Striving for a Green Economy: novel concept or novelty?

(Photo by Kalikasan Party)

According to the European Environmental Agency, “the green economy” is a concept that consists of balancing economic growth and environmental protection [1]. The idea is to incorporate the environment into economic development. Will the idea of the green economy be a solution to environmental sustainability? It is a novel concept but could it become a simple novelty instead?

The past year has had a lot of focus on sustainable activity. The United Nations 2014 Climate Summit took place to lead up to the 2015 Summit in which the UN will discuss a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol [2]. Al Gore streamed an event called 24 Hours of Reality that listed a myriad of solutions to lower carbon emissions [3]. Even Pope Francis has begun emphasizing the need to turn our attention towards climate change [4].

Currently, President Obama has proposed designating 4.8 million hectares of Alaskan territory as wilderness areas [5]. Opposition to this proposal has to do with a large area of Alaska being put off limits for oil exploration. In addition, in the United Kingdom, MPs are in debate about a moratorium on fracking in order to meet emission reduction goals [6].

The question is, with our growth towards “the green economy”, how are environmental assessments responding to projects? As easy as it is to fall on oil and coal as our main sources of energy, there are numerous alternative and sustainable sources of energy. Does this trend towards green energy give more easily permission to green projects?

There are cases where a good idea goes wrong. An example is Germany’s transition to renewable energy and the implementation of wind farms in the mid-2000s. Striving for a cleaner source of energy had switched Germany from an energy exporter to importer due to the power strain on the power grid [7]. Due to a quick transition and poorly assessed plans on the output of energy, the power demand, and the unpredictability of wind caused the problem [7]. It continues with the need to expand and deliver energy impeded by activists who preventing approval of construction [7]. A similar problem occurred with a solar plant:

“[…] I will never forget those seemingly endless days of summer spent inside while it rained incessantly. Bavaria is like Seattle in the United States or Sichuan province in China. You don’t want to put a solar plant in Bavaria, but that is exactly where the Germans put it. The plant, with a peak output of 10 megawatts, went into operation in June 2005.

It happened for the best reason there is in politics: money. Welcome to the world of new renewable energies, where the subsidies rule—and consumers pay.”

– Vaclav Smil, writer for IEEE commenting on a proposed plan for a solar plant [8].

What we see here is not the fault of the type of resource, but the system and approval of a plan not well assessed. The poor planning leads to ineffective energy production which leads to an increase price in energy and loss in potential. We get caught up with the trend of green projects that we neglect some of the problems. In 2011, a project in Saskatchewan involving a wind turbine encountered skepticism such as:

 “I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle because as soon as you announce a project is green, everybody stands and salutes the flag.”

– Councilor Pat Lorje  [9]

It is a fair point. People have the right to question a new project. In this case, they wanted to see the documents of the project assessment. Is it not their prerogative? If we want to advance towards a green economy, these projects need to be approved after proper assessment and planning. EA reports should not become more lenient to projects that are labeled “green”. I do not want to sound punitive but I would prefer to see few successful projects than many failed projects. Green is not the new black, it should be a way of living; let us judge it so.

[1] European Environment Agency, 2011. Europe’s environment — An Assessment of Assessments. From:

[2] Brown P. 2014. New York summit is last chance to get consensus on climate before 2015 talks. The Guardian.

[3] The Climate Reality Project, 2014. 24 Hours of Reality: 24 Reasons for Hope.

[4] The Associated Press, 2015.  Pope Francis’ stand on climate change deepens distrust among US conservatives. NOLA.

[5] BBC News, 2015. Obama push to expand Alaskan refuge. BBC News: Science & Environment.

[6] Briggs H., 2015. MPs: Ban fracking to meet carbon targets. BBC News: Science & Environment.

[7] Watts A, 2012. Germany in skeptical turmoil on both Climate and Solar/Windfarms.

[8] Smil V., 2012. A Skeptic Looks at Alternative Energy. IEEE Spectrum.

[9] Eyre B., 2011. Green skeptics simply tilting at windmills. The Starphoenix.


