Fighting the fossils

Big Oil is throwing money at new fossil fuel infrastructure like there’s no tomorrow. New pipelines, refineries, wells and rigs are being built across all continents. But everywhere the industry goes, it meets resistance. Here are four profiles of groups saying enough is enough.



‘Our campaign starts from the principle that the vast gas resources discovered in the Eastern Mediterranean during the last decade should remain underground – fossil fuels are not the future,’ says Manal Shqair, climate activist and the International Advocacy Officer of the Stop the Wall campaign based in Palestine.

Palestinian activists in the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign are challenging Israel’s use of the occupation and blockade of Gaza to drill offshore and export gas. They point out that Israel is withholding money due to Palestine for gas transported across and extracted from its waters.

The Mari-B gas platform is 13 nautical miles from the Gaza Strip and the EMG gas pipeline from Israel to Egypt also passes at that distance in areas claimed by the Palestinian Authority. In 2018 Israel opened a tender for 26 oil and gas exploration permits in the Mediterranean, including four in disputed zones. The protection of gas interests has driven the naval blockade of Gaza, say activists, preventing Palestinian use of the waters beyond six nautical miles offshore.

Activists are targeting the involvement of Global North companies in oil and gas in disputed zones of the Mediterranean, as well the EU-funded EuroAsia [electricity] Interconnector. ‘The European Union claims to oppose illegal Israeli settlements,’ say Shqair. ‘However, it is building the longest submarine electricity cable in the world, connecting Israel’s colonial settlements in the occupied West Bank with Europe’s electric grid via Cyprus and Greece.’ Activists argue it will be used to export gas-powered electricity – Israel’s largest power station is currently being converted to gas from coal.

For campaigners, climate justice and fighting the occupation are intrinsically linked. ‘We are facing an environmental catastrophe worldwide but we are affected by it disproportionately and differently. Climate injustice threatens what sustains life for Palestinians – land and natural resources, particularly water,’ says Shqair, adding that Israel controls most water in the West Bank and prevents its transfer to the Gaza strip.

Mozambique – Cabo Delgado

In 2010 the world’s ninth largest gas reserves were discovered off Mozambique. But the three major gas projects being driven by European and US companies at Cabo Delgado, in the country’s north, are bringing devastation in their wake.

As well as directly displacing hundreds of families, the projects have helped fuel an Islamic State-linked insurgency in the region, which has left 4,000 dead and forced over 800,000 people to move.

JA! Justica Ambiental (Now! Environmental Justice / Friends of the Earth Mozambique) has been working with affected communities in the region and disseminating information to help campaigners in other parts of the world. ‘Pretty much all of the companies involved are international,’ says Ilham Rawoot, co-ordinator of the group’s Say No to Gas! campaign. ‘This means most of the lobbying happens in those countries.’

The projects – by Total, ExxonMobil and Eni – could together create the equivalent of 49 years of Mozambican emissions. The gas find has also contributed to wider damage to the country’s economy, including the Credit Suisse secret loans and kickbacks scandal, the aftermath of which led to lenders pulling out. This triggered an economic crisis which caused $11 billion of harm and pushed two million Mozambicans into poverty.

It is our responsibility as humans to act on climate change and we owe this to future generations

JA! is also working with Friends of the Earth Netherlands on a parliamentary review of funding from Dutch state financier Atradius. In the UK it has worked with campaigning groups to apply for a judicial review of UK Export Finance’s $1 billion support. And it keeps confronting the companies involved by attending their AGMs. ‘It means they can’t say they didn’t know,’ says Rawoot.

Fridays for Future Uganda

Today Fridays for Future Uganda has a network of 53,000 young people mobilizing for climate action. But when Hilda Flavia Nakabuye (above), now 24, started it as a student in 2019 very few people were interested.

‘I got involved when I saw Greta [Thunberg] posting about her climate strike outside the Swedish Parliament. Few people [here] knew about climate change. I saw the droughts, floods, strong winds, changes in seasons that were becoming very unpredictable… Crops were withering and it was becoming harder to get water. I decided to act to raise awareness.’

With the slogan ‘people above profit’, they are currently focused on stopping the building of Total and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation’s East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline. ‘They’re planning a 1,445 kilometre pipeline from Hoima, near Lake Alberta in Uganda to the port of Tanga, Tanzania,’ said Nakabuye, who lives in Kampala, the capital. Electrically heating the entire length to 50°C to keep oil flowing will add to emissions.

‘For the last four years people have been moved off the land for the project – 178 villages in Uganda and 231 in Tanzania, that’s 14,000 households moved, their incomes and livelihoods destroyed.

‘We are using digital spaces, approaching banks and other investors and working with other organizations globally to create awareness about this – and with campaigners in other countries, especially France where Total comes from. It is our responsibility as humans to act on climate change and we owe this to future generations.’

India – Ratnagiri refinery

A proposed $44 billion dollar refinery in India – which could have been the world’s largest – was cancelled in 2019 after concerted protests from villagers and farmers.

The Ratnagiri refinery at Nanar, a village 400 kilometres south of Mumbai in the state of Maharashtra, would have had a capacity of 1.2 million barrels of oil per day, using crude imported from Saudi Arabia. A plastic manufacturing plant would have operated alongside.

But the project, a proposed partnership of state-run Indian oil companies with Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, was expected to displace 22,000 farmers and 5,000 fishers, and destroy 1.4 million mango trees, 600,000 cashew trees and 200 hectares of paddy fields.

After it was announced in 2017, over 2,000 farmers marched in protest to Mumbai’s Azad Maidan square. In Nanar farmers spent days patrolling the roads, obstructing government surveying using sheets of cloth and black umbrellas. ‘Taking away existing livelihood in the name of employment generation and development is the worst kind of human rights violation,’ one protester, Suryalata Kamble, told independent-media outlet The Wire.

Protests and obstruction continued in Nanar, Mumbai and elsewhere. After 14 gram panchayats (village councils) around Nanar passed resolutions against the project, regional party Shiv Shena came out against it. It was formally scrapped in early 2019 and land acquisition stopped.