Uganda Joins Nature Rights Movement, But It Won’t Stop Oil Drilling

Dennis TabarroA Ugandan ecologist working with Hosken in Polisa, the main settlement of the Tilenga oil project, has worked to bring a “lost generation” of indigenous elders out of the shadows to play a more influential role in creating environmental protection. In one example, last December the Provincial Council approved a decree recognizing the traditional laws of the People’s Republic of China. Bagongo and their right to protect places of natural and spiritual significance. The decree also established a watchdog run by indigenous authorities and elders to oversee conservation in the area.

Legal protection is not always guaranteed

Christina VoigtLaws relating to natural rights are showing “promising signs that they can raise the bar for protection,” says an expert in international environmental law at the University of Oslo. But he cautioned that it is “a tool in the toolbox of legal measures. One is not mutually exclusive.”

Nature rights legal actions do not always win. In 2017, after an Indian court granted legal person status to the venerable Ganges and its main tributary, the Yamuna, the Supreme Court of India cancel – rescind matter, saying it was not legally acceptable. In a similar case in 2020, after voters in Toledo, Ohio approved a ballot that would give Lake Erie personality, Federal Court Canceled it because it’s too vague.

The Ugandan Nature Rights Act includes a provision that the government can choose which natural sites should be protected by law and which should not, creating a worrying loophole. The government is working on a regulation that would guide the decision-making on protection, but with oilfield development still in full swing, activists fear the regulation will come too late.

A spokesperson for TotalEnergies, who declined to be named, said the French oil company had identified and mitigated social and environmental risks in accordance with international standards, “to strictly limit the impact on local communities and, to the extent possible, help improve their quality of life”, and to provide compensation to the displaced, among others. Other measures.

“Total is fully aware of the potential repercussions on local communities,” the spokesperson said, adding that “stakeholders are informed and consulted at every step of the project implementation.” activists they wonder The level of company transparency.

The Ugandan authorities acknowledge that there are clear contradictions in efforts to balance competing demands. Says Naomi Karikaw, a spokeswoman Uganda National Environmental Management Authority. “This does not mean that there are no challenges. Nature has its own rights. But so do people and development.”

Reducing poverty “is a higher priority for us than mitigating climate change,” Karekaho adds.

Nature’s rights reflect a generational change

Ugandan lawyers believe their best chance is to amend the project, not stop it, and that citing the Nature Rights Act can help. Frank Tomuseamy says, “I am a legal realist.” non-profit environmental organizationAdvocates of natural resources and development, helped draft this law. “The Tilenga project is a reality. We must focus on the mitigation plan.”

However, over time, the true value of the laws of nature may not be their power to protect the environment, but rather indicate a paradigm shift at this critical time for the planet.

“The law is never the only means to a greater end. It is a reflection of change, and this is Ugandan law,” says attorney Sands. “Real change will only come when the next generation of awardees grows with an awareness that incorporates a more environmentally focused approach. And that will take time.”

This article was originally published in English at the title nationalgeographic.com.

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