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Protecting biodiversity: a matter of best practices

An interview with Pippa Howard, director of the Business & Biodiversity programme at Fauna & Flora International.

by Eni Staff
06 November 2020
6 min read
by Eni Staff
06 November 2020
6 min read

Pippa Howard has worked with Eni’s Upstream team since she joined Fauna & Flora International (FFI) in 2008. FFI is one of the world’s longest-established biodiversity conservation organisations and has been collaborating with Eni since 2003. Its work includes identifying risks to biodiversity and the ecosystem in the company’s exploration and production activities across the globe and assessing the impact of projects throughout their whole lifecycle. For FFI, the partnership has been fundamental to the delivery of its strategy to engage businesses in implementing best practice approaches to the avoidance of and management impacts to BES.

What is the value of the partnership between Eni and FFI? Why is it beneficial for both of them to work together?

The partnership has been fundamental to the delivery of FFI’s strategy to engage businesses in implementing best practice approaches to the avoidance of and management impacts to BES. Given Eni’s desire to engage and improve BES throughout their global operations and to develop a distinctive BES management system, FFI has been able to work directly with over 14 E&P onshore and offshore subsidiaries across all geographies of Eni’s operations and contribute to company-wide BES management practices. The partnership was built on guiding principles that include the common reference framework of the Energy and Biodiversity Initiative (EBI)1 guidelines, an open-minded dialogue that benefits from different values and expertise, a constructive attitude favouring practical solutions, and mutual trust and transparency.

Time in the field has been invaluable, with extraordinary transfer and sharing of knowledge between the joint teams. FFI has learned a great deal about company HSE systems, lifecycle stages and activities of the oil & gas industry, whilst Eni has gained knowledge about the complexity of biodiversity and ecosystems, their relevance to the social and environmental sustainability of the contexts of its operations and how applied ecology can effectively inform decision-making processes. Our partnership has helped and continues helping to pre-empt and avoid risks associated with BES impacts and dependencies. We are proud that Eni is among the leading O&G companies in BES management and continue to value the work we undertake through our partnership.

FFI has worked collaboratively with Eni Upstream’s team to integrate BES into decision making and the design of conservation programmes that take into account the dependencies of local communities on natural resources. FFI has supported Eni to take a proactive and pre-emptive approach to understanding its socio-ecological context (i.e. the natural and social landscapes) within which it operates to ensure that neither the environment nor the communities dependent thereon, are affected.

The timeline below well represents the partnership’s evolution. In the early stages, a new assessment methodology was developed to recognise and address biodiversity within upstream oil and gas operations. FFI has been part of the development and update of Eni’s BES Policy, relevant guidance documents part of the HSE IMS and provided technical advice to numerous Subsidiaries.

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Our willingness to engage may implicitly endorse projects in areas that harbour globally important biodiversity, but FFI’s overriding concern is to minimise their impact – and ensure stringent application of appropriate mitigation measures – in situations where development is inevitable.

Pippa Howard, Director of Business & Biodiversity Programme at Fauna & Flora International

In your experience with Eni, what were the challenges in implementing biodiversity projects and the greatest satisfactions so far?

Among the latest activities, in 2019 we delivered a ground-breaking, bespoke, GISweb-based tool for rapid screening of BES sensitivities for Eni US Operating Co. Inc. shelf and offshore operations within the Gulf of Mexico (GoM). FFI supported Eni Egypt on a number of fronts, developing clear management plans across the Zohr and Nile Delta projects. FFI is currently advising Eni Mozambique regarding biodiversity offset strategy in the marine environment. We are proud to have been explicit in the development of Eni’s commitment to biodiversity conservation and the full application of the mitigation hierarchy in decision making, and particularly Eni’s commitment to “No Go” in natural World Heritage Sites.

Challenges: FFI has a clear and transparent objective when working with companies. There is no denying that FFI might be seen to be facilitating access to resources in highly biodiverse or sensitive areas. In such cases, we uphold and enact the right to walk away. But the key point is this: we maintain that our involvement invariably improves the standards of practice and project implementation, leading to a better outcome for biodiversity on the ground. We advocate that Eni adheres strictly to the mitigation hierarchy (whereby they are required to avoid, minimise or, at worst, compensate for impacts in order to achieve no net loss or a net gain for biodiversity).

Sometimes our engagement may come too late in the lifecycle of a project and so avoidance is hard to achieve. Reputationally, we are tied to some of Eni’s operations. Our willingness to engage may implicitly endorse projects in areas that harbour globally important biodiversity, but FFI’s overriding concern is to minimise their impact – and ensure stringent application of appropriate mitigation measures – in situations where development is inevitable. Damage limitation, in effect. Of course, wherever we sense that national governance structures or company reputational risk considerations might present opportunities to resist a proposed project, we communicate directly with our key contacts in Eni, who elevate concerns within the company.

We are on a very good path to net positive impact and success in delivering this over the forthcoming decade will be rewarding. Achievement of positive outcomes for BES following impacts from project development is dependent on three factors: national policy frameworks, lender safeguard requirements and company standards. Where policies are legally binding, Eni has no option but to follow them. Even then, it is hard to get full financial resources and capacity to implement urgent actions. Lender safeguards are sometimes confusing and are time-bound only for the length of the loan (often far shorter than the actual project timeframe). Compliance appears to drive company performance more than any other aspect; once permitted, however, a project develops a momentum of its own and the monitoring and evaluation of mitigation activities are sometimes underfunded.