- UN blasts Botswana over oil and gas exploration activities
- Environmental concerns emerge over planned drilling
Botswana’s recent decision to issue a license to Canadian oil and gas company, ReconAfrica, for oil exploration in the ecologically sensitive Okavango Delta has ignited a strong response from the United Nations.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has raised concerns about potential environmental impacts and has caught the attention of international conservation bodies.
Both Botswana and Namibia have granted ReconAfrica licences for oil prospecting in the Okavango Delta, a region known for its rich biodiversity and unique ecosystems.
In a newly released report, UNESCO has criticised the decision to license ReconAfrica.
The organisation has voiced its utmost concern regarding the advancement of oil and gas exploration activities in the Okavango Delta, particularly in the environmentally sensitive upstream areas located outside the buffer zone.
UNESCO’s concerns were expressed during a recent meeting held by one of its committees responsible for heritage sites.
According to the report by UNESCO: “The advancement of the oil and gas exploration activities within the Okavango River Basin in Botswana and Namibia is of great concern, given the significant risks the expansion of these activities and any eventual exploitation of reserves would pose to the interconnected water system and the ecosystem, and hence the property’s OUV (Outstanding Universal Value),” said the report by UNESCO:
UNESCO urged Botswana, Angola and Namibia to ensure that petroleum exploration and other large scale development projects with potential adverse impact on the OUV of the property are subject to rigorous and critical prior review, including through EIAs (Environmental Empact Assessments) that correspond to international standards.
This should also include an assessment of social impacts and a review of potential impacts on the World Heritage property.
According to UNESCO, despite its committee’s request for Botswana and Namibia to keep the World Heritage Centre informed of the further stages of the oil and gas project, no information on the reportedly completed EIA and EMP for the on-going exploratory activities in Namibia has been shared.
Declaring its disappointment with Botswana and Namibia’s conduct, UNESCO said it was of utmost importance that any stage of the project is subject to rigorous and critical prior review, including through EIAs that correspond to international standards, including an assessment of social impacts and a review of potential impacts on the World Heritage property, in conformity with the new Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessment in a World Heritage context.
UNESCO said it was its position that mineral exploration or exploitation is incompatible with World Heritage status, which is supported by the International Council of Mining and Metals’ (ICMM) Position Statement of not undertaking such activities within World Heritage properties.