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TotalEnergies' Bateke plantation: a “cover up” for damaging oil production, Republique of the Congo


Description:

On the 16th of March of 2021, TotalEnergies announced a partnership with the french Forêt Ressources Management and the Republic of the Congo government to plant 40 million acacia trees over 40,000 hectares in the Bateke Plateau [1]. In exchange, TotalEnergies will pay $1,55 per hectare of plantation per year to the Congolese government [2].

But the deal is not merely a comercial transaction and it is murked by shady global politics. The plantation manager, Forêt Ressources Management has been labelled as "a consultancy with close links to the French government and a very long history of supporting the forest-wrecking logging industry in Africa" [1]. Additionally, the agreement comes just over a year after the Congolese government ratified the Mokelé-Mbembé oil concession for TotalEnergies overlaping with the Cuvette Centrale peatlands, which store 20 years’ worth of U.S. fossil fuel emissions [3]. The concession is hard to disassociate with a series of meetings between french president Emmanuel Macron, TotalEnergies' CEO Patrick Pouyanne, and the Congo dictator Denis Sassou-Nguesso, also known as the ‘The Butcher of Brazzaville’, earlier in 2019. After the Macron-Sassou meeting, a $65 million ‘green aid’ package to the Republic of the Congo from the controversial Central Africa Forests Initiative (CAFI) to “define the modalities of planning, exploration and exploitation of mining and hydrocarbon activities when they take place in forest or peatland space, so as to reduce the impact” was announced [1].

Finally, the final Bateke plantation agreement between TotalEnergies and the Congolese government was signed just 9 days before a rigged election granted a new term to the Congolese dictator in a country where political opposition and freedom of press are  repressed [1][3].

The Bateke plantation is the first major project of the newly created Nature Based Soultions branch of TotalEnergies, and it is the materialisation of the french multinational professed carbon neutrality objectives by 2050. TotalEnergies plans to continue drilling for more oil and gas while pretending to capture the emitted carbon with industrial plantations. According to the company the project will absorb "500,000 tons of CO2 per year over twenty years" which will be sold as carbon credits certified following the controversial Verified Carbon Standard from Verra [3][4].

But the carbon accounting is misleading, activist denounce. It is unclear if the carbon accounting includes emissions related to the cutting of acacia for charcoal and planned timber production from 2040. It also does not take into account that wild fires are common in the area during the dry season and the plantation could burn eliminating any promised climate benefits [3].

“Total is expanding its liquefied gas extraction projects all around the world, but at the same time it claims that it has a 2050 net-zero goal. It’s highly contradictory,” said Myrto Tilianaki from CCFD-Terre Solidaire [3]. Besides, activists denounce that the plans are far from ecologically-sound. Acacias are a fast-growing invasive species. The industrial plantation can have unintended impacts on an habitat whose biodiversity has been barely studied [3].

"In short, whilst Total and its PR agents brazenly described their venture as creating a 40,000-hectare “forest”, they will in fact be destroying part of a largely unknown natural savannah ecosystem in order to create a 40,000-hectare intensive wood farm of non-native species with associated timber processing facilities." says Simon Counsell from REDD monitor in his blog [1]. 

Last but not least, indigenous Pygmy and highly nomadic Batouas communities live in the area [5]. TotalEnergies says the project "will create employment opportunities, with a positive impact on several thousand people" [4], but it seems unlikely that the industrial plantation is not going to detrimentally affect the traditional lifestyle given the natural savannah ecosystem provides sustenance and is part of the local traditional culture [3]. Traditional ownership of the land is not enshrined in Congolese law, uner which all land belongs to the state. Therefore the concession given by the government to TotalEnergies will give freedom to evict the traditional dwellers of the land while there has been no evidence of efective free prior and informed consent [1].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:TotalEnergies' Bateke plantation: a “cover up” for damaging oil production, Republique of the Congo
Country:Congo, Rep.
State or province:Plateaux
Location of conflict:near Ngo
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
REDD/CDM
Specific commodities:Land
Carbon offsets
Charcoal
Timber

Project Details and Actors

Project details

"Tree plantations are not true forests". The plans include 40,000,000 trees planted over 10 years in 40,000 ha. The trees will be cared for during 35 years [4]. The plantation will consist of acacia and cassava and by 2040 it will be managed to produce 160,000 cubic meters of wood products a year [3][6]. The plans also include a 2.5MW cogeneration plan presumably runing on wood not used for timber [1].

