On May 29th, 2020, 16.8% of Total’s shareholders voted for the first climate resolution ever filed in France, thereby giving a wake-up call to shareholders on their responsibility to push the fossil fuel company to enact a thorough transformation of its activities. The extremely strong abstention rate among shareholders, with just 11.12% of those eligible to vote doing so, reinforces the disavowal of the climate strategy adopted by the French oil and gas major in early May 2020.

A year later, Total has not adopted new decarbonation targets. Reclaim Finance and Greenpeace France have screened the major’s climate commitments and published their analysis in a new report entitled “Pipeline of pollution: Total responsible, finance complicit?. The verdict is unambiguous: Total’s ambition of carbon neutrality is a smokescreen to maintain confusion and hide Total’s expansion in the fossil fuel sector for as long as possible. As a result, shareholders will once again have to choose between acting in line with their climate commitments or supporting Total in an unwavering manner, even if it means leading us all towards climate catastrophe.

Reclaim Finance calls on them to table a new climate resolution requiring Total to adopt a real decarbonation plan for its activities and to condition their financial support to Total’s end of the development of new fossil energy projects, starting with the EACOP project in East Africa, and those in unconventional oil and gas.

Total isn’t really aiming at carbon neutrality

Total’s carbon neutrality target only concerns 10.5% of its GHG emissions. It applies to emissions coming directly from its installations (scope 1 and 2) but not to the ones caused using the energy products it sells (scope 3).

By committing to achieving carbon neutrality on Scope 3 only in Europe, Total is simply committing to comply with national and European legislation and adapting to European market changes.

  • As a reminder, Total operates in 130 countries, and “only 13% of Total’s production in 2019, and the corresponding Scope 3 emissions, come from Europe, where the group is committed to reducing all three scopes to zero.”
  • Above all, its emissions outside Europe are set to grow moderately until 2030. At that point, Total’s CO2e emissions are expected to exceed the maximum allowed emissions by 200Mt to align with a 1.5°C trajectory.

Total also aims to reduce the carbon intensity of its energy products by 60%.

  • Besides only being an ambition, it stacks up badly against the 2030 timeframe, the decade remaining to carry out profound transformations of our economy to meet the 1.5°C objective. Indeed, Total SE aims for a 15% reduction in its carbon intensity by 2030 compared to 2015 – a modest decrease of about 1% per year – and 35% in 2040. Most of the reductions will therefore take place after it is too late.
  • The only condition for lowering the carbon intensity of its products is to develop relatively less carbon-intensive energies more rapidly than those produced previously. It is the use of this metric that allows the company to increase its production of fossil fuels and thus its emissions in absolute terms while claiming to decarbonize itself. As a result, the group managed to reduce its carbon intensity between 2014 and 2018, while at the same time its CO2e emissions increased by 8%.

Total still plans on expanding fossil fuels

Total has announced that it intends to significantly increase its electricity production from renewable energies to reach around 30 TWh in 2025 – nearly eight times its current production of 4 TWh – and continue developing its gross capacity of 10 GW/year beyond that.

However, this meteoric rise in renewable energies needs to be put into perspective. Not only does Total today produce 447 barrels of hydrocarbons for every one ‘barrel’ of renewable energy. Above all, while the UNEP Production Gap Report recommends lowering oil and gas production by 4 and 3% per year by 2030 to meet the 1.5°C target, Total – like other oil and gas majors – is forecasting an increase in its hydrocarbon production.

Moreover, after having directed more than 90% of its capital expenditure to fossil fuels between 2015-2020 , oil and gas production alone will continue to capture nearly 80% of investments between 2026 and 2030. Only a little more than 20% will therefore be allocated to the category entitled “renewables and electricity,” which includes, in addition to electricity production from renewable energies, gas-fired combined cycle power plants, biogas, and biomass.

Among Total’s oil and gas projects under development are no less than 5 new projects in the Arctic as well as the EACOP project. This pipeline project is on track to become Africa’s DAPL – in reference to the heavy oil pipeline project developed in North America and which was highly contested because of the serious violations of Indigenous peoples’ rights associated with its development, in addition to its risks for the climate and the environment.

Total threatens its shareholders as well as the climate

Total’s policy runs counter to greater climate regulation and is a source of risk for the company and its shareholders. According to a Carbon Tracker report published in November 2019, between 30% and 40% of Total’s already permitted or proposed projects are incompatible with the IEA’s SDS scenario. The organization, known for its purely economic approach to energy transition issues and for popularizing the carbon bubble concept, indicates that Total would have to reduce its hydrocarbon production by 35% by 2040 compared to 2019 levels to protect its investors from the risk of stranded assets.

In order to mislead its shareholders and to combine business-as-usual with the achievement of carbon neutrality objectives, Total has embarked, like Shell, BP and Repsol, on the publication of climate scenarios. Called “Energy Outlook”, these scenarios describe the evolution of the energy sector between now and 2050 according to the oil giant. They show that the oil major is relying heavily on the industrial-scale deployment of CO2 capture and the use of “natural solutions” based on biomass (afforestation, preservation, forest management, etc.) to absorb the remaining emissions.

Total also relies on offsetting. Yet, while it makes this, along with capture projects, an essential part of its climate strategy, it does not specify their respective roles in achieving the objectives of reducing GHG emissions in absolute terms.

This sleight of hand is dangerous: not only does it justify additional emissions that would not be “neutralized” if projected negative emissions volumes were not achieved, but it also fails to consider the environmental or human consequences of techniques.

For a new climate resolution

A growing number of French and international financial players are committed to achieving carbon neutrality (net-zero) and aligning their activities with a 1.5°C target. They will only be able to achieve their climate objectives if they push Total to align itself with equivalent transition trajectories. Otherwise, they must exclude the majority of their support. In a context of climate emergency, inaction is not an option. If they opt for this third way, they must be prepared to be judged by history for their failure to act now and push the biggest polluter in the CAC40 towards the exit from fossil fuels.

If they decide to engage Total, banks, insurers and investors should ask the company what its commitments are in terms of reducing its hydrocarbon production and lowering its greenhouse gas emissions in absolute terms, and across all its activities (scope 1+2+3). At present, Total has none.

Last year, 83.2% voted against the climate strategy tabled at Total’s AGM, refusing to break the tragedy of the horizon and the omerta surrounding the group. Their short-termism, contrary to the search for greater resilience of a group of which they are shareholders, jeopardises their own returns on investment. Above all, the opposition of Amundi, AXA, Natixis and others to a historic resolution has cast doubt on the value of their climate commitments. Like BlackRock, these actors talk much but do little.

In 2021, they have the opportunity to align their actions with their words. Given that Total does not need to be encouraged to communicate on its climate strategy, but rather needs to be confronted with specific demands for its alignment with the objectives of the Paris Agreement, they should give priority to filing a new climate resolution rather than a Say on Climate.