By Diana Taremwa Karakire
Total Energies is pressing on with its $10 billion oil project, in Uganda’s lake Albertine Rift Basin despite rising criticism from climate activists and environmentalists concerned about the oil project’s emissions profile and environmental impact.
Environmentalists argue that oil production will shift a large portion of Uganda’s energy needs toward carbon-emitting fossil fuels making it more difficult for the country to adapt to and mitigate the effects of the climate change reality.
Total Energies has begun to invest in renewable energy sources such as solar power and undertaking several initiatives aimed at tackling climate change and lowering its carbon footprint but activists say the company must do more to fight climate change.
Last year, the company signed a solar project agreement with the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development for the possible deployment of 120 MW of solar energy. This is part of the company’s commitment to developing 1GW of renewable energy in Uganda by 2030.
“The solar energy projects are part of Total Energies global multi-energy strategy and climate ambition to reach net zero emissions by 2050,” says Philippe Groueix, the General Manager of Total Energies Uganda.
In addition to renewable energy initiatives, Groueix says that Total Energies is working with the government to use its existing infrastructure in Uganda to assist in the implementation of e-mobility infrastructure. The company owns and operates over 200 petrol stations, which it intends to upgrade to include charging stations for electric motorcycles and cars.
“We plan to not only produce oil but also to become a key player in renewable energy in Uganda to address the twin challenges of energy poverty and lower emissions,” Groueix said.
However, environmentalists remain concerned about the environmental impact of Total Energies oil projects and continue to advocate for their total abandonment in favour of renewable energy, based on the Paris Agreement on climate, which aims for a 50 per cent cut in emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050.
“These oil projects will worsen the impacts of climate change that are already affecting poor people in Uganda and Africa, especially those depending on their lands to live. What is needed is gross reductions of emissions,” said Juliette Renaud senior campaigner at Friends of the Earth France.
Globally, there is growing recognition of the need to transition to more sustainable energy sources and reduce reliance on fossil fuels in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions and stay below 1.5 degrees celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. According to the UN, coal, oil, and gas are by far the most significant contributors to global climate change, accounting for more than 75% of world greenhouse gas emissions and almost 90% of total carbon dioxide emissions. The sun’s heat is trapped as more greenhouse gas emissions from dirty fuels blanket the earth.
Total Energies operates the Tilenga and EACOP oil projects. Tilenga covers the remote districts of Buliisa, Hoima, Kikuube, and Nwoya near the Murchison Falls National Park. It consists of six oil fields and is expected to have 400 wells drilled in 31 locations. It will also house an industrial area, support camps, a central processing facility, and feeder pipelines.
The EACOP entails the construction of a buried 1,443 km oil pipeline between the town of Kabaale in Uganda and the port of Tanga in Tanzania. The pipeline includes six pumping stations and a heat tracing system.
The pipeline has the capacity of transporting 216,000bopd and is operated by EACOP Ltd whose shareholders are Total Energies 62%, Uganda National Oil Company 15%, China’s CNOOC 8% and the Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation 15%.
A report released in October 2022, by the US-based Climate Accountability Institute CIA states that the EACOP will produce vast amounts of carbon dioxide that will result in 379m tonnes of climate-heating pollution over a period of 25 years, the project’s shelf-life. This is far greater than estimates in the EACOP’s environmental impact assessment reports, which CIA notes accounted for a mere 1.8 percent of the project’s emissions and did not take into account downstream emissions such as transporting oil from the pipeline to global markets. The report further notes that in the years of peak oil flow, the associated emissions would be more than double those of Uganda and Tanzania in 2020.
A chart showing the full project emissions from construction to end use, 25-yr life source, Climate Accountability Institute
“The scale of TotalEnergies’ crude oil extraction and transport through the EACOP pipeline can not be mitigated by the company’s initiative to develop renewable energy sources and plant trees,” said Rick Heede ,author of the report.
Last year, the European Union’s Parliament passed a resolution urging the TotalEnergies and government of Uganda to abandon the EACOP project citing climate destruction and human rights concerns. President Yoweri Museveni responded to this resolution with a Twitter post where he stated that Europe’s failure to meet its climate goals should not be Africa’s problem.
