COP22 SUMMIT IN MARRAKECH : What truly lies behind the World Bank’s Assessment of the Mauritius Blue Economy?
Article in Le Mauricien| 30 November 2016 | By STEFAN GUA
My fellow compatriots of Mauritius, I want you to meet Dr. Raffaello Cervigni. He was presented by the World Bank, for which he has been working for 21 years now, as Lead Environmental Economist and having led the water resource management, natural resource management and disaster risk management communities within the Africa region.
What is the pertinence of this introduction of mine, will you say? Mr Cervigni spoke about the Blue Economy in Mauritius (‘Assessing the potential for sustainable Blue Economy: the case of Republic of Mauritius)… Well, was Mr. Cervigni mandated by the Mauritian government as was the case of the three other panelists from their respective countries, the Seychelles, Togo and Senegal? The general theme of the seminar during the COP22 summit in Marrakech, Morocco, on Thursday 17th November 2016, was ‘Africa Blue Economy: Oceans and Coastal Resilience’.
In his presentation of Mauritius, Mr Cervigni talked a lot about the underlying potentials of World Bank’s Business Plan on Ocean Economy for Mauritius. He talked about the (underestimated) 11.1% of contribution to the GDP. He elaborated on the avenues for investment, for instance oil jetty, aquaculture, biotechnology, biofuel and so on and so forth. Well, having been the only Mauritian that have sneaked my way to this seminar and witnessed his presentation, I could not help myself asking Mr Cervigni about his eventual mandate to speak on behalf of Mauritius at this international summit.
He’s not a Mauritian citizen but I was given the assurance that this has nothing to do with some form of neo-colonialism or grabbing of our ocean. No, no and no! World Bank will surely never do that. Perhaps that Alain Wong, Minister of the Environment for Mauritius and present at the COP22, lost his way in this confusing space and was not able to make it to the seminar, and the World Bank pulled in some apparatchik to make sure that ‘our’ voices are being heard there. Maybe Mr Wong should have followed the Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Change of the Seychelles, Mr Didier Dogley, who was there speaking about the 30% of the 1.4 million km2 of the Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) being declared Protected Area, yet another thing to follow for our minister of Environment.
Let us not change focus and get back to the exposé of Mr. Cervigni and the World Bank. The whole speech was about paving new avenues for economic growth. Well, this has somehow a rancid odor; people have been hearing that for a while and know that this has no relevance to their real concern regarding a better living and growing social inequality in a country like Mauritius, so generously lenient on corporate taxes.
I must admit not being fair; there was an additional dimension to the economic growth – it’s the green aspect (we were at the COP22 after all); exploit, grab but put a market value to those externalities that capitalism previously considered as free gifts, nature! How cool is that, ocean is considered as an important carbon sink and holds the capacity of absorbing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to allow industries to keep on polluting. In other words, to make void the GHG emissions for the petroleum hub in Albion, there will be a GHG emissions’ ‘sequestrator’ that will be created to the equivalent value of emissions of the petroleum hub, and that will supposedly prevent the ecological crisis of getting worse.
The favoured ocean ‘sequestrator’ so far is mangrove planting, a lot of them, and if we consider what has taken place for the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) mechanism, those places where mangroves will be planted will be considered as sanctuaries, in worst cases privately owned/leased. Poor fishermen of Bambous-Virieux know something about lagoon privatization; some four of them have just escaped being sued by an aquaculture farm for damaging property that is encroaching the lagoon. One can argue that the privatization of lagoon or ocean for the sake of GHG capture is not the same kind of privatization as for aquaculture. Well, at the end of the day it leads to the same alienation: who would like our lagoon to be privatized for writing off the GHG emission of big corporates? In any case, nature surely does not give a f*** of these kinds of mechanism; it has its own laws and will never follow those of market economics.
This being said, I need to apologize for not taking the time to brief Mr. Cervigni about the Mauritian people’s actual experiences of ocean exploitation. The only thing I did was to explain the total lack of consultancy and transparency in the process of implementing this new capitalist venture. Ok, the World Bank surely knows much about it and should not be briefed for that. Nevertheless, I need to point out that they are particularly aware of this concerning ocean economy discussion going on in Mauritius.
