International oil firm ExxonMobil has been taken to court by two Guyanese who have fingered the oil company’s practices as being harmful to the environment.
Meanwhile, the Guyanese Government, which is in bed contractually with ExxonMobil, is telling the world that it is on track to achieving zero net emissions by 2050.
In his address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) last week, Minister of Natural Resources Vickram Bharrat, MP, outlined these targets while speaking on the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number seven. The goal, which is one of 17, aims to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.” In its proposal are a mix of natural gas, hydropower, solar and wind.
He said in a virtual address, “We are also fully supporting the commitment of net zero emissions by 2050. Guyana’s commitment to these objectives is demonstrated by the actions we are taking to transform our energy sector; the energy sector is being re-engineered as an engine of economic growth by improving energy security, realising universal energy access, diversifying the energy mix, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions through various sustainable energy projects.”
Minister Bharrat stated that Guyana’s National Energy Plan is in keeping with the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS), which will allow the country to continue being a net carbon sink.
He outlined that the programme will generate forestry climate services, while keeping its economy in place on a low carbon trajectory, ensuring the protection of its biodiversity and marine resources, as well as the prudent management of the country’s abundant water resources.
But the situation with oil producer ExxonMobil appears to contradict these goals.
Two Guyanese, through their lawyers, have filed a case in the High Court against ExxonMobil’s Stabroek Block projects.
Guyana-based Kaieteur News outlines that in the case, which lists Attorney General Anil Nandlall, SC, as a representative for the State, “the High Court is being asked to determine whether ExxonMobil’s operations violate the constitutional right of current and future generations to a healthy environment.”
The first applicant, Dr Troy Thomas, is a scientist and a University of Guyana lecturer. The second applicant, Quadad de Freitas, is a resident of the South Rupununi region of Guyana, an area rich in biodiversity.
The court has been presented with what the applicants describe as “overwhelming scientific evidence of the devastating effect of greenhouse gas emissions, pointing out that oil and gas production are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.”
It was noted that Guyana is particularly vulnerable to climate change and rising sea levels while ocean acidification threatens the Guyanese livelihoods that depend on healthy marine ecosystems.
According to Kaieteur News, “The case cites Guyana’s international obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement in support of its claim for declarations that emissions from oil and gas production make the environment more harmful to health and well-being in violation of Article 149J of the constitution.”
This UN Article guarantees the right to a healthy environment and requires the State to protect the environment for present and future generations. Article 149J specifically states that: (1) Everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to his or her health or well-being. (2) The State shall protect the environment, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures designed to — (a) prevent pollution and ecological degradation; (b) promote conservation; and (c) secure sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.
The case also seeks to protect children, young people and future generations who bear a disproportionate burden in having to live with the effects of climate change.
The legal team consists of Melinda Janki and Ronald Burch-Smith, with support from Richard Lord, QC, at Brick Court and Joshua Jackson of Cloisters in the UK.
The Guyanese Government has avoided the claims made. In the UN session last week, the minister advised, “
“Guyana maintains that sovereign states develop their energy resources and define appropriate policies for the production and use of those resources.”
He also reaffirmed the country’s environmental obligations “to which it has committed and undertakes to pursue its developmental activities in a balanced manner.”
The Guyanese government presented plans for a gas-to-shore project terminating at the Wales Development Authority, which will see 250 MW of new power generation constructed.
The US$900-million project will utilise natural gas from the Liza One and Liza Two development projects offshore Guyana. The project is being developed in partnership with ExxonMobil, the operator of the Stabroek Block. It is expected to come on stream by 2024 and with a lifetime of 25 years. It is expected to slash electricity costs by half before 2024.
The Guyanese Government has also approved the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project which is slated to deliver another 160 MW of new power with intent to start construction in 2022 and completion in 2025. Solar generating capacity will also be installed to deliver at least 30 MW of power, it was outlined in the UN address.