REFLECTING ON ANEEJ’S INTERFACE WITH THE NORGES BANK IN NORWAY
BY DAVID UGOLOR
From September 28 to October 4, 2023, the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) led a delegation of four, from the Niger Delta region of Nigeria to Norway to meet with the leadership of Norges Bank Investment Management (Norwegian Oil Fund), and other stakeholders. In Norway, ANEEJ delegation teamed up with SUNRISE project team and Norwegian civil society. The aim of opening conversations with Norges Bank was to make them aware of the evidence and multiple reports showing that Shell has not done enough to mitigate or remediate the impact of their operations in the Niger Delta. Up to this point, Norges Bank has been far too naive with its engagements with Shell as the narration has been too “one-sided”. The lack of action from the fund is clear proof of this. After ten years since the Ministry of Finance directed Norges Bank to sort this out in 2013, far too little has been done.
Shell repeatedly blames third-party theft and sabotage on the numerous spills and other environmental problems it created in the Niger Delta. We know for sure that an estimated 40% of pipelines are over 30 years old. In addition, a statement issued by ex-safety consultant to Shell, Caroline Dennett, exposed the gaps in Shell’s safety measures in place to prevent these oil spills. This statement is crucial when compared to Shell’s misleading statements. So, we asked that Norges Bank must conduct a detailed assessment of their fossil fuel holdings operating in the entire Niger Delta and not just Ogoni land, which was the Shell’s case study provided in the Responsible Investment report 2022, representing only a small fraction of the entire region. We also extended our long-standing invitation to Norges Bank and by extension, other investors in oil and gas, to send representatives, to visit the Niger Delta to consult with civil society and speak with affected communities. This is the only way to rebalance this “one-sided” dialogue. Shell’s track record and these past 10 years of wasted engagement show that there must be strict deadlines to which companies like Shell are held, not just loose engagement efforts.
ANEEJ with other civil society had written to Nicolai Tangen, the CEO of Norges Bank Investment Management, acknowledging that their engagement has failed to change Shell’s approach to the Niger Delta. Urging the Bank to take real responsibility to use their power on behalf of the communities in the Niger Delta who have long suffered at the hands of Shell, Eni, Chevron and other companies, and also on behalf of the billions of people across the world who are suffering the impacts of climate change.
ENGAGEMENT WITH OTHER INVESTORS AND THE EMERGENCE OF THE PEOPLES AGM PLATFORM
Prior to the engagement with the Norges Bank, ANEEJ, working with numerous civil society groups targeted other investors which include Blackrock, Vanguard, and Stonebrand Asset Management. It started with the Church of England, when in May 2021, an open letter was addressed to the Most Revd. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury. In the letter it was emphasized that the Church of England Pensions Board was lending its moral and financial authority to Shell. We queried why the Church should profit from the people’s misery and misfortune accessioned by Shell and other oil companies; they are funding.
ANEEJ later convened the Peoples AGM Platform to canvass the peoples positions and the real issues as against declaring profits. The first People’s AGM in May 2022 and rally in front of Shell’s office in Lagos, Nigeria attracted global attention. At our second People’s AGM in May 2023, we released a public statement calling on Blackrock, Vanguard, Norges Bank, and other investors in Shell to visit the Niger Delta to assess the damage of Shell’s oil exploration activities in the Niger Delta. This call merely re-echoed the first call and during our visit to Oslo, Norway, we again called on Norges Bank and Storebrand to visit the Niger Delta.
The engagement with the Church of England was productive and we were happy that they have divested as Shell and others abandoned their climate commitments for short-term profit. This has sent a very strong message about the challenge of trying to engage Shell without a clear timeline and deliverables. The engagement with the Church of England was also very encouraging and we will continue to build on it with other campaigners around the world who have also supported our campaign.
FEEDBACK FROM NORGES BANK
After the meeting with Norges Bank, we were able to find out that third-party information which they relied on to produce their annual responsible investment report lacked legitimacy and is one-sided because of the absence of the perspective from the Niger Delta communities. We were encouraged because we had a consensus on that conclusion. The fund has now asked ANEEJ and the other delegation members to share with them more information as they are in the process of producing a report on their engagement objectives and next steps with Shell. They also asked the visiting team to share their comments and feedback on Agip/Eni, operating in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria which they have also invested in.
Norges Bank’s decision to meet with ANEEJ delegation and source information from the delegation is a welcome development which will help to prevent misrepresentation from Shell and other companies. We are taking this request very seriously and hopefully we will send our findings to the fund before the conclusion of their report and we are also working with the Church of Norway and other key Civil Society leaders in Norway including parliamentarians to make sure the mess created by Shell in the Niger Delta is resolved.
Shell continues to point fingers on the communities as the cause of the massive pollution of the environment which is not true. We are willing and committed to work with Norges Bank and other investors in Shell as well as other oil and gas companies to address the problem in the Niger Delta.
David Ugolor is ANEEJ Executive Director and Leader of the delegation to Norway.