The Baku Ceyhan Campaign
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- What is planned

- Colonialism

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- Environmental impacts

- BP's pipeline record

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Climate change and the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline

(This page is based on chapter 14 of the book ‘Some Common Concerns’ – please see the links on the publications page for references etc)

Key facts

Once in full production, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline will transport 365 million barrels of oil. When burnt this will produce 160 million tonnes of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) each year. This is:

  • equal to the pollution from every power station in the UK (163 million tonnes CO2)
  • far more than the pollution from every car, truck, bus and train in the UK (125 million tonnes CO2)
  • twice as much as heating every house in the UK (89 million tonnes CO2).

The climate impact of this project will dwarf the combined impacts of all UK initiatives to combat climate change. The emissions from the oil and gas coming through the pipelines would be more than twice the emissions saved through the UK's 12.5% reduction under the Kyoto Protocol (73,000 tonnes CO2) and ten times more than the emissions saved through the UK's target of meeting 10% of electricity demand from renewables (wind, sun, water power) by 2010.

How climate change takes place

THE climate is changing. Human activities – particularly burning fossil fuels but also to a lesser extent land-use changes, like deforestation and intensive agriculture – have increased concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), the most significant greenhouse gas, in the Earth’s atmosphere. Greenhouse gases trap the sun’s radiation in the atmosphere instead of letting it escape back into space, thereby increasing global average temperature and changing the world’s climate.

The 2001 report of the world’s highest scientific authority on climate change, the United Nations body known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is unequivocal: "There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities."

The panel predicts that global warming will continue. According to its projections, global temperature will increase by between 1.4 and 5.8 C against 1990 levels by 2100.The IPCC warns that this rate and level of change is "very likely to be without precedent" during at least the last 10,000 years.

Scientists have already documented a wide range of impacts that are consistent with global warming. These include changes in sea level, snow cover, the extent of ice and rainfall, along with more persistent, frequent and intense El Niño* weather events, coral reef bleaching, and shifts in plant and animal habitats, some of which are likely to result in extinctions. All these changes affect human beings, for instance by affecting water supply, agriculture, infrastructure and disease patterns.

Those least responsible for climate change suffer its worst impacts.

According to the IPCC: "The impacts of climate change will fall disproportionately upon developing countries and the poor persons within all countries, and thereby exacerbate inequities in health status and access to adequate food, clean water and other resources." This is because climate change will be more severe in tropical and sub-tropical regions, where most developing countries are located, and because poorer people are usually more vulnerable in that they have fewer resources to protect themselves (because of, for example, poorer health and nutrition, and limited access to infrastructure and institutions).

Victims of climate change
Victims of climate change: floodwaters surrounding houses in Dhaka, Bangladesh [DigitalVision]

How the BTC pipeline will contribute to climate change

The fossil fuel industry can be seen as part of a complex system that transfers carbon from geological underground reserves, where it is safely locked away, to the atmosphere, where it contributes to global warming. All the elements in this transfer system are important: the oil or gas reservoir or coal mine, the terminal, the pipeline, the tanker, the oil refinery, the gas distribution network, the petrol station, the car or truck engine, the power station, the electricity grid and the light bulb.

The geological strata of the Caspian Region hold vast reserves of oil and gas. According to BP, proven oil reserves in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan already amount to 15 billion barrels.

As exploration continues and technology makes previously inaccessible reserves accessible and affordable, increases in proven reserves are expected.

The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline will ensure that Caspian oil is burnt in the car and truck engines and power plants of Western Europe and the USA. Once burnt, the oil transported daily along the BTC pipeline at a rate of one million barrels daily (when it is operating at full capacity after 2008) will contribute 160 million tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere every year. This is equivalent to nearly 30% of the UK’s CO2 emissions for 2000 (557 million tonnes).

Meanwhile, the BTC pipeline system will play a key role in sustaining BP’s continued growth in its rate of extraction of oil and gas – wherein each year BP extracts more than it extracted the previous year. Despite its claims to have reduced the climate impact of its own operations (from emissions from its platforms, refineries and petrol stations), BP is specifically aiming to sell ever more climate-altering products – and building the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey (AGT) system would facilitate this contradiction.

Fossil fuels versus renewables: the economics of climate change

The solution to climate change lies both in reducing the amount of energy we use, for instance by using public transport instead of cars, and in the gradual replacement of fossil fuels with new renewable energy sources, such as technologies that harness energy from the sun, wind, waves and ocean currents, crops and agricultural waste products (biomass), underground heat (geo-thermal energy) and small scale hydropower. The prevalent approach of government and industry to this technology substitution is emphatically a market-based one whereby low-carbon technologies are expected to compete with high-carbon ones and slowly take their place through consumer choices. If renewables are to compete, their price relative to the price of conventional forms of energy must therefore decrease.