“We will not allow African progress to be the victim of Europe’s failure to meet its own climate goals. It is morally bankrupt for Europeans to expect to take Africa’s fossil fuels for their own energy production but refuse to countenance African use of those same fuels for theirs,” he said
Total Energies has launched the Tilenga Biodiversity Program, an initiative aimed at protecting and conserving biodiversity in and around the Tilenga project area. Implementation of this program will include among others protection of 10,000 hectares of natural forest threatened by deforestation and the restoration of 1,000 hectares of tropical forest.
“We are mindful of the sensitive context within which we are undertaking our activities. We have thus made a commitment to ensure that we implement action plans designed to produce a net positive impact on biodiversity,” Groueix stated in a statement posted on the Total Energies website.
But activists are not persuaded. Some have formed a campaign called #STOPEACOP . They want government and TotalEnergies to halt oil projects in order to demonstrate their commitment to carbon reduction and energy transition.
“Most fossil projects have between 25-30 year life spans. Getting into this type of investment will definitely undermine any safer alternatives and will lock a country on dirty fuel for decades, and potentially leave them with stranded assets,” says Abiud Onyach the STOPEACOP Communications and Digital associate
Total energies also has an ongoing lawsuit filed in France, where a number of environmental organizations accuse the company of greenwashing and “misleading consumers about its efforts to combat climate change.”
“Total Energies says they will leave a “net positive impact on biodiversity” but it is part of their greenwashing. You cannot have a positive impact on biodiversity with oil wells in a naturally protected area, and with a pipeline crossing many fragile ecosystems,” says Renaud.
World Bank figures indicate that only 3% of the world’s CO2 emissions originate from Africa, the second-largest and second-most-populous continent, which is home to around 20% of the world’s population. Africa remains the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, although contributes the least to the climate crisis.
Uganda emits only 0.01% of the world’s total carbon emissions, and its per-person emissions of CO2 are likewise quite low at 0.13 tonnes. However, analysts predict that once oil production begins, this will change.
“EACOP intends to implement a number of carbon footprint reduction strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the operation of the pipeline, these include the complete electrification of pumping stations in Uganda, where grid electricity is primarily produced by hydroelectric plants, and a hybrid power generation solution in Tanzania that involves solar energy from five solar farms that will be installed along the pipeline, ” says Peter Muliisa, the Chief Legal and Cooperate affairs for UNOC
Uganda’s GHG Emissions Profile
Climate change is a reality in Uganda. The dramatic reduction in the size of ice caps in the Rwenzori mountains and an increase in the frequency and duration of droughts have both been related to changing climate trends. In August 2022, flash flooding in Mbale district killed at least 29 people and displaced over 5,600 others.
According to the 2022 Uganda Nationally Determined Contributions report submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Uganda’s GHG emissions have been on the rise from 53.4 MtCO2e in 2005 to 90.1 MtCO2e in 2015.
The Land Use and Forestry sector accounts for the majority of emissions with 59.5% of the total emissions. Agriculture is the second largest, contributing 26.9%, followed by the energy sector at 10.7% and waste at 2.3%. The energy sector, which includes transport, power generation, and oil and gas exploration and production, accounts for 10%, with the transportation sub-sector accounting for around 66% of energy sector emissions.
Uganda has committed to a 24.7% reduction in emissions on a business-as-usual basis by 2030 in order to adapt to and mitigate climate change. One of the ways government plans to do this is by increasing renewable energy deployment achieving a total of at least 3,200 MW renewable electricity generation capacities overall.
The government has also enacted the National Climate Change Act 2021 which provides mechanisms and strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Uganda currently has 6.5 billion barrels of confirmed oil reserves, with approximately 1.4 billion barrels of those reserves estimated to be commercially recoverable. For upstream and midstream projects, the carbon dioxide equivalent CO2e emission per barrel of oil is predicted to be between 20 and 45 kgCO2e.
The overall emissions for the 25-year production period are projected at 42 mTCO2e, or an average of 1.68 mT per year, assuming an average of 30 kgCO2e per barrel, this is according to figures from Petroleum Authority.
“We have put in place mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the carbon footprint of the oil projects. These include no flaring from the operators, heating and supply of energy in production camps will be from hydropower,” said Dr Akankwasa Barirega the executive director at National Environment Authority in an interview.