Project area:40,000
Level of Investment for the conflictive project230,000,000 [2]
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:10,000 [2]
Start of the conflict:11/08/2021
Company names or state enterprises:Forêt Ressources Management (FRM) from France - It manages the plantation
TotalEnergies (TE) from France - Owner of the project
Relevant government actors:- President of France, Emmanuel Macron
- President of République du Congo, Denis Sassou-Nguesso
- Government of the République du Congo, Ministres des Finances et du Budget, de l’Economie forestière and des Affaires foncières, du domaine public et des relations avec le Parlement.
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:- CCFD-Terre Solidaire
https://ccfd-terresolidaire.org/
- REDD Monitor
https://redd-monitor.org
- Publiez Ce Que Vous Payez Congo
https://www.publishwhatyoupay.org/fr/members/republique-du-congo/

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Public campaigns

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Fires, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Loss of livelihood, Land dispossession
Other socio-economic impactsPotential violation of free, prior and informed consent rights of local population.

Outcome

Project StatusUnder construction
Proposal and development of alternatives:The groups resisting the industrial plantation demand a stop to the project.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The project continues its development unhindered.

Sources & Materials

[1] Counsell, S. 16/04/2021. Anatomy of a ‘Nature-Based Solution’: Total oil, 40,000 hectares of disappearing African savannah, Emmanuel Macron, Norwegian and French ‘aid’ to an election-rigging dictator, trees to burn, secret contacts, and dumbstruck conservationists. In REDD Monitor website.
https://redd-monitor.org/2021/04/16/anatomy-of-a-nature-based-solution-total-oil-40000-hectares-of-disappearing-african-savannah-emmanuel-macron-norwegian-and-french-aid-to-an-election-rigging-dictator-trees/

[2] Kombo, F. 13/03/2021. Industrie forestière : Total investit 150 milliards FCFA dans la réserve de Léfini. In Agence d’Information d’Afrique Centrale.
https://www.adiac-congo.com/content/industrie-forestiere-total-investit-150-milliards-fcfa-dans-la-reserve-de-lefini-125207

[3] Mukpo, A. 20/01/2022. At a plantation in Central Africa, Big Oil tries to go net-zero. Ashoka Mukpo, Mongabay, January 2022
https://news.mongabay.com/2022/01/at-a-plantation-in-central-africa-big-oil-tries-to-go-net-zero/

[4] TotalEnergies Press Release. 08/11/2021. Republic of the Congo: The Planting of More than One Million Trees Begins on the Batéké Plateaux.
https://totalenergies.com/media/news/press-releases/republic-congo-planting-more-one-million-trees-begins-bateke-plateaux

[5] CCFD-Terre Solidaire. 30/10/2021. Compensation Carbone: Tout sauf neutre!
https://ccfd-terresolidaire.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/rapport_neutralitecarbone_ccfd-terresolidaire.pdf

[6] Forêt Ressources Management website. BaCaSi project. Visited on 02/08/2022.
https://frm.group/en/plantations-en#projet-1

Meta information

Contributor:EJAtlas Team
Last update05/08/2022
Conflict ID:6108

Images

 

French president Emmanuel Macron meeting with Republic of Congo dictator Denis Sassou-Nguesso, also known as the ‘The Butcher of Brazzaville’. Paris, 2019.

Source: Counsell, S. 16/04/2021. Anatomy of a ‘Nature-Based Solution’: Total oil, 40,000 hectares of disappearing African savannah, Emmanuel Macron, Norwegian and French ‘aid’ to an election-rigging dictator, trees to burn, secret contacts, and dumbstruck conservationists. In REDD Monitor website. https://redd-monitor.org/2021/04/16/anatomy-of-a-nature-based-solution-total-oil-40000-hectares-of-disappearing-african-savannah-emmanuel-macron-norwegian-and-french-aid-to-an-election-rigging-dictator-trees/

Map description of the project

Source: Counsell, S. 16/04/2021. Anatomy of a ‘Nature-Based Solution’: Total oil, 40,000 hectares of disappearing African savannah, Emmanuel Macron, Norwegian and French ‘aid’ to an election-rigging dictator, trees to burn, secret contacts, and dumbstruck conservationists. In REDD Monitor website. https://redd-monitor.org/2021/04/16/anatomy-of-a-nature-based-solution-total-oil-40000-hectares-of-disappearing-african-savannah-emmanuel-macron-norwegian-and-french-aid-to-an-election-rigging-dictator-trees/

Bateke Plateaux landscape

Source: Counsell, S. 16/04/2021. Anatomy of a ‘Nature-Based Solution’: Total oil, 40,000 hectares of disappearing African savannah, Emmanuel Macron, Norwegian and French ‘aid’ to an election-rigging dictator, trees to burn, secret contacts, and dumbstruck conservationists. In REDD Monitor website. https://redd-monitor.org/2021/04/16/anatomy-of-a-nature-based-solution-total-oil-40000-hectares-of-disappearing-african-savannah-emmanuel-macron-norwegian-and-french-aid-to-an-election-rigging-dictator-trees/