It’s the final day of the Summit, and so far we’ve heard the G8 leaders’ views on climate change and HIV funding. Richard M Kavuma hopes that in their quest for ‘alternative energy sources’ the G8 does not jeopardise Africa’s remaining forests.
Yesterday's communiqué on climate change talks about the critical issue of deforestation, saying:
“Reducing, and in the long term halting deforestation provides a significant and cost-effective contribution toward mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and toward conserving biological diversity, promoting sustainable forest management and enhancing security of livelihoods.”
This will perhaps irritate Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, who has demonstrated a disturbing readiness to give away natural forests to private investors to develop sugar and oil palm plantations.
In another paragraph – this time on diversification of the world’s energy sources – the G8 leaders say they will promote biofuels as an alternative source of energy. But in Uganda there has already been evidence of the potential for conflict between these two aims.
In March and April this year Uganda witnessed the most passionate, non-partisan outpouring of public opinion against Mr Museveni in his 21 years in power when he sought to give away a quarter of the country’s most abundant natural forest to a sugar company.
The company, Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited (SCOUL) indicated that as well as producing more sugar it would consider using the increased capacity to produce alternative energy sources such as ethanol – which is used as a biofuel.
Despite opposition from the National Forestry Authority’s technical team, Mr Museveni insists that a poor country like Uganda can’t afford to protect the environment.
In taking this line, he’s ignoring the one clear message from African activists and others like Greenpeace at the G8 Summit: that it is the poor countries that will suffer more catastrophic effects of global warming.
In the end, following public demonstrations in which three people were killed, the President relented and toned down his language, saying no decision had been reached to give away the forest, despite his personal letters to SCOUL being leaked to the press.
Unofficial information published in the press says that it was actually the World Bank that eventually persuaded Museveni to back off. And this is very important, because it underlines the critical role that the rich countries have to play in saving Africa’s natural forests where they still exist.
This point was again raised by Martin Kaiser, Greenpeace’s political advisor on biodiversity and forests during the Alternative Summit in Rostock. Kaiser said one role the G8 can play is to give incentives to make saving forests attractive to Africa’s political leaders.
The same goes for biofuels. While the G8 is getting excited about biofuels, care must be taken to make sure the pursuit of alternative energy does not leave the poor without agricultural land.
For instance, in northern Uganda – where virtually the entire population of the Acholi sub-region has been forced into camps by the LRA rebellion – a UK company is planning to use over 60,000 acres to grow trees for a biomass plant.
While this is still at an early stage for what might become a major focus in Uganda, comments from the energy ministry suggest that few officials are looking at the potential downsides of bioenergy.