The opening of new fossil fuel reserves such as those in the Caspian keeps down the price of fossil fuels by ensuring that they remain relatively abundant on global energy markets. Thus, investment in fossil fuel projects like AGT counteracts and undermines investment in renewable energies and strangles their development which remain relatively more expensive. Furthermore, when government funding agencies, such as multilateral development banks and export credit agencies, support projects like AGT, public money is clearly being used in a way that only adds to climate change instead of supporting the transition to a safe energy future. This is one of the reasons why many organisations are increasingly calling on governments and international institutions to stop using taxpayers’ money to support fossil fuel projects.

Billions of dollars are already spent every year supporting private investment in the global energy sector by multilateral development banks, like the World Bank, and national export credit agencies, such as the UK’s Export Credit Guarantee Department (ECGD). Instead of using these funds to finance continuing fossil fuel dependency and technological lock-in, taxpayers’ money could be used to support clean and renewable sources of energy.

Export credit agencies supported upstream fossil fuel projects and fossil fuel power projects in developing countries worth US$ 73.8 billion between 1995 and 1999 and only US$ 2 billion worth of renewable energy. Between 1996 and 2001 ECA-supported transactions of oil and gas developments totalled US$ 98 billion. The World Bank has provided US$ 28 billion of fossil fuel financing for upstream projects and power plants since 1992, leveraging billions more in private funds. The frequency of approval of World Bank fossil fuel projects since 1992 stands at once every 14 days. Just as BP’s massive oil and gas exploration activities make a mockery of their claim to be concerned about the issue of climate change, so do government subsidies for such activities make a mockery of their international climate commitments.

Like so many fossil fuel projects in the past, the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey pipelines have garnered support from a range of international financial institutions, including the International Finance Corporation and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. These institutions are offering what BP’s Chief Executive referred to as "free money", apparently ignoring communities around the world who are extremely vulnerable to climate change.

The USA and its impact on the climate

The USA consumes more than one quarter of global oil production and is responsible for one quarter of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions while accounting for only 4.5 per cent of the world’s people. The current Bush administration published its National Energy Policy in 2001, based on the findings of the National Energy Policy Development Group led by Vice President Dick Cheney. The Group advocated the construction of 1,300 to 1,900 new power plants over the next 20 years, or between one and two power plants per week.

According to the document, "[US] prosperity and way of life are sustained by energy use." According to President Bush, "the goals of this strategy are clear: to ensure a steady supply of affordable energy for America’s homes and businesses and industries." The United States imports 52 per cent of its net oil requirements. In this regard, the report recommends "that the President make energy security a priority of [US] trade and foreign policy". It is in light of these realities that we can understand the drive behind US policy in the Caspian Region over the last decade – centred around its support for western oil industry investment, and specifically the BTC pipeline as the export route.

In March 2001, even before publication of its energy policy, the Bush administration rejected the Kyoto Protocol at the behest of supporters in the energy sector and has since failed to come up with any plan for clear, quantitative domestic emissions reductions; meanwhile, other countries have used US inaction as an excuse to weaken their own efforts. The world’s biggest polluter is still outside the agreement and shows no sign of returning within the lifetime of the current government.

It is expected that US carbon dioxide emissions will be 30 per cent above 1990 levels by 2012, instead of seven per cent below as agreed in Kyoto. US per capita emissions are twice those of the EU, pointing to an even more wasteful, fossil fuel-dependent lifestyle. If European public money is used to support a pipeline whose output is sold at least in part to the US, European taxpayers will be supporting the energy profligacy of the US while it remains outside the Kyoto Protocol.

The BTC pipeline system and the future of the Earth’s climate

Carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere has a lifespan of 50+ years. So, fossil fuels burnt today could contribute to global warming for the next two centuries.

The operational lifespan of the proposed AGT system is projected to be more than 40 years; thus the pipelines would be bringing oil and gas to the world market until at least 2040.With this in mind, we can calculate that the fossil fuel infrastructure that BP is currently working to put in place would have an impact on the Earth’s climate throughout the 21st century and possibly beyond.

It is thus in the realm of climate change that the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey pipelines system would have its longest-lasting impact. This, the greatest of all the pipeline’s environmental impacts and one of the greatest of its social impacts, is not being adequately considered in BP’s Environmental and Social Impact Assessment study.

*: ‘El Nino’ is a warmwater current that flows periodically along the coasts of Ecuador and Peru. It is associated with a fluctuation of surface pressure and circulation in the Indian and Pacific Oceans called the El Niño Southern Oscillation. El Niño events affect wind patterns, sea surface temperature and rainfall throughout the Pacific region and even in other parts of the world.


Links on climate change

Friends of the Earth International – climate campaign

Global Commons Institute

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

PLATFORM – ‘Managing climate change’ – BP and Shell, and how they handle climate change

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change