The Keystone XL Pipeline: Lessons for EIA Climate Change Considerations

On March 7, 2014 the public comment period for the Keystone XL Pipeline (KXL) Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS) closed, bringing forward over 2 million submissions demanding rejection of the project and a protest outside the White House that ended in the arrest of dozens of students. These reactions come as a result of concerns to human health and environmental degradation.  An added consideration is whether the project meets Obama’s criterion that it not undermine Washington’s efforts to fight climate change [1].


Several hundred students gather outside of the White House to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline on March 2, 2014.

As an energy project that crosses national borders, the developers must submit an EIS and obtain a Presidential Permit [2]. Under executive order 13337, a Presidential Permit is issued if “issuance of a permit would serve the national interest” [2]. In June 2013, Obama qualified ‘national interest’ in a new way when he declared: “Our national interest would be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution” [3].

The FSEIS released in January 2014 addresses carbon emissions in Volume 3, Chapter 4.14: Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change. However, recent reports published by environmental organizations, such as the NRDC and Carbon Tracker, fundamentally question the validity of the statements made in this section of the FSEIS. Through the use of a number of questionable assumptions in their models, the FSEIS underestimates the effect the pipeline will have in undermining emissions reductions commitments. A particularly striking way that the assessment miscalculates is in the baseline data it uses as comparison. The model compares a future with the KXL to a ‘business as usual’ future – i.e. a future where efforts are not made to reduce emissions, and therefore one that does not significantly diverge from the KXL future. By contrast, when the project is compared to the target path for emissions reductions, it is clear that development of the pipeline is incompatible with US climate objectives (Figure 1) [3].

Figure 1. Graph depicting the difference between the ‘business-as-usual’ model used as a baseline comparison for a future with the Keystone XL Pipeline, versus the United States’ ‘target path.’

A second controversial finding is that “…approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed Project, is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands” [4, p4.14-5]. Research by the NRDC and Carbon Tracker [5] indicate that these findings are inaccurate. Where the FSEIS assumes high oil prices and a flourishing tar sand industry, the NRDC finds a high likelihood of low oil prices within the next decade and the existence of current ‘bottlenecks’ constraining tar sands expansion [3]. This means that if approved, the KXL would be a direct driving force in the maintenance and growth of the carbon intensive tar sands industry.

A decision to approve the KXL despite its clear incongruity with environmental commitments, and the blatant failure to properly address the effects of the project on greenhouse gas emissions, will send a clear message to future project proponents regarding the level of rigour expected when including climate change considerations within the EIA decision-making process. We can only hope that an environmentally conscious precedent is set.



[1] Daly, M. 2013, June 25. “Obama links Keystone approval to carbon emissions.” Associated Press. Retrieved from:

[2] Exec. Order No. 13337, Issuance of Permits With Respect to Certain Energy-Related Facilities and Land Transportation Crossings on the International Boundaries of the United States, 69 C.F.R. 25299 (May 5, 2004).

[3] NRDC. 2014, March 6. “NRDC Comment on Proposed XL Tar Sands Pipeline Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.” Retrieved from:

[4] United States Department of State Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. 2014, January. Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL Project. Retrieved from:

[5] Carbon Tracker Initiative. 2014, March 3. “Keystone XL Pipeline (KXL): The “Significance” Trap. Retrieved from:

Do you know where your money is going? Environmental Policy in the Canadian ‘Big Five’ Banks

Written by: Derek Davies

Most people are familiar with how the average banking system works. Banks are financial institutions that work by giving the bank your money, which they re-invest by loaning out a portion of the money to people or businesses that need it, connecting surplus with deficits. The banks make their money off the interest rates that are paid and charged by the bank to the user.

