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Offshore Petroleum Bill – Debate Soon in National Assembly

11.11.2021

 Mauritius has not yet borne the brunt of climate change, but we will, and soon. The latest IPCC report, prepared by a team of distinguished worldwide scientists, puts us on a path to 2.7 degrees of mean global temperature rise by the end of the century if greenhouse gases emissions do not start decreasing, which would be catastrophic for the world. For Mauritius, a SIDS (Small Islands Developing State), catastrophic is not a strong enough word. What we will soon face, in addition to the flooding of coastal areas, is heatwaves, cyclones, heavy rains, all more frequent and more violent than ever before. Mauritius, as a State, has a real interest in taking a lead in cutting carbon emissions.


Countless scientific reports demonstrate the urgency of immediate action to face the climate crisis. As a general rule, if we wish to have a chance at minimising global warming, fossil fuels, discovered and undiscovered, must be kept in the ground.


The Offshore Petroleum Bill


On the 26th October, the Prime Minister introduced the Offshore Petroleum Bill to parliament. This bill will provide the legal framework for activities related to oil extraction in the EEZ (exclusive economic zone) and ‘extension of continental shelf’ area of Mauritius. Multinationals will carry out these activities once granted titles by a department which operates under the Prime Minister’s Office. 


When burnt, the oil will produce greenhouse gases, which will directly contribute to climate change. In addition, the petroleum activities will cause the destruction of entire marine ecosystems, along with the increased threat of oil spills. Certain areas of our maritime zones will also be privatised, only to be used and sailed by the multinationals and those allowed by the government.


The government is coming up with this project without a shred of transparency, as it only now comes up that companies have already been prospecting for oil in our maritime zones, and have even identified potential zones for exploitation. We can expect the same level of opacity around the granting of titles (permits and licences for petroleum activities). All this will be taken care of by the Department for Continental Shelf, Maritime Zones Administration & Exploration, which operates under the Prime Minister’s Office. A clause of the bill also gives the Prime Minister veto power over the granting of titles. 


 


COP26


Pravind Jugnauth and his delegation participated in COP26 at Glasgow last week. In his speech, he stressed the vulnerability of small islands such as Mauritius, and the urgent need for climate funds for developing countries. (This year, Mauritius, along with every other country, presented its NDC [Nationally Determined Contributions] to COP, a document which outlines the mitigation and adaptation actions which Mauritius intends to take to fight climate change, and the amount of money we will need for these actions.) To call the current government’s actions hypocritical would be an understatement. 


 


Deep sea mining


Along petroleum extraction is another activity that is coming up in the Maritime zones of Mauritius: deep sea mining. The extraction of minerals and metals from the seabed, where thrives whole ecosystems. These activities will destroy that biodiversity and poison marine food chains. This industry is new, and currently being rushed through in other parts of the world. We know that it will cause destruction. We do not yet know the extent of that destruction. 


The Offshore Petroleum Bill specifies that it does not cover seabed mining activities. We can expect another bill for that to come up soon. 


In the meantime, in LALIT, we will listen carefully to what Prime Minister Jugnauth gives as his “justification” for the Offshore Petrolium Bill when debates come up in Parliament next week, and reply to him in the context of a general idea on how to cut carbon emissions and other industrial and agro-industrial pollution in Mauritius and its seas.


S.