What's happening in Mozambique?

How is violence in a Mozambique province connected to environmental issues, and what can we do about it?
  Published:  09 Apr 2021    |      Last updated:  22 Jun 2023    |      4 minute read

In March 2021, horrifying news started to emerge from Mozambique: killings, beheadings, and entire communities fleeing the coastal region of Cabo Delgado.  

Shockingly, this has been going on for some time. Armed groups have been terrorising civilians since 2017, leaving thousands dead and forcing almost 700,000 people to flee the violence. Some had to flee to the neighbouring province and many are in refugee centres.

Why is this happening?

The Mozambican government wants the world to believe that the violence is a simple case of "foreign Islamist terrorists" trying to gain a foothold in the country.  

But the reality is not that simple. Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world and is still recovering from a bloody civil war. When vast quantities of natural gas were discovered off the coast of Cabo Delgado in 2010, the region became the focus of energy giants, insurgents and government, who wanted to cash in on the gas at any cost.

Foreign investment is good, right?

Liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects have been set up by energy companies Total, Eni and ExxonMobil to extract and export the gas from Cabo Delgado, and several governments have pledged money to help fund the project. The UK is one of them, having pledged $1 billion in July 2020 to support the project.

Foreign investment in poorer countries is often seen as a good thing as, in theory, investment should help create jobs and pour money into struggling regions. 

But this isn't always the case. In the last couple of years, more than 550 families have been displaced from their land and fishing grounds in Cabo Delgado to make way for the LNG projects. 

Promises of new jobs provided by the LNG industry were not met, and instead displaced families now struggle to make a living without their traditional livelihoods while international corporations and the government exploit the natural resources of the country. 

To make matters worse, the Mozambican government puts the interest of foreign investors first. There’s evidence that energy companies have paid the government to deploy soldiers to protect their interests (the gas). 

Increased military presence has led to reports of human rights abuses by the army, such as killing local people and extorting and blackmailing families for the financial compensation they received from Total. 

The government has also roped in mercenaries from South Africa, Russia and Ukraine, many of whom are there illegally and some of whom have been accused of indiscriminate killings.  

Impoverished and disillusioned local people are now a prime recruitment target for the insurgents, who've been attacking local people and who recently besieged the town of Palma. 

Despite being challenged on the impact of UK investment on human rights and the environment in Mozambique, the UK government agency that's financing the project (UKEF) has insisted it's a good investment. 

In reality, UK public money is being invested in a project that's ruining lives, fuelling violence and driving climate breakdown even further.

Why is this a "green" issue?

The LNG projects involve drilling for gas on the seabed, transporting the gas to an onshore station where it's turned into liquid form and then shipped to foreign buyers. The liquefaction process is incredibly energy intensive, making it even worse for the environment than natural gas drilling.  

The potential climate impacts of the project are huge. For example, the emissions from the use of the gas that's extracted are estimated to be equivalent to the total emissions from the aviation sector for all EU member states combined.

What Friends of the Earth is doing

Friends of the Earth Mozambique. Our friends at Justiça Ambiental/ Friends of the Earth Mozambique have been working in and with communities directly affected by the gas industry and highlighting the links between the LNG projects and the human rights crisis. They also campaign and lobby internationally, collaborating with partner organisations based in the countries where the gas companies are from eg the UK, Netherlands and Portugal. 

Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In December 2021, our legal team brought a judicial review challenge to the High Court  against the UK government's decision to back the Mozambique LNG project, on the grounds that it didn't properly assess climate, environmental or human rights impacts, and is incompatible with the Paris Climate Agreement. We also believe the lack of transparency around the decision making was illegal. Read our full legal briefing.

On 15 March 2022, Mrs Justice Thornton, one of 2 judges who heard the case, ruled that the decision to support Mozambique LNG was unlawful. However, in an extraordinary legal event, the judgment was split, with the other judge dismissing our grounds. Our case was disallowed by the court as full consensus wasn't reached by both judges.

We then took our case to the Court of Appeal in December 2022, but in January 2023 we heard that it had ruled against our challenge. We requested permission to appeal from the Supreme Court, but this was rejected in June 2023, bringing an end to our case.

While this ruling is very disappointing, our case did increase the legal scrutiny of the financiers of the Mozambique LNG project, not just in the UK but around the world. Plus launching this case helped secure a UK government policy to stop new investment in international fossil fuels using public funds. 

We'll continue our fight against fossil fuels as we stand in solidarity with Friends of the Earth Mozambique and the communities facing violence, disruption and instability due to this mega gas project.

What you can do

Fossil fuel companies are planning to launch 29 new projects in the UK

Fossil fuel companies are planning to launch 29 new projects in the UK