In line with the African Ministerial Conference On Ocean Economies and Climate Change that took place in Balaclava, Mauritius, on the 1st and 2nd of September 2016, another World Bank employee (from Mauritius this time), asked to meet people from the civil society for the purpose of making those voices heard at this conference because no space was to be made for civil society to speak there. So World Bank would have conveyed the voice of the civil society at this inter-ministerial conference to palliate the non-consultative approach of the Mauritian Government. But as the saying goes, “better late than never”, here are some premises on ocean economy that we are having now. I just hope that they’ll fall on Mr Cervigni’s ears.
Aquaculture: Fishermen from the south of Mauritius are against that project for multiple reasons – the aquaculture farm occupies much space in the lagoon and makes navigation a challenge; the fish raised in the farm are exotic species and have escaped the farm and may have contaminated the area; the fish are administered a great dose of antibiotics and their waste just go to the bottom of the farm and threaten marine biodiversity; farms attract a lot of predators such as sharks who either get caught in the protective nets or are simply killed to prevent them from destroying the farms; fish raised in aquafarms are not meant for the local market, but for export, thus do not address food sovereignty for Mauritius; the Prime Minister alone holds the right of concession for aquaculture in the Mauritian sea as per the Maritime Zone Act.
Fishing Partnership Agreement: based on overexploitation of our EEZ by fishing agreements that Mauritius have with several countries including one of the World Bank’s major partners, the European Union (EU); EU compensates Mauritius Rs 5.28 (€0.13) for 1kg of tuna fished in our ocean; by-catches which can be over 50% of catches are not accounted for, yet those fish are thrown back dead/dying in the sea; based on the most non-ecological fishing techniques, purse seiners and longliners along with fishing aggregate devices (FADs) which Mauritius wanted to limit to 200 per ship, EU pressurized and won over 550 per ship; local fishermen are suffering from the unfair competition of European vessels who are supposed to fish 15 nautical miles away, but their too important and discriminatory catches cause a lot of prejudice to local fishermen; fisher folks and the civil society are totally excluded from negotiations with the European Union on FPA.
The Seafood Hub: based on cheap and extremely bad labour conditions, where workers, inappropriately equipped, are entering a ship’s hold of -40 degrees Celsius; the Seafood Hub does not address food sovereignty, the catches are from EU vessels and transit to local industries to be processed in Mauritius and sent back to the EU market.
Petroleum hub and Oil jetty: People have been contesting a coal power plant at Albion, in the west of the island, for several years and the power plant never came to life due to massive mobilization, and now the petroleum hub project is planned to be near the same spot; people are already mobilizing to contest the petroleum hub of Albion; Mauritius does not produce petrol and should be aiming to promote renewable energy; what is the pertinence in investing in a petroleum hub when the price of fossil fuel is getting down and may go down again? The lagoon ecosystem issue is a real sensitive one and an oil spill will be fatal to the Mauritian lagoon. The MV Benita oil spill in the south of Mauritius in July 2016 showed how unprepared Mauritius is when it comes to that matter.
As we focus on each sector of the new capitalist venture in the ocean, we will surely have a lot to say and to campaign for. But the amazing thing is that even if the ruling elite wants to make some kind of echo to climate change regarding the blue economy, they are still trapped in the same overexploitation and profit accumulation paradigm and are in the incapacity of addressing the issue.
As we speak of the necessity of protecting coastal regions, there has been absolutely no reduction in beach grabbing for luxurious hotel construction; thus, contributing to the weakening of our coastal region and depriving local people of their rights on collectively owned spaces.
Mauritians should not expect less from ocean economy than grabbing, biodiversity degradation, depletion and cheap labour; how does this sound in the face of climate change? Crazy… just like the fact that some World Bank representative who allows himself to speak of Mauritius and its some 1.3 million people as a business plan in a world forum, and that conveys the narrative of only big corporates.
Well, what Mr Cervigni does not seem to gauge is our attachment to our beaches and ocean. Even if the doors of democracy remain closed we will make our voices heard and loud enough to disrupt any neo-liberal, neo-colonial institution, be it in Mauritius, Morocco or Washington.
A Propos de l’Auteur
Rezistans ek Alternativ
COP refers to the Conference of the Parties. These are the yearly conferences held in terms of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is aimed at reducing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. The Conference of the Parties (COP) was designated as the supreme governing body of the Convention. This is the 22nd year that the conference is being held, hence COP-22. COP-22 was held in Marrakech, Morrocco, from 14th to 18th November 2016.