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Uganda oil at risk in TotalEnergies court case

A law suit against TotalEnergies’ re-invention claim was filed March 03 by the environmental non-profits; Greenpeace France, Friends of the Earth and Notre Affaire a Tous with support from environmental lawyers based at Client Earth.

TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Pouyanné

Several European environmental groups have filed a law suit in Paris against French energy giant, TotalEnergies, accusing the company of “misleading consumers about its efforts to fight climate change.”

In May, last year, senior executives of the French firm announced a complete change of its name from Total to TotalEnergies, saying it reflects the company’s strategic transformation to “providing energies that are ever more affordable, reliable, and clean.”

The company, which is active in over 130 countries including Uganda, now describes itself as a broad energy company that is involved in oil, biofuels, natural gas, green gases, renewables and electricity.

But a law suit against TotalEnergies’ re-invention claim was filed March 03 before the Paris Judicial Court by the environmental non-profits; Greenpeace France, Friends of the Earth and Notre Affaire a Tous with support from environmental lawyers based at Client Earth.

The environmental NGOs claim TotalEnergies’ “re-invention” marketing campaign broke European consumer laws by suggesting that TotalEnergies can reach “net-zero” carbon emissions by 2050 while still producing more fossil fuels, according to the international news agency, Reuters.

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The environmental groups called TotalEnergies’ re-invention campaign “green washing”—a marketing or public relations stunt that is done to hoodwink the public into believing that a company’s operations appear more environmentally friendly than they actually are.

But TotalEnergies told Reuters it was planning its strategy in a “concrete way.” The firm said it intended to do this through investments and reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. It said it was acting in line with the objectives that the company has set itself.  “It is therefore wrong to claim that our strategy is “greenwashing,” it said.

At the launch of its new name and strategy plan last year, TotalEnergies said in a statement posted on its website that its new name and new visual identity “embody the course TotalEnergies has resolutely charted for itself, that of a broad energy company committed to producing and providing energies that are ever more affordable, reliable, and clean”.

TotalEnergies chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Patrick Pouyanné, said in order for the company to contribute to the sustainable development of the planet facing the climate challenge, it was moving towards new energies.

“Energy is re-inventing itself, and this energy journey is ours. Our ambition is to be a world class player in the energy transition. That is why Total is transforming and becoming TotalEnergies,” he said.

However, no sooner had TotalEnergies announced its change of name to reflect the global stance on climate change than its executives gave the green light for multi-billion dollar projects in Mozambique and Uganda.

On Feb.24, this year, TotalEnergies announced a significant discovery of oil and gas off the coast of Namibia. TotalEnergies said its Venus Prospect, located in the Orange Basin had found over a billion barrels of oil equivalent.

Disinformation PR

The environmentalists say such plans by TotalEnergies to continue increasing production of fossil fuels such as oil and gas which are key contributors to human-induced global warming is at odds with what the company says it is doing.

“We need to protect consumers from disinformation PR strategies that leave them trying to tell fact from fiction and delay the urgent climate action we need,” Clara Gonzales, the Legal Counsel at Greenpeace France, told Reuters in a statement.

TotalEnergies has previously said it expects its oil production to peak in this decade before declining, with an increase of around 3% per year by 2026 driven by the growth of liquefied natural gas (LNG), expected at 6% per year. It plans to spend US$ 13-15bn a year between 2022-25 and will allocate half of the kitty to developing new energies, mainly renewables and the other 50% to natural gas.

Last year, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) advised that if the world wishes to cap global warming at 1.5oC above the pre-industrial average by 2030, it would be better if no new oil and gas fields are developed beginning this year.

A leading investor group engaging with companies over climate transition plans has also flagged concerns over TotalEnergies’ efforts, including lack of a target to reduce emissions from the use of its products by consumers.

In Uganda, TotalEnergies E&P Uganda, a subsidiary of TotalEnergies SA is leading the development activities towards oil production in the Tilenga project (Exploration Area 1 (EA-1) and Exploration Area 2-North (EA-2N) within the Albertine region.

It is also playing a lead role in the construction of the EACOP, the world’s longest electrically heated pipeline to transport about 230,000 barrels of oil every day via the Tanzania port of Tanga. In the downstream sector, the French firm which has been present in Uganda since 1955 through its marketing operations currently has over 200 filling stations nationwide.

The EACOP and the upstream projects are, however, located in or traverse a particularly sensitive natural environment teeming with rare animal and plant life. But senior TotalEnergies officials have always sought to allay the fears of the conservationists.