In Canada there are five main banks, known collectively as the ‘Big Five’ banks, they consist of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), Toronto Dominion Bank (TD), the Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank), the Bank of Montreal (BMO), and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC). Over 96% of Canadians have a bank account[1] , and unless you invest your own money within the financial system, you likely have no say or idea as to where your money is going. For example, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) has a strategy known as, ‘Rank ‘Em and Spank ‘Em’. This strategy is aimed at revealing international banks that finance Oil Sand expansion through loans from the year 2007. RBC ranked 1st, with lending, followed by TD (4th), CIBC (5th), Scotiabank (8th), and BMO (9th)[2] . The mounting pressure from the Rainforest Action Network, is forcing the ‘Big Five’ to change their environmental policy in order to raise environmental standards within the financial industry. For example, in 2010, with the pressure from RAN, RBC has adopted an environmental and social standard to not finance clients that have not received consent from indigenous communities[3] .Logo-Equator-Principles

The ‘Big Five’ follow the Equator Principles, which are internationally recognized principles used when a financed project totals a certain cost. The client must undertake an environmental and social review. Over 50 banks around the world are signatories to the Equator Principles, representing 85% of the global project finance market[4] . The Equator Principles comprise of ten principles that serveas a common framework to reach responsible development. These principles include environment and social assessment, environmental and social standards, stakeholder engagement, and monitoring. For a full list and summary of the ten principles, click here.  Projects are categorized within three different classes, ranking from: significant adverse environmental and social impacts (A), to potential limited adverse environmental and social risk (B), to projects with minimal or no environmental and social risk (C). However, only categories A and B undertake the environmental and social assessment. In addition to this, the equator principles only apply within the ‘Big Five’ if they lend out in access of $10 million.

So, where do you fall in? Below is a listing of how each of the ‘Big Five’ defines their lending and financing environmental standards.

1.    Royal Bank of Canada (RBC)



Environmental Policy: Equator Principles (Environmental Assessment for projects exceeding $10 million loans) & International Finance Corporation Standards & Environmental and Social Risk Management.

Responsible Lending: Finance clients intending to reduce GHG emissions, improve water quality, and facilitate adaption to climate change. Not engage financial activity with unsustainable forestry and only with clients with adequate certification. Only finance projects with indigenous approval. Not engage finance with any clients violating environmental laws[5] .

2.    Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD)


Environmental Policy: The Equator Principles, high-level screening of projects, social and environmental assessment procedure, and risk management decision tree.

Responsible Lending: Does not lend to activities within World Heritage Sites, activities that would degrade Conservation Areas, or finance illegal logging operations or finance manufacturing of weapons, nuclear, or of chemicals[4] .

3. Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank)


Environmental Policy: The Equator Principles, Environmental Risk Management, investment in renewable energy, Carbon Credit Trading.

Responsible Lending: Scotiabank has undertaken the highest amount of Environmental and Social Assessments under the Equator Principles among the top five banks (15)[6] .

4. Bank of Montreal (BMO)


Environmental Policy: The Equator Principles and Environmental Risk Management

Responsible Lending: Evaluates risk on climate change, not engage in any unsustainable resource extraction such as rainforest logging[7] .

5. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC)


Environmental Policy: The Equator Principles, Environmental Credit Risk, Environmental Risk Management, and Pre-Approved Environmental Consultants for undertakings

Responsible Lending: Manage high-environmental risk and Carbon Management Program[8] 

One argument many people have is that these banks should adopt the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act procedure when financing projects but, if you think about how banks cross all boundaries, it makes sense to use an internationally recognized environmental principle system in which is the baseline for all comparisons.  The ‘Big Five’ banks in Canada are well ranked within the financial industry worldwide, consistently ranking amongst the worlds best for their environmental practices. The Equator Principles are very similar to the environmental assessment process – with the goal of environmentally responsible decision making, and in some cases, based on each respective bank, they go above the requirements by implement greater restrictions. This ensures that the private sector is covered under environment assessment in some form and if clients do not comply with these standards, they must look elsewhere for funding.


[1] Canadian Bankers Association. (2014, January 4). Banks and Consumers. Retrieved January 20, 2014, from Canadian Bankers Association:

[2] Rainforest Action Network. (2011, September 28). Banks Ranked and Spanked on the Tar Sands. Retrieved January 20, 2014, from Rainforest Action Network:

[3] Rainforest Action Network. (2010, December 22). Royal Bank of Canada Steps Away from Tar Sands With Support for First Nation Rights. Retrieved January 20, 2014, from Rainforest Action Network:

[4] TD Bank Financial Group. (2009). Responsible Financing and Lending. Retrieved January 21, 2014, from TD Bank Financial Group:

[5] Royal Bank of Canada. (2012). RBC Environmental Blueprint: 2012 Report Card. Report Card, RBC.

