Oil and gas exploration and production activities in the Albertine region set to begin in 2020 are expected to have major direct, indirect and cumulative impacts on protected areas and surrounding communities.
Key ecosystems and biodiversity are expected to be lost, habitats for some species fragmented further and some animal species displaced.
To ensure No Net loss (NNL) and to attain eventual Net Gain (NG), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Uganda with funding from Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) organized a two-days training workshop at Kabira Country Club in Ntinda, a Kampala suburb on 22nd and 23rd October 2018 to equip members of the Civil Society Coalition for Oil (CSCO) with skills to monitor the implementation of the mitigation hierarchy by developers for biodiversity conservation.
CSCO is a network of more than 40 civil society organisations that aim to maximize the benefits of Ugandans from oil and gas discovery by promoting social, economic and environmental sustainability in exploration and production activities.
At least 30 members of the coalition attended the training which covered four modules, namely: Introduction to the mitigation hierarchy, offset financing and development and management, monitoring and evaluation. Two case studies from Uganda (Video) and Tanzania (the drying great Ruaha River) were featured and intended to help participants understand the requirements for effective mitigation of development impacts on differing landscapes.
Dr. Simon Nampindo, the Country Director, WCS Uganda covered the introductory aspects of key concepts and module two which consisted of: the Context; sequence of actions under the mitigation hierarchy including offsets; the meaning of No Net Loss and Net Gain; types of impacts, long-term financing mechanisms and offset implementation; evaluation, options for financing offsets.
He explained that, “With the rising human population, high consumption levels and faster economic development, expanding and intensifying agriculture, extractives industries planned in sensitive sites and huge new infrastructure investments, living ‘natural capital’ is being eroded quite fast.” He added that it is not all gloom as 39 countries have already enacted laws or policies on NNL/NG, biodiversity offsets or compensation, while 22 countries are developing them and some Banks such as the International Finance Corporation(IFC) and World Bank are setting NNL/NG as conditions and standards for securing loans.
Several funds such as the Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Trust (BMCT), Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust (CSWCT), the National Environment Fund (NEF), and the National Tree Fund have also been set up to provide long-term financing for biodiversity conservation and other environmental activities. Fiscal policy measures such as the Environmental Levy and Sustainable Fisheries User Levy are also in place to support the same.
The Senior Legal Officer at National Environment Management Authority, Sarah Naigaga set the scene by presenting the emerging supportive legislative framework that supports the rigorous application of the mitigation hierarchy. She cited the objectives of the national policy on the environment under the constitution and the National Development Plan II that contains Uganda Vision 2040 and aspirations for a green economy and clean environment.
“The national development plan is currently focused on restoring degraded ecosystems; developing cross boundary partnerships and institutional collaboration between key sectors. It is also fixed on increasing public awareness, environmental education and compliance with laws and regulation to sustainably manage environmental resources,” She explained.
Sarah said the revised draft of the National Environmental Management Plan (NEMP 2017) proposes developing, testing and disseminating good practices on biodiversity offsets and providing a system of Environment Assessment (EA) and monitoring.
She informed participants that the National Environment Act Cap 153 is in advanced stages of review and will be replaced with the National Environment Bill 2017 which provisions for emerging issues and gaps. “The EIA regulations particularly have been revised to provide more comprehensive requirements for the mitigation hierarchy, payment for ecosystem services, biodiversity offsets and other measures” she added.
On compensation, she concluded that, the current process of compensation remains inadequate to address the standard principles of compensation.
Grace Nangendo, the GIS Specialist and Landscape Ecologist at WCS and Sam Ayebare, a Data Analyst and Oil Projects Manager at WCS highlighted key sensitive areas where oil and gas exploration and production and other consequential developments such as the oil pipeline, airport and roads networks will impact.
She said “The exploration process chain has raised environmental concerns and some of the risk concerns are ground water contamination, air quality pollution, and the mismanagement of waste that could have adverse on humans and other life forms.”
The WCS Manager for COMBO Project, Beatrice Kyasiimire said “We had very interactive sessions and participants were quite eager to learn the practical approaches and tools to monitor NNL/NG. We shall quench their hunger for this knowledge.”
Participants asked whether a thorough ESIAs had been done in the Albertine region, the current legal framework properly covers all environmental issues and Uganda is prepared to start exploration and restoration of biodiversity once production is done.
Participants will use the tools acquired to monitor the air and water quality, the amount of emissions and wastes, traffic density, noise levels, amount of energy used, the worker population, consumption patterns, resources for construction, disruptions to cultural norms, level of migration and attitudes among others.