New offshore gas project in Sarawak a potential 'carbon bomb', says Rimbawatch

KUALA LUMPUR: An environmental watchdog has warned that a new offshore gas project in Sarawak could be a "carbon bomb" and jeopardise local and international climate targets.

Rimbawatch, in a statement, said this following reports that Block SK510, a fossil fuel exploration block in Sarawak, was recently awarded to Petronas Carigali, Pertamina and other partners as part of the 2023 Malaysia Bid Round.

It said Pertamina has reported that the block, an area close to 2,000 square kilometres could contain up to 6.6 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves.

"Its energy exploration director told the media that these reserves would be used to facilitate Pertamina's transition to "natural" gas - a goal similarly shared by Japanese oil and gas company, INPEX.

"Based on preliminary estimations from our Future Emissions Database involving Scope 1 (direct emissions), Scope 2 (indirect emissions), and Scope 3 (indirect emissions not owned by the company), gross emissions from this block could be up to 454 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).

Gross emissions include emissions from energy, industrial processes, agriculture, and waste.

"This is 28 per cent more than Malaysia's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2022 and 0.2 per cent of the remaining Global 1.5C Carbon Budget, estimated at 260 billion tonnes of CO2 as of 2022," it said.

"To illustrate the social impacts of such emissions using the mortality cost of carbon metric, which is used to approximate the number of excess deaths by 2100 caused by the emissions of one additional metric tonne of CO2, we estimate that SK510 could result in 102,390 excess deaths.

Excess deaths refer to the increase in the number of deaths during a period compared to the expected value or statistical trend during a reference period.

Rimbawatch criticised Petronas and Pertamina for their lack of a credible decarbonisation strategy that could act as a safety net for emission management from the perspective of credible corporate climate governance.

"Petronas and Pertamina are the main operators of this project, holding 40 per cent and 25 per cent participating interests respectively.

"The World Benchmarking Alliance, which rates corporate transition strategies, awarded Petronas's strategy a rating of 13.5 over 100, and Pertamina 8.5 over 100.

"Furthermore, neither Petronas nor Pertamina's decarbonisation strategies fulfil key requirements to be considered credible under international frameworks such as the United Nations High-Level Expert Group on Net Zero.

"This includes that they do not address all of their value chain, excluding scope 3 emission which accounts for around 80 per cent of a fossil fuel company's emissions, and continue to build or invest in new fossil fuel supply."

Rimbawatch said that claims that gas is a cleaner fuel than other energy sources must be contextualised.

It said on average, the lifecycle emissions of gas are still more than 10 times higher than those of solar power.

"Further, a recent report found that gas emissions overtake coal if gas infrastructure has a leakage rate of just 0.2 per cent, whether this is leaked through equipment and pipelines or intentional releases such as flaring.

"There is a consensus across all published studies that developing new oil and gas fields is "incompatible" with the 1.5C target.

"In particular, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects that if existing climate policies do not change, including those related to using gas as a transition fuel, we are on a trajectory for 3.2-degree celcius warming by (year) 2100, which is more than double the 1.5C target.

"This will result in irreversible climate disasters at an unprecedented scale, including inhabitable temperatures, major cities underwater, widespread water shortages and the extinction of a million species of plants and animals."

Meanwhile, it added that the UN High-Level Expert Group report has warned that "net zero is entirely incompatible with continued investment in fossil fuels", and that companies cannot claim to be net zero while continuing to build fossil fuel supply.

"Given the above factors, high-emitting activities such as SK510 would impede Malaysia's efforts to achieve its latest unconditional NDC (nationally determined contributions) target.

"The target is to cut GHG intensity against GDP by 45 per cent by 2030 (compared to 2005 levels), and international priorities to limit warming to 1.5 degrees."

Rimbawatch urged that the country should reconsider the development of new oil and gas projects without first assessing the cumulative impacts of their carbon lock-in on its near-term targets.

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