[6] Scotiabank. (2013). Project Finance and the Equator Principles. Retrieved January 20, 2014, from Scotiabank:,,441,00.html

[7] Bank of Montreal. (2013). Responsible Lending. Retrieved January 20, 2014, from Bank of Montreal:

[8] CIBC. (2013). Lending and Investing. Retrieved January 20, 2014, from CIBC:

The push for renewable energy: a role for impact assessment?

Depending on which day you’re looking at the news, or which sources you’re following, or even which sections you choose to delve into, it can be unclear where we stand in terms of renewable and clean energy. New coalfields are being developed in Australia, Ecuador’s rain forests continue to be transformed into oil fields, and fracking is becoming commonplace news. At the same time, investments in renewable energy seem to be growing and governments continue to proclaim their commitment to green technologies and sustainable energy policies. So the question remains: why are we not further along in our push for ‘green growth?’

United States President Barack Obama discussing his commitments to changing the US’s energy policy at a June 2013 speech at Georgetown.

Christina Figuere’s, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), stated in early January that investment in clean technology needs to grow to $1 trillion a year within the next 10 to 15 years, signifying a tripling over current investments ($300 billion/yr). In mid-January, in line with this imperative, Ceres Investor Network organized a meeting of the world’s chief financial interests to discuss the needed increase in renewable investments [1]. This is a prime example of how more and more we are putting our environmental future at the mercy of business; placing faith in their ability to see that our current trajectory is unsustainable and not viable economically. It is increasingly common to frame decisions regarding unsustainable energy in terms of investor motivations rather than social and environmental imperatives [2].

All this leads me to question what role government can have in promoting renewable energy. As much as our world has opened up and globalization has entrenched the role of the private sector and economic interests, the role of the state should not be discounted. For one, it is governments that meet at international organizations to enter into agreements about policies for energy and climate. In 2011 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a report stating that almost 80% of the world’s energy could be supplied through renewable sources (bioenergy, solar, geothermal, hydropower, ocean, and wind energy) by 2050, pushing us towards stabilizing the climate, pending “consistent climate and energy policy support” [3]. The main hiccup towards moving in this regard is not an issue of resource availability but rather the proper economic and political policies supporting their development.

Annual installations of new power sources, in gigawatts, through 2030. The model for these predictions takes into account a 3-fold increase in yearly investments in renewable energy by the year 2030. (Source:, provided by BNEF)

Annual installations of new power sources, in gigawatts, through 2030. The model for these predictions takes into account a 3-fold increase in yearly investments in renewable energy by the year 2030.
(Source:, provided by BNEF)

Increased emphasis on natural gas and oil in the form of fracking, oil sands, and heavy-crude are proof to many that we are moving into what Hampshire College Professor Michael T. Klare [4] names “The Third Carbon Age: The Age of Unconventional Oil and Gas.” Klare bases a number of his findings on a November 2012 report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) that states that our energy demands led to government subsidies for fossil fuels totalling $523 billion in 2011 [5]. Coal alone has met the need of almost half of the rising energy demands in the past 10 years. Similarly to the IPPC report, the IEA report states that actually realizing energy efficiency is not related to unprecedented technological discoveries, but rather on “taking actions to remove the barriers obstructing the implementation of energy efficiency measures that are economically viable” [5]. The key is to change the incentives in decision-making processes. As a student of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), I believe that impact assessment can play a pivotal role in the process towards shaping energy policy decisions. The incorporation of energy efficiency priorities and overall sustainability into impact assessment is absolutely integral to our ability to move towards sustainable energy.

