In late September 2020, Total unveiled new commitments to biodiversity that contribute to the Group’s ambition to become the responsible energy major. Find out more from Steven Dickinson, Group Biodiversity Lead.
In 2016, Total undertook to help achieve the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and has since adjusted its approach to responsible development accordingly. So what does this commitment look like at the grassroots level, where our operations happen? And what responsible solutions and practices has the Group put in place to carry out its corporate purpose in a way that protects the environment and looks out for people’s well-being as it conducts its business?
What is the background to the Group’s new Biodiversity ambition?
Steven Dickinson / Our position is the result of a long process that started around 30 years ago. It can be traced back to 1992, with the launch of the Total Corporate Foundation and its environmental commitments. Then, in 2005, we rolled out our first Biodiversity policy, followed by partnerships from 2010 onward, including one with the United Nations Environment Programme. We made our first voluntary exclusion commitments in 2012-2013 and, in 2016, pledged to contribute to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, two of which concern biodiversity. Lastly, in July 2018, we committed to new measures under the act4nature initiative. And so that brings us to our new ambition, which we’ve developed to help prepare the U.N.’s global plan for diversity for 2030.
What’s new compared to the July 2018 commitments?
S. D. / The July 2018 commitments already demonstrated acute awareness and increasing engagement around biodiversity from the Executive Committee. But they weren’t set out in a sufficiently tangible, practical way. So now, each of the four pillars in our ambition is underpinned by commitments that go further than our 2018 pledges. They’re also “SMART” – that is, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely – which involves, in particular, a public reporting stage. These developments enabled the Group to renew its commitment to the act4nature initiative, now called act4nature International. That really makes Total stand out, as we’re the only energy major to take part. The U.N. global plan for diversity states that commitments like these are a key solution for stopping biodiversity loss.
You mentioned four pillars. Can you tell us more about them?
S. D. / The first pillar is about maintaining our voluntary exclusion zones, which are UNESCO World Natural Heritage sites and Arctic sea ice areas for E&P operations. We’re currently the only energy major to have pledged not to conduct any oil exploration operations in the Arctic sea ice. The second pillar concerns biodiversity management in our new projects. If they’re located in IUCN1 category I to IV areas or in Ramsar wetlands2 , we undertake to implement specific action plans to minimize our negative impacts. For all new projects in IUCN category I and II and Ramsar areas, we are going a step further by systematically adopting a net gain action plan certified by an external organization. And, of course, we are also working to improve existing projects. That’s the third pillar. For all environmentally significant sites with ISO 14001 certification, we will roll out a biodiversity action plan. This pillar also covers sites where our activities are being discontinued. For these, we’re looking to identify opportunities to create areas rich in biodiversity as part of the redevelopment process. The final pillar is all about promoting biodiversity, which we do through two channels. The first is by making the data we generate in our environmental assessments available to scientists and academics on the Global Biodiversity Information Facility platform. We do this every year for five projects or sites, and report on our actions. The second channel is through Total Foundation, particularly its youth education initiatives and its support for research on Climate, Coastal Areas & Oceans, as well as employee volunteering via the Action! citizenship program.
What resources and support can Total draw on to honor its commitments?
S. D. / We refer to international standards when implementing our action plans, like those put forward by the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Program, or BBOP, for offset measures enabling a net gain. And then we have to follow through, so we’ll be calling on a recognized external body to record and certify our progress. For our net gain commitment, this will most likely be the IUCN, which will not just be making observations, but also providing support to help us do better and recalibrate if we need to. When talking about the Group’s impacts on biodiversity, people generally think of Exploration & Production operations.
With the development of renewable energies, have you observed any new challenges emerging in relation to biodiversity?
S. D. / We are gradually integrating the Group’s new businesses into our biodiversity management program. Although renewable energies generally have less of an impact than oil and gas production, they are not without consequences. That’s why we intend to launch action plans in wind and solar farms on Reunion Island. We’re also conducting exploratory offset research in solar facilities in Japan. In this regard, we learn a lot from the companies we acquire. I’m thinking of Total Quadran in particular, which has solid expertise in the area. We will be gradually rolling this model out to our renewables projects outside France and the European Union. We expect it to make a big improvement, especially for our offshore wind projects.
Aside from net gain, what avenues are we exploring to make a positive impact on biodiversity?
S. D. / Our Nature-Based Solutions, or NBS, business unit will be leading projects focused on natural carbon sinks. These will automatically have knock-on benefits for biodiversity because they involve tree planting, sustainable forest management, agroforestry, agriculture and conservation of outstanding natural areas. We’ll also be making the benefits of these projects public.