What you need to know:
- The activists had taken all manner of wild allegations to the Paris court. At the heart of their case was a claim that TotalEnergies had a “duty of vigilance” to ensure that its oil project in Uganda was being conducted in accordance with best practice.
On February 28, the Court of Justice in Paris, France, dismissed a frivolous lawsuit brought against TotalEnergies by a coalition of Western activists and their local satellites with reference to the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (Eacop). The court consisting of three judges ordered the activists to pay costs to TotalEnergies.
The activists had taken all manner of wild allegations to the Paris court. At the heart of their case was a claim that TotalEnergies had a “duty of vigilance” to ensure that its oil project in Uganda was being conducted in accordance with best practice. They claimed that TotalEnergies had no plan on the environment, flora, fauna, biodiversity and was conducting its operations in the most reckless manner.
The facts, as usual, were different. Uganda, long before TotalEnergies came on the scene, had conducted a strategic environmental assessment and prepared and published what is called a “sensitivity atlas” of the Albertine Graben. The project had also done very detailed environmental impact studies and had public hearings on those studies.
The Eacop route was itself the result of many years of study to decide the route that had the lowest impact on people and biodiversity. The Ugandan oil project will be one of the lowest carbon emitting projects in the world. It is not perfect and a lot of work must continue to be done to improve the project. However, the idea that Western activists are fighting for the environment by stopping Uganda from producing oil is laughable. Time and space will not allow us to enumerate how hypocritical this position is.
This is not limited to groups in France. Earlier this week, a group of Western activists in New York City went to offices of insurance companies that may insure Eacop and began protesting the climate bomb that Eacop allegedly will be. New York is ironically home to a number of pipelines, including the Blue Stone, Iroquois, Mark Connector, Millennium Phase I, Rockaway, Spectra, Algonquin Incremental Market Pipelines, to mention a few.
The Colonial Pipeline from Texas to New York is 8,551kms and carries three million barrels of oil per day. That is more than six times the length of Eacop.
Therefore, the idea that a Western court should exercise some form of supervisory jurisdiction over Uganda, purportedly on behalf of the climate, is absurd. Fortunately, the court in Paris deemed the lawsuit inadmissible and ruled in favour of TotalEnergies.
This ruling is a significant victory for TotalEnergies. In dismissing the frivolous case, the three judges stated: “Overwhelmingly, it will be noted, first of all, that TotalEnergies has formally established a vigilance plan comprising the five items provided for by the law on the duty of vigilance detailed enough not to be viewed as a summary.”
The judges also refused to admit the outlandish claims made about the project for failing to meet basic procedural thresholds. The court then concluded: “There is no reason to grant this request... The requesting associations failing in their requests, they will bear the cost.” The court, therefore, rightly rejected an invitation to exercise colonial authority over sovereign states.
The right of developing countries to utilise their natural resources for their economic development and poverty reduction is a cornerstone of public international law as stated in the UN General Assembly Resolution 1803.
Uganda and Tanzania are sovereign states. The development of their oil resources has the potential to contribute to their economic development. This oil project is being done in a responsible and sustainable manner, with due regard to the social and environmental impacts.
This ruling sends a message that responsible companies should be supported and encouraged in their efforts to balance economic development with social and environmental responsibility.
This is a victory for sovereignty, development and environmental protection. Countries have right to utilise their natural resources for their economic development and to balance economic development with social and environmental responsibility.
The writer is an advocate and partner at Kampala Associated Advocates