World’s total energy use projected through 2013 – more and more energy will be accounted for by renewable energy sources.
(Source:, provided by BNEF)

The pressure to include sustainability thought processes within EIA has been the subject of much research. Pope, et al. [6] discuss the importance of performing an ‘assessment for sustainability,’ in order to actually determine whether a plan is sustainable. Its purpose is simple: to unambiguously answer the closed-question of whether or not a policy or plan is sustainable. The guidelines for a sustainability assessment should be created in a top-down manner: determining what it means to be sustainable, and then identifying principles that represent this objective. The authors find that when sustainability assessment is incorporated within EIA, it tends to be through bringing in the thinking of economics, environment and society, and then attempting to reduce negative effects to all three. This results in an inherent competition and the acceptance that that trade-offs are necessary. However, since this is at a project level, the overall goal of sustainability at the level of society is never addressed. At this point a project has already been decided on and you are dealing with tweaking the details of a potentially inherently unsustainable project.

Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs) are used to assess the impacts of plans and policies in order to guide decision-making processes. If countries are serious about making changes to their environmental policies and promoting the development of sustainable energy, an SEA is an important tool that could be used to give an all-encompassing picture of the status of energy resources nationally. This information would in turn be used to inform project choice and implementation, as well as the EIA process of projects. As Hugé et al state [7], “the appeal of impact assessments lies in their systematic, stepwise approach and in their contribution to generate ‘order out of chaos,’” (p. 6247). I particularly like this notion of EIA, and think that it encompasses the principle that we must lay everything out on the table in order to make clear guidelines on environmental policy. While it is true that investment from the private sector is immensely important in the move towards sustainable development, SEA is an important tool to help countries put in place policies that will act as a catalyst for this change.



[1] Goldenberg, S. 2013, Jan 14. “Why We Need to Triple Clean Energy Investment.” Mother Jones. Web. 21 Jan 2013. Retrieved from:

[2] McDonnell, T. 2013, Apr. 22. “Charts: The Smart Money Is on Renewable Energy.” Mother Jones. Web. 21 Jan. 2013. Retrieved from:

[3] IPCC. 2011. PRESS RELEASE: Potential of Renewable Energy Outlined in Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Retrieved from:

[4] Klare, M. T. 2013, Aug. 8. “The Third Carbon Age.” The Nation. Web. 21 Jan. 2013. Retrieved from:

[5] IEA. 2012. World Energy Outlook 2012: Executive Summary. Retrieved from:

[6] Pope, J., Annandale, D., Morrison-Saunders, A. 2004. Conceptualising sustainability Assessment. EIA Review. 24: 595-616.

[7] Hugé, J., Waas, T., Eggermont, G., Verbruggen, A. 2011. Impact assessment for a sustainable energy future—Reflections and practical experiences. Energy Policy. 39: 6243-6253.

Small steps for the World Bank Group, still waiting on their big step

by Sara Munčs

It is not immediately obvious to most environmentalists the huge role that banks have to play in terms of achieving environmental goals. Banks, being the lenders of the money, have the power to set conditions on the money they lend. Of course, at the individual or small business scale, these conditions generally involve having a good credit rating and enough personal assets to potentially cover losses. When we look to larger scale businesses and projects these conditions start to become more demanding. The World Bank Group (WBG), among the largest financial institutions in the world, has been setting environmental conditions on their borrowers since the late 1980s.

The World Bank created its central Environmental Department in 1987 and issued its Operational Directive 4.00 on Environmental Assessment (EA) in October 1989 (1). This EA directive established a screening process undergone by all projects seeking loans, where projects posing serious or medium environmental risks (A or B category respectively) would have to undergo environmental impact assessments (1). This process has evolved and improved over time; today the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) (one of the WBG’s member institutions) performance standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability are largely regarded as best EA practice (2). However, many ambiguities in the WBG’s EA policy have led some to question their dedication to the environment.

For one, while the WBG establishes the requirement for EA to take place and gives general guidelines and standards, it is the borrower that conducts the assessment at their own discretion (1,2). There is, therefore, room for the borrower to submit insufficient assessments and get their projects approved. Furthermore, these assessment requirements do not strictly apply to projects being funded by a financial intermediary (3). That is, when the bank funds smaller financial institutions, who play the role of intermediary between the WBG funding and the project, as is generally the case with micro, small and medium-sized projects or enterprises (SME), these projects are no longer screened directly by the bank and IFC performance standards are not a requirement (2,3). Many projects with environmental impacts can escape scrutiny in this manner. Finally the Bank, historically, has put more emphasis on mitigation measures than on pursuing alternative projects with less impact (1). This demonstrates an acceptance by the bank that development cannot take place without environmental damage: a position that should be accepted as a last resort not as an unavoidable truth (1).

