in the discussion. We will conduct on-site case studies in regions of the country where the intersection of environmental disaster and extractivist projects are most visible.
In the Spring of 2019, two major cyclones (Idai and Kenneth) ravaged through the provinces of Sofala, Inhambane and Cabo Delgado in Mozambique, leaving a death toll of 600+ and hundreds of thousands of displaced. This was the latest episode of a recent history of floodings (2000, 2013), cyclones (2007, 2008), tropical storms (2012, 2015) and other disasters that have struck the central and northern regions of Mozambique over the past years. At the same time, these provinces are being subject to largescale investments towards the development of extractivist industries, namely Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) in Cabo Delgado and hydrocarbons in Sofala. For instance, a few months after Idai, local and international news media disclosed an urban development project (the Gas City) to be implemented in the region of Cabo Delgado, the area that suffered the worst consequences of one of the cyclones. At the same time, Sasol, an international integrated chemicals and energy company, is holding public consultations in the regions of Sofala and Inhambane towards the development of a hydrocarbon extraction infrastructure in both provinces.
The LNG and hydrocarbon projects, as well as the future Gas City of Cabo Delgado, exemplify how today Mozambique embodies a major paradox in what concerns climate change, vulnerability, risk and Sustainable Development Goals in the Global South. On the one hand, it is a country that is particularly vulnerable to climate change, due to the above mentioned severe flooding, adding to severe coastal and ecosystem degradation, and increasing drought cycles in the southern provinces. Mozambique is identified by the United Nations as one of the countries suffering the most with the El Niño climatological phenomenon – a fact that is acknowledged by the Mozambican government in its reports.
In response, the government has recently committed to the 2030 agenda and developed a National Program of Sustainable Development. While the effects of this commitment are still to be gauged, the implementation of this environmental juridical framework remains precarious, making environmental sustainability or protection still rely heavily on ODA systems for relief and environmental protection projects. This has been the case, for instance, of USAID, which has recently invested 13 million dollars in climate change adaptation projects. This highlights the precarious infrastructure of Mozambican governance in what concerns issues of development and environmental sustainability.
At the same time, Mozambique has recently become a hotspot for emerging extractive industries, namely in what concerns LNG and hydrocarbons, with largescale extraction set to begin in the current decade, anticipating dramatic GDP growth in the process. These industries (e.g. ENI, Petronas, Anadarko, Sasol) have successfully fueled developmentalist discourses of economic growth and modernization, complemented with corporate social responsibility and environmental awareness narratives, that seem to overshadow the environmental costs of the industry, in particular with regard to the threats of climate change induced by fossil fuels. Many such initiatives are framed under the inclusion of Mozambique within a ‘growing economy’ descriptor, as recently conveyed by the World Bank or other transnational financial agencies, who have highlighted the country’s potential in terms of extractive and mining industries. In this framework, while many of these multinational consortiums have incorporated strategies concerning corporate social responsibility and environmental sustainability, the general consensus concerning their implementation remains uncertain, in particular from the viewpoint of environmental organizations and local activists.
From this perspective, beyond the political and academic narrative, a closer observation shows how this paradox is pervasive in social and public life, where these two opposing narratives circulate side by side in the local public space: climate change disaster and fossil fuel developmentalism. For instance, as one of this project’s team members personally observed in Maputo in 2019, in local churches pastors are preaching the ‘gospel of gas’, anticipating prosperity for those who believe in the future of the emerging fossil industry and embrace its implantation in the country. What this indicates is an apparent contradiction regarding these issues that needs to be assessed in order to address the seeming contradiction between environmental sustainability and industrial development.
In response to this, this research project is located at the crossroads of climate change induced environmental disaster and economic growth, working under the general question of how, in the upcoming years, will developing countries accommodate an environmentally sustainable development agenda with the expectation of economic growth and prosperity, amidst an increasing perception of the need for immediate climate action. The project aim is to contribute to this debate by focusing on the case of Mozambique, observing how these opposing strategies are being perceived and addressed at the local level, and studying how different stakeholders (governmental, aid and development agencies, industry actors, activist and civic mobilizations) are participating in the discussion and informing it.
- How do the Mozambican government, industry actors, civic society and development agencies understand and handle the conflict between on the one hand the expectations and desires of development stemming from the emerging LNG and hydrocarbon extractivist projects, and on the other hand the catastrophes induced by fossil fuel induced climate change?
- What are the strategies towards the production of social consensus being developed on behalf of the different agents involved, and how are they being welcomed at the local level?
- How are the different local actors and stakeholders handling and working through these dimensions?
- How are issues of responsibility, transparency, accountability, sustainability negotiated across the different (from local to national) scales?
- What are the locally perceived and experienced prosperities and/or inequalities motivated by such processes?
An adequate response to these questions requires an in-depth longitudinal case study, through which the researchers will grasp the motivations and expectations that inform strategies and positionings at the local level. The project will perform on-site participant observation, interviewing stakeholders – from local populations to environmental organizations, government representatives and industry agents – in sites (Beira, Pemba, Maputo) that are arguably relevant in terms of the intersection we are exploring.
- Ruy Blanes
- Lisa Åkesson
- Bjørn Enge Bertelsen, University of Bergen
- Euclides Gonçalves, Kaleidoscópio, Mozambique
- Ana Carolina Rodrigues Vasse, doctoral student University of Gothenburg
Research at the School of Global Studies
Online workshop, 28 May 2021
"Extracting the life of Cabo Delgado An conversation on the conditions of research in Central and Northern Mozambique today”
- Ruy Blanes, Lisa Åkesson, Ana Rodrigues Vasse (University of Gothenburg)
- Euclides Gonçalves (Kaleidoscopio, Mozambique)
- João Feijó (OMR, Mozambique)
- Aslak Orre (CMI, Bergen)
- Jon Schubert (Univ. Konstanz, Germany)