Considered the African champion in the fight against global warming, Gabon claims to protect the "second green lung of the planet". But Ali Bongo and his government are not as green as they say...
Self-proclaimed champion of environmental protection in Africa, Gabon has chained symbolic measures in recent years. Last December, for example, Libreville announced the preparation of a law banning the use of single-use plastic bags.
But beyond the laws intended for individuals, Gabon above all prides itself on being a major player on the international scene in the fight against global warming. “Its territory is in fact almost 88% covered by the equatorial forest, one of the two green lungs of the planet. As a result, Gabon is one of the rare countries on the planet to be 'carbon negative', that is to say to release less CO2 into the atmosphere than it emits ”, proudly summed up, in December, La Libreville.
Flaring and CO2 emissions
A facade storytelling, finally. Because the reality is much less green than it seems. In early December, Mediapart revealed, in a survey devoted to the American fund Carlyle, the reality of CO2 emissions in Gabon. Omnipresent in the oil sector, this country of 2,3 million inhabitants is one of the major emitters of CO2 through “gas flare” or flaring. A practice, specifies the French newspaper, which consists in burning the gases associated with the extraction of crude.
#greenwashing, definition: marketing process used by an organization to give itself a misleading image of ecological responsibility. thanks to @Mediapart et @MPAURON for this uplifting article 🌍✊#carlyle #assala #Gabon #Africa #environment #co2 https://t.co/Rof939dD5c
— Pierre Farge (@Pierre_Farge) December 8, 2021
And Mediapart to recall that Assala Energy, the second oil company in Gabon, extracts oil from operations bought from Shell. "Assala continues the flaring practiced for decades by Shell", can we read in this investigation. How can Gabon then claim to be the champion of ecology with such practices?
Highly polluting companies
In reality, the Bongo regime willingly turns a blind eye to the practices of oil and gas producers. Indeed, there is no legal obligation for companies present in Gabon to communicate gas emission figures to the press. But the local authorities are well aware of these figures, which they do not publish either. However, several groups do not hesitate to release into the atmosphere hundreds of thousands of tons of CO2 in flaring operations.
And while it is not illegal, flaring is actually tolerated by the regime, which issues permits to companies that request it. The example of Assala is edifying: Mediapart indeed reveals that the group obtains authorizations to reject CO2 to author of more than 500 tons per year. If Assala promises to comply with national laws, no one knows when the company will stop polluting the Gabonese sky.
In addition to CO2 emissions, Gabon's argument has some lead in the wing with regard to deforestation. “There is something to choke on listening to this comment: 'Gabon is one of the largest timber producers in the world. He imposed selective cutting. No more than one tree for each hectare. Its forest is one of its main economic resources. But she has time to regenerate. This is exactly the opposite of what the Gabonese environmentalist NGOs denounce, which cruelly lack the means to make themselves heard,” lamented the NGO Survie in 2009. Since then, of course, things have improved. But not as much as President Ali Bongo says.
A “greenwashing” made possible thanks to the West
In 2018, the writer Thomas Dietrich recalled that “greenwashing”, a method which consists of giving a misleading image of ecological responsibility, was very often endorsed, even supported, by Western powers. “In Gabon, he wrote, the AFD gave 500 euros to the government for — let us quote here the terminology as obscure as it is official — 'strengthening resilience to climate change' and 000 million to sustainably manage the forest”. However, continues the writer, this makes it possible to “award a certificate of good repute to regimes that do not deserve it, these cardboard development projects failing to stem the destruction of the environment on the continent”.
Because behind the facade discourse, ecology seems to be only an argument that allows a diet at the end of its life to hold out a little longer. Also in Gabon, in 2012, while claiming to respect international certification standards, the Olam company, which is nevertheless RSPO certified - a label that guarantees the production and use of sustainable palm oil - reportedly deforested 20 hectares of forest, according to a report by the American NGO Mighty Earth. Hard to believe that the Bongo regime was unaware.