The WBG does seem to be changing this idea though, as can be seen in the following video outlining their new environmental strategy, which was adopted in 2012.

The concept that real development cannot take place without some level of environmental security seems to be taking hold, and it is recognized that neglecting to account for environmental damages will only continue to exacerbate social and economic problems, particularly in the developing world  (4). This position is even being accepted by smaller scale financial institutions as demonstrated by the increasing number of banks adhering to the Equator Principles for environmental and social risk management (5). The new environmental strategy proposes a number of actions to make the world greener, cleaner and more resilient, but what do they propose in terms of EA? Despite being an already existing tool that has a number of flaws, the answer to this question is “not much”.

Capacity building (as the usual go-to solution) is suggested, particularly to deal with the second problem that was mentioned about intermediary financial institutions. The WBG proposes to help financial institutions establish Environmental and Social Management Systems and to reach Equator Principle Member status. However, if one looks at Equator Principle membership it becomes obvious that institutions from developing countries are still lagging behind: only a handful of members are from Africa and none are from Asia with the exception of Japan (5). Granted this strategy has not been in place long, but clearly capacity building needs to be stepped up a notch.

What would have even more of an impact on EA and the environment than capacity building is, of course, not even acknowledged as a problem. It is clear that the WBG is playing the role of regulating authority for the EA’s conducted for the projects it finances: The WBG determines if an EA is required or not, has guidelines regarding how the EA should be conducted and makes the decision on whether the project will be approved for funding. However, the WBG is being lazy in this role and giving the proponents too much rein in how the EA is conducted. While general guidelines are given, project specific guidelines, similar to typical terms of reference documents would perhaps be more effective at ensuring the EA process is conducted properly. The WBG has to stop taking tiny, typical steps and make more drastic changes if they really want to support sustainable development.

1-Haeuber, R.(1992) “The World Bank and Environmental Assessment: The Role of Nongovernmental Organizations” Environmental Impact Assessment Review, Vol 12: 331-337.
2- IFC (2012) IFC Peformance Standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability.
3-Faubert, K. et al. (2010) “Environmental Assessment in Multilateral Development Bank Intermediary Lending” Journal of Environmental Assessment Policy and Management, Vol 12, No. 2: 131-153.
4-World Bank Group (2012) Towards a Green, Clean and Resilient World for All: A World Bank Group Environment Strategy 2012-2022.
5-Equator Principles Association (2013) “Members and Reporting” Retrieved from

Oil, Blood, and Fire: Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland, Nigeria

Over fifty years of Shell Petroleum Development Company Ltd (SPDC)  activity in Nigeria has transformed a once fertile landscape into a post-apocalyptic nightmare. Oil exploitation in Ogoniland, Niger Delta, chronicled as an era of “oil, blood, and fire,” has been overshadowed by incessant oil spills, gas flaring, and extrajudicial killings [1]. While SPDC oil exploration in Ogoniland ended in 1993 after violent clashes with Ogoni resistance movements, abandoned SPDC oil facilities were never decommissioned. Consequently, aged and rusting pipelines that indiscriminately cut through farmlands, creeks, and forests, continue to leach oil, contaminating water, soil, and vegetation [2].

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 10.47.10 PM

Figure 1. Map of oil infrastructure in Ogoniland (
Negotiations, initiatives, reconciliation, and protests have failed to deliver a lasting resolution that meets the culpability and expectations of all stakeholders. In an attempt to navigate the impasse, the Nigerian Federal Government requested the UNEP undertake a comprehensive assessment of the environmental and public health impacts of oil contamination in Ogoniland [3].

