Environmental Management for the Oil Sector Activity Closeout

Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Deborah R. Malac
Environmental Management for the Oil Sector Activity Closeout

Good morning! I am delighted to be here today to recognize the achievements of the partners of USAID’s Environmental Management for the Oil Sector Activity. These partners have dedicated themselves to ensuring that Uganda is prepared to manage and mitigate the impacts of petroleum development on the environment and biodiversity.

I want to begin by thanking the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development for joining USAID to convene this event. I also want to thank all of our distinguished partners for sharing your accomplishments with me during my tour of the gallery this morning. Your enthusiasm for the work you do is truly infectious!

This morning I met Gloria Turamyeomu, a Bachelor’s student from Hoima studying at Kyambogo University. Gloria pursued her undergraduate studies in chemical engineering, one of the first programs that USAID enhanced with content about biodiversity and petroleum development. Taking advantage of a memorandum of understanding among all six of USAID’s academic and technical training partners, Gloria spent a semester at Nyabyeya Forestry College to conduct research on biofuels. Today, she aims to become a chemical engineer for an international energy company in the hopes of ensuring a prosperous and sustainable future for Uganda.

The discovery of petroleum reserves in the Albertine Rift region of western Uganda has created new economic opportunities as well as new challenges for environmental management and biodiversity conservation. During the estimated five years of peak production, the International Monetary Fund calculates that petroleum could account for up to seven percent of GDP, generating significant revenues for the government.

However, if the exploitation of natural resources like petroleum is not managed wisely and for the benefit of all people, Uganda risks facing the “resource curse”—including corruption, conflict, economic distortions, and environmental destruction.

The Albertine Rift is one of the most biologically diverse regions in Africa. More species of primates, including the iconic mountain gorilla, inhabit this region than any other place on the planet. According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Albertine Rift is home to more than half of Africa’s bird species, 40 percent of the continent’s mammal species, and roughly 20 percent of Africa’s plant and amphibian species. This incredible natural heritage serves as the foundation for Uganda’s growing tourism industry, which is the country’s top foreign exchange earner. Tourism already contributes more than $1 billion dollars per year to the national economy, and it will continue to generate revenue well beyond the estimated 25-year time frame for oil and gas extraction. Moreover, the environmental goods and services provided by the region’s forests, wetlands, lakes, and diverse habitats benefit other sectors of the economy like agriculture and fisheries.

Uganda’s natural wealth is central to the government’s vision of becoming a middle-income country, but this advancement must not come at the expense of future generations who will continue to depend on biodiversity and natural resources for their livelihoods. Conservation and economic growth need not be mutually exclusive. That is why in September of 2013, USAID embarked on a four-year journey with our Ugandan partners to strengthen the country’s capacity to manage and mitigate the impacts of petroleum development on the country’s biodiversity.

Since then, we have supported the development of the first integrated Petroleum Engineering and Environmental Management Bachelor’s Degree in Uganda at Mbarara University of Science and Technology. Last week the first cohort of students admitted to this program began their first semester of classes.

Additionally, we have worked with the Uganda Wildlife Authority to develop a sensitivity atlas for Queen Elizabeth Protected Area that will help guide decision-making in the approval of petroleum and other extractive developments in one of Uganda’s most important natural areas. We have also partnered with the National Environment Management Authority to develop public information and education materials designed to open dialogue with communities and demystify the petroleum development process and its links to environmental quality.

These efforts are important first steps in ensuring comprehensive environmental management in the Albertine Rift, but much more work remains. The true test will come when Uganda prepares to enter the production phase of petroleum development by the end of 2020.

The consortium of international oil companies operating in Uganda has declared its intent to leave the petroleum production zones in better ecological condition than they found them, achieving a net positive effect on biodiversity. This ambitious vision will require a strong commitment from industry, effective oversight from government, targeted research from academia and continued engagement from civil society.

Ugandans need a firm commitment from their government to ensure that biodiversity conservation is a national priority, not just in word but also in deed. I urge the Government of Uganda to maintain robust support for institutions like the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the National Forestry Authority, and the National Environment Management Authority to enable them to fulfill their mandates on the front lines of environmental monitoring and protection of biodiversity. I urge the Government to assist District Local Governments to implement their priority environmental management actions on district land. And I encourage all parties engaged in the petroleum sector to commit to free and open dialogue with communities and civil society.

In closing, I want to thank all of you again for your sincere collaboration and for your commitment to our common vision of a strong Uganda that can effectively address the environmental impacts of petroleum development. I am honored to be part of this effort, and I look forward to continuing to work with all of you to ensure a prosperous and sustainable future for Uganda.