SPDC-funded development projects need to mainstream climate resilience

Many communities in the Niger Delta of Nigeria shoulder the double burden of fossil-fuel extraction (associated oil spill risks and air pollution) and the impact of climate change (worsened by the extracted oil’s end-use). Oil and gas companies operating in the Niger Delta have faced criticism, and sometimes successful law-suites, about the way they work with communities living near their infrastructure. For as long as oil and gas activities endure, these companies must engage with local communities responsibly. Given the urgency of climate change risks and impacts, this responsibility must include ensuring any development gains are protected against climate change threats.

Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) funds a significant amount of community development projects in the Niger Delta, under their corporate social responsibility (CSR). However, the projects we examined did not incorporate mitigation against the growing impact of climate change on the development prospects of communities in the region. This failure risks the progress gained via development projects funded by SPDC in the region.

Climate resilience is the capacity to manage risks, absorb shocks, and adapt to the impacts from climate change.

Climate change impacts felt here and now:

Our research confirms that community members are already witnessing severe impacts of climate change. This includes flooding, sea level rise, coastal erosion, drought, and intense heat and sun. Overall, weather patterns are less predictable, and have an increased negative impact on agriculture and aquaculture livelihoods, which are the mainstay of the local economy. Some livelihood changes have been adopted, but these are mostly low-level coping strategies, such as using bricks to build fish ponds to prevent fish being washed out of ponds during floods.

Why aren’t development projects incorporating climate resilience?

A lack of understanding

The failure to create ways to protect development gains from the impacts of climate change is mainly due to the low level of climate change understanding among community members and those in project decision-making roles. Our research found that the impacts of climate change are largely thought to be acts of God, or as a direct result of the nearby oil and gas extraction activities, since the latter pollutes air, land, and water, and exacerbates soil erosion. Combatting these forces is seen to be beyond the what is possible to achieve in these projects.

Climate resilience is seen as competition with higher visibility projects

Funded projects tend to target easily identifiable infrastructural needs such as a road or electricity supply, and rarely seek to address more complex needs, such as climate resiliency. This ‘either/or’ thinking comes from seeing climate change resilience as a separate project, rather than a dimension that cuts across development projects.

Profiteering and immediate results in project consideration

SPDC’s Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMoU) model of CSR uses community representatives who are responsible for identifying projects that address the local communities’ needs, and participatory tools are integrated to prioritise wider community preferences in decision-making. This sounds good on paper, but the structures are not robust enough to ensure meaningful participation and accountability. The community members report that decision-makers are biased towards projects that they can personally fulfil and profit from. While the decision-makers claim that community members will always nominate projects that satisfy the very basic needs, and are ignorant to climate resilience. This highlights the need to find mutual priorities and understanding.

Excluding the most vulnerable to climate change impacts

The marginalisation of women in decision-making within communities is replicated in the project decision-making structures. This is especially troubling as our research respondents reported that women disproportionately suffer the worst impacts of climate change, since they dominate the labour force in climate-affected livelihoods e.g. farming and fishing. Ensuring meaningful participation of women could increase the prioritisation of projects that integrate climate resilience and sustainable livelihoods.

Project approval criteria

Community members and decision-makers in the communities we researched felt that SPDC has a pre-determined list of projects that they will approve. This stems from SPDC’s Operations, Policy, Procedures and Guidelines, which respondents claim do not even mention climate change. This reportedly restricts the type of projects that communities can get funded, and based on the current set of approved projects, may not accommodate climate resilience. SPDC did not respond when reached out to for comments on this claim.

The types of climate resilience prioritised by communities

As part of our research, we gathered feedback from workshops with community members on what types of climate change resilience they would prioritise. A broad range of ideas were suggested but the following were most commonly voiced:

  1. Shoreline and river bank protection from erosion
  2. Flood prevention and protection (including drainage and potable water)
  3. Tree-planting to combat deforestation
  4. Farming support e.g. improved seeds and saplings for agriculture

Recommendations:

  • Improve awareness on climate change resilience strategies, and the links to development, within the communities researched.
  • Train decision-makers on how to mainstream climate change resilience into all projects.
  • Ensure the decision-making process is more inclusive and meaningful, especially for women.
  • SPDC should review the projects that they award to support integration of climate resilience.

Published: 12.04.21

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