LONDON/PARIS (Reuters) – A group of environmental organisations has filed a lawsuit in France against the country’s largest energy company TotalEnergies, accusing it of misleading consumers about its efforts to fight climate change.
The claim, which has been served on TotalEnergies and was to be filed before the Paris Judicial Court, concerns the company’s “reinvention” marketing campaign. Claimants say the campaign broke European consumer law by suggesting TotalEnergies can reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 whilst still producing more fossil fuels.
Environmentalists have long complained about corporate “greenwashing” which they define as marketing or public relations campaigns that attempt to hide pollution or make a company’s operations appear more environmentally friendly than they are.
TotalEnergies told Reuters it was implementing its strategy in a “concrete way”, including through investments and reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, and was acting “in line with the objectives that the company has set itself… It is therefore wrong to claim that our strategy is ‘greenwashing’.”
Launched globally in May 2021, the adverts said TotalEnergies was committed to being “a major player in the energy transition” and was aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050.
The campaigners allege the company’s plan to continue increasing production of fossil fuels such as oil and gas – key contributors to man-made global warming – was at odds with this.
A report from the International Energy Agency last year said no more new oil and gas fields should be developed from this year if the world is to have a chance of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average by 2050.
Claimants allege TotalEnergies was in breach of the European Unfair Consumer Practices Directive (UCPD), which bans misleading practices that can include promoting false or leaving out relevant information that impacts consumer decision-making.
The case, part of a growing field of legal challenges to corporate climate efforts, was brought by Greenpeace France, Friends of the Earth France and Notre Affaire à Tous and supported by environmental lawyers ClientEarth.
“We need to protect consumers from disinformation PR strategies that leave them trying to tell fact from fiction and delay the urgent climate action we need,” Clara Gonzales, legal counsel at Greenpeace France, said in a statement.
TotalEnergies has previously said it expects its oil production to peak in the decade before declining, with an increase of around 3% per year by 2026 driven by the growth of liquefied natural gas (LNG), expected at 6% per year.
It plans to spend $13-15 billion a year between 2022-25 and will allocate half to developing new energies, mainly renewables and electricity, and the other 50% to natural gas.
More companies have been making climate pledges to appeal to consumers, and investors and climate activists are increasingly probing their actions to determine whether they can help meet the world’s climate goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.
In the case of TotalEnergies, a leading investor group engaging with companies over climate transition plans has also flagged concern over its efforts https://www.climateaction100.org/company/total, including lack of a target to reduce emissions from the use of its products by consumers.
“We’ve seen a huge rush to adopt this language…even oil and gas companies which have a real challenge to get to net-zero,” said Thomas Hale, a global public policy researcher at the University of Oxford and co-lead of the Net Zero Tracker Project.
“Companies who take on these targets are under additional scrutiny to see that they’re really walking the walk.”
(Reporting by Simon Jessop in London; Editing by David Gregorio)