Figure 2. UNEP members gather data for the environmental assessment in Ogoniland (

Throughout the 14-month period, the UNEP examined more than 200 locations, surveyed 122 kilometers of pipelines, reviewed more than 5,000 medical records, and engaged over 23,000 people at community meetings [3]. The UNEP study, “Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland,” released in 2011, lambasts SPDC and the Federal Government for inaction over oil contamination, concluding that the remediation of Ogoniland will take between 25 to 30 years, costing an initial US$ 1 billion. The report reveals extensive hydrocarbon pollution in surface water throughout the creeks of Ogoniland and up to 8 cm in groundwater. In 49 observed sites, hydrocarbons have contaminated the soil up to a depth of five meters. Further, benzene, a known carcinogen, was found in drinking wells at levels over 900 times above the World Health Organization guideline [3]. Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, said, “The oil industry has been a key sector of the Nigerian economy for over 50 years, but many Nigerians have paid a high price, as this assessment underlines” [4]. It is the hope that the UNEP environmental assessment can catalyze environmental justice, providing a foundation to remedy the many environmental and social issues facing Ogoniland.

Figure 3. An oil spill and fire broke out along the Trans Niger Pipeline managed by Shell (
Sadly, two years after the landmark report, the Federal Government has demonstrated scant commitment towards implementing any UNEP recommendations [5, 6, 7]. While the Federal Government established the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) to “implement the recommendations of the UNEP report on Ogoniland as well as investigate, evaluate and establish other hydrocarbon impacted sites,” it has failed to enforce any UNEP recommendations [8]. Furthermore, there was no provision made for HYPREP in the 2013 federal budget, questioning the Federal Governments’ commitment towards Ogoniland [9]. Thus, beyond foot-dragging and the apparent lack of reforms, monitoring and enforcement, and improved practices, these approaches, or lack there of, guarantees SPDC does not take responsibility for its activities.

As for SPDC, it welcomed and committed itself to the UNEP findings by reviewing its Remediation Management System; completing an inventory of assets in Ogoniland; and meeting with government regulators to discuss and clarify the Environmental Guidelines and Standards for Petroleum Industry in Nigeria [10]. In a statement, SPDC managing director, Mutiu Sunmonu said, “(SPDC) is already reviewing its remediation practices and looking to involve independent international experts in assessing how it can improve” [11]. Moreover, the “SPDC is involved in the recommendations of the UNEP report and is involved in extensive, delicate dialogue between SPDC, the other players in the Nigerian oil industry and the Nigerian government how to provide the cleaning fund of $US 1 billion in response to UNEP call” [9]. However, beyond such lip-services, SPDC has failed to remediate any contaminated sites or decommission a single facilities in Ogoniland. Beyond its public relation mission, SPDC undermines its commitment to environmental justice by perpetuating the rhetoric and simplistic narrative that ongoing environmental degradation in the Niger Delta is a consequence of “sabotage, illegal refining, and bunkering” [11].

In August 2013 protests re-emerged in Ogoniland over the sustained inaction by the Federal Government and SPDC to protect the Ogoni and remediate the region [12]. Remediation is “not a complicated process…but it requires a high level of commitment” says Nenibarini Zabbey, contamination expert at the Centre for Human Rights and Development [13]. Thus, the parties responsible must take action, fulfilling the UNEP recommendations. Delaying implementation of the UNEP recommendations will only exacerbate the environmental degradation of the region and undermine the livelihoods of the Ogoni.Ultimately, if the cries of the Ogoni are disregarded, the region could experience a resurgence of oil-based militancy.