At last month’s signing of the Final Investment Decision (FID) ceremony in Kampala, Pouyanné said TotalEnergies is fully aware of the important social and environmental challenges it represents.

“Our ambition is to make it an exemplary project in terms of shared prosperity and sustainable development. We are fully aware of the important social and environmental challenges it represents,” Pouyanné said, “We will pay particular attention to use local skills, to develop them through training programmes, to boost the local industrial sector in order to maximise the positive local return of this project.

He said the Lake Albert Oil development project is in line with TotalEnergies’ strategy of only approving new projects if they are low-cost and low emissions. In particular, the design of the facilities incorporates several measures to limit greenhouse gas emissions well below 20kg CO2/boe including the extraction of liquefied petroleum gas for use in regional markets as a substitute for burning biomass, and the solarisation of the EACOP pipeline.

Pouyanné ended the day by signing a memorandum of understanding with the government of Uganda which will see TotalEnergies produce up to 1000MW of renewable electricity by 2030.

Pouyanné under pressure

Still, sources in Paris say Pouyanné “is under pressure from politicians and environmentalists, while shareholders are lukewarm about the Tilenga project, which is partly located in a fragile ecosystem.

According to a recent report from the Paris-based Africa Intelligence, a pan-African investigative publication, despite TotalEnergies’ excellent results on account of the oil price, the company’s next general assembly scheduled for May could become a real test for Pouyanné.

According to the report, a sizeable percentage of the company’s shareholders consider the Tilenga project, “a project of the past.” The fact that it is located in a fragile ecosystem within the Murchison Falls National Park has made some of the shareholders less enthusiastic.

That the oil will be transported to the international market via an electrically heated pipeline to the Tanzanian port of Tanga complicates the matters.

Besides the small shareholders who are sensitive to the pressure from NGOs like Les Amis de la Terre (Friends of the Earth) who have instituted legal proceedings in France to stop the Tilenga project, the French Government is said to have added its voice, albeit discretely.

Barbara Pompili, Minister for Ecological Transition is believed to have privately reached out to Pouyanné about her reservations for the project. However, The Independent understands, Pouyanné believes the Lake Albert Development Project is viable thanks to Uganda’s oil taxation being very favourable to the private sector. The oil major also needs new projects to compensate for the now mature deposits it holds in several African countries (especially Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon and Angola).

Apparently, Pouyanné is counting on the new discoveries of hydrocarbons in countries like Uganda, Mozambique and Namibia to help the company finance the Group’s investments in renewable energy.

According to Africa Intelligence, Pouyanné appears less likely to backtrack on Tilenga after the signing of the Final Investment Decision in Kampala on Feb.01 at an elaborate ceremony attended by President Museveni and the Tanzanian Vice President, Philip Mpango.

The EAC court case

Meanwhile, the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) on March 03 postponed hearing of a case in which four East African civil society groups are seeking a temporary injunction to prevent the development of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) until the main case against the project is heard.

In the main suit, the applicants (the Centre for Food and Adequate Living Rights (Uganda), the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) also from Uganda and Natural Justice (Kenya) requested for a declaration that the execution of the EACOP project in legally protected areas in East Africa is against the East African Community (EAC) Treaty, the Protocol for Sustainable Management of the Lake Victoria Basin and other laws.

The conservation groups noted in their case (Reference No. 39 of 2020) that the EACOP project will cause irreparable harm to critical ecosystems and the livelihoods of East Africans.

However, during the March 03 hearing of the application for a temporary injunction, Gabriel Malata, the Solicitor General of Tanzania raised a preliminary objection through which he argued that the EACJ cannot hear the application before it addresses the issue as to whether the Arusha-based court has the jurisdiction to hear the main case.

The lawyers for the applicants/civil society groups argued that the applicants had shown why the EACJ had the jurisdiction to hear the case. The lawyer observed that hearing of the application for a temporary injunction should be fast-tracked to protect the environment and communities’ livelihoods.

Court adjourned the hearing until the issue of jurisdiction and other preliminary objections are resolved. This means that the court will first have to determine if the EACJ has the jurisdiction to hear the case, among others, before the application for a temporary injunction is heard.

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The judges informed the applicants and respondents who include the Ugandan and Tanzanian governments as well as the Secretary General for the East African Community that they will be informed of the date for the next hearing.

The civil society groups were not happy with the latest decision taken by the EACJ considering that cases filed at this court can take months without being heard.

“The main case and application for a temporary injunction were filed in November 2020 and since then; the case has been heard once, in July 2021,” they said in a joint statement released on March 03.

“Given the significance of the case, the postponement of the case without clear timelines as to when the case will be concluded is an issue of concern.”

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