[1] Omotola, Shola J. 2006. “The Next Gulf? Oil Politics, Environmental Apocalypse and Rising Tension in the Niger Delta.”
[2] Ibeanu, Okechukwu. 2000. “Oiling the Friction: Environmental Conflict Management in the Niger Delta, Nigeria.” Environmental Change and Security Project Report 6: 19–32.
[3] United Nations Environment Programme. 2011. Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland. Nairobi, Kenya: United Nations Environment Programme.
[4] “UNEP Ogoniland Oil Assessment Reveals Extent of Environmental Contamination and Threats to Human Health – UNEP.” 2013. Accessed October 4.
[5] “Stakeholder Democracy Network – News, Reports and Analysis.” 2013. Stakeholder Democracy. Accessed October 2.
[6] “EnviroNews Nigeria  » Two Years after UNEP Report, Shell Urged to Clean up Ogoniland Mess.” 2013. EnviroNews Nigeria. Accessed October 7.
[7] “EXCLUSIVE: OGONI: UN Worried over Jonathan’s Inaction.” 2013. Premium Times Nigeria. Accessed October 3.
[8] “UNPO: Ogoni: Mitigating Impacts Of Environmental Disaster.” 2013. Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization. Accessed October 7.
[9] “Ogoni Pollution: Society Clamours For State of Emergency | Scoop News.” 2013. Scoop. Accessed October 5.
[10] “SPDC Action on Matters Addressed in the UNEP Report – Nigeria.” 2013. Accessed October 5.
[11] “United Nations Report on Nigeria Oil Spills – Nigeria.” 2013. Shell Nigeria. Accessed October 5.
[12] “UNPO: Ogoni Activists Protest for Their Environment.” 2013. Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization. Accessed October 4.
[13] Cocks, Tim. 2012. “Insight: A Year on, Nigeria’s Oil Still Poisons Ogoniland.” Reuters, August 5. Accessed October 3.

Mountaintop Removal Mining and Environmental Assessment

Mountaintop removal coal mining (MTR) is an environmentally destructive process that strips the tops of mountains using heavy machinery and explosives to acquire a layer of coal typically used for the burning of fossil fuels for energy. The rock and dirt debris are used to fill in adjacent valleys, burying streams and anything in them. This process is highly utilized throughout the Appalachian Mountains in the Eastern United States. To date over 500 mountaintops have been removed which represents over a million acres in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia (AV, 2011). The ecological consequences of this type of mining are a loss of forests and biodiversity with direct and indirect impacts to fish, birds and other biota. There have also been significant human health impacts reported due to contaminated water systems, flooding, and spillage of sludge from broken impoundments (Palmer et al. 2010, AV 2011). The benefit received from MTR is very insignificant and inefficient providing less than 4.5% of the electricity requirements (AV, 2011) for a country that is already one of the top energy consumers with less than 5% of the world’s population.

Some of the current topics that are being discussed in regards to this issue, are in the ineffective mitigation measures and reclamation to MTR sites. Current mitigation measures include stream creation to replace the ones buried by rock debris in valley filling. However it is reported that no stream creation project has been successful (Palmer et al. 2010). Reclaimed sites are often converted to grasslands due to waivers that allow mining companies to leave the land for development purposes rather than restoring it to its natural state, if at all possible. These reclaimed sites have drastically reduced biological integrity and less than 3% have actually been used for development (AV 2011).

The purpose of an environmental assessment (EA) is to identify the impact of a project, determine ways to minimize and mitigate the negative aspects of those impacts on people and the environment, and to fully inform decision makers about the environmental consequences (Noble 2010, pg. 4). The evidence reported suggests that there is an inadequacy in the EA process. If the EIA concluded that these projects had detrimental health effects, as has been found, one would think that the project would not be approved. Yet, mining permits are being granted in spite of growing evidence of its environmental destruction (Palmer 2010).

If the alternatives recommended are not going to be successful or if they will result negatively to ecological and human health, the project should not go through. Furthermore the fact that post-project monitoring data is not shared to the public, completely diminishes the legitimacy of the recommendations for mitigation of the EA. The inefficiency of this all is leading to the extraction of a non-renewable resource for very little benefit with no consideration to the environment it is destroying. Investment into renewable energies with less destructive technologies are where investments need to be made, not into fossil fuels that only contribute to climate change with very little benefit. I believe these issues stem from a lack of policy measures, a lack of transparency and post-project evaluation, monitoring and information sharing.


Appalachian Voices (AV), 2011. End Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining. Available from: [] retrieved on November 9, 2011.

Palmer M, E Bernhardt, W Schlesinger, K Eshleman, E Foufoula-Georgiou, M Hendryx, A Lemly, G Likens, O Loucks, M Power, P White, and P Wilcock. 2010. Mountaintop Mining Consequences. Science. 327: 148-149

Noble B. 2010. Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment: A guide to principles and practice 2nd edition. Oxford University Press. New York.