Case calls on court to force TotalEnergies to suspend new oil and gas projects

Fossil fuel company TotalEnergies logo on the side of a building. Oil Gas LNG
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On 31 May a coalition of nonprofits, French cities, and the city of New York presented a demand at a Paris court against French fossil fuel giant TotalEnergies. It asked that the Paris judicial court orders the company to suspend all new oil and gas projects worldwide – including liquified natural gas (LNG) ones.

No new oil and gas

14 French local authorities and five nonprofits originally initiated a case against TotalEnergies in January 2020.

The case seeks to compel the fossil fuels company to comply with the Law on the Duty of Vigilance. This obligates companies to make plans with:

reasonable vigilance measures to allow for risk identification and for the prevention of severe violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, serious bodily injury or environmental damage or health risks resulting directly or indirectly from the operations of the company and of the companies it controls…

Specifically, the group is challenging the company’s failure to align its operations with the Paris Agreement. This requires international efforts to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

The claimants hope the case will follow in the footsteps of a Dutch court ruling against Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell. In 2021, a group of nonprofits successfully challenged Shell over its non-alignment with the Paris Agreement. As a result, the Dutch court ordered the company to accelerate its plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, Oil Change International identified that TotalEnergies is planning to approve new projects. Its expansion plans between 2023 and 2025 would:

Read on...

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lead to over 1,600 million tonnes (Mt) of carbon-dioxide (CO2) pollution over their lifetimes, if the projects’ oil and gas reserves are fully extracted and burned.

Moreover, it stated that current 2030 emissions targets would fail to bring down emissions. Instead, it projected company emissions would stay flat between 2022 and 2030. It pointed out, though, that a fall in emissions is vitally needed to stay within the 1.5C limit.

The latest demand, presented on 31 May, asked the judge to suspend all new oil and gas projects while the full case is reviewed. As it currently stands, the court does not expect to make a final decision on the case before 2024 or 2025. However, the judge is due to announce his decision on the suspension demands on 6 July.

TotalEnergies doubling down on fossil fuel expansion

While claimants sought the court order to suspend the company’s oil and gas expansion, TotalEnergies doubled-down on plans for another of its ‘carbon bomb’ projects. Carbon bombs are projects which create vast carbon dioxide emissions – over one billion tonnes – during their lifetime. The company appears, for example, to be taking steps to restart its controversial Mozambique LNG project.

On May 23, Bloomberg reported that the fossil fuel major had agreed to set up a $200m fund for socio-economic development in the Cabo Delgado region of Mozambique. It stated that the announcement signalled:

that the long-delayed development may soon get under way again.

Bloomberg also detailed that investment in the LNG project is larger than Mozambique’s entire gross domestic product (GDP). It therefore argued that it would be:

transformational for the country.

However, the new fund would represent just 1% of the $20bn that financiers are investing in the gas project.

A 2022 report by Friends of the Earth Europe and Justiça Ambiental argued that revenues from LNG projects in the region:

will first and foremost benefit the foreign companies involved and in this process billions are lost for Mozambique through tax evasion structures set up by the companies, a weak fiscal context and low governmental capacity.

An end to fossil fuels for frontline communities

The Canary has also previously highlighted that TotalEnergies’ LNG project has had devastating impacts on the region’s communities. A publication by a coalition of environmental nonprofits laid out how the Mozambique LNG and two other foreign multinational LNG projects have harmed communities. The report suggested that the fossil fuel companies’ actions increased the risk of a violent insurgency that occurred in 2017:

The arrival of rich international companies, hordes of foreign workers and military forces to guard the oil companies’ operations created the perfect breeding ground for an insurgency.

Additionally, the report also estimated that if the gas reserves there are fully extracted and burned:

they will generate more than 4.6 billion tons (gigatons) of CO2 – an amount 13 times as big as the annual greenhouse gas emissions of France.

Projects like the Mozambique LNG clearly illustrate the need to bring TotalEnergies’ reckless plans for expansion to a halt.

The Paris court could therefore deliver a momentous judgement in July. Elsewhere, however, the judicial and criminal justice system has shielded the company from public dissent.

A “credible climate strategy”?

As the Canary recently reported, both police and courts in Uganda have targeted human rights defenders (HRDs) fighting TotalEnergies’ East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP). Moreover, authorities criminalised protesters through malicious use of the judicial system.

TotalEnergies is co-developing the 1443km-long pipeline. It will transport oil and gas from Uganda to Tanzania for export

The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) identified that TotalEnergies was one of the worst companies for attacks against HRDs in 2022. It recorded 14 attacks against defenders who had protested the EACOP project.

Meanwhile, police have also violently repressed climate protesters in France. The Canary‘s Glen Black detailed how French police fired teargas at activists. Protesters blockaded the entrance to TotalEnergies’ annual general meeting (AGM) on 26 May. As Black explained:

Opposition to EACOP is also one of the main drivers of the anti-TotalEnergies protest.

Private finance campaigner at Friends of the Earth France, Lorette Philippot, attended the protest. She argued that:

The only credible climate strategy for Total is the immediate end of all new fossil fuel projects. The climate bombs that Total is in the process of setting off in the four corners of the world must not see the light of day because each of them is pushing us towards a more unlivable world. This is the case of EACOP and Tilenga, but also of Mozambique LNG.

If the judge rules in favour of the coalition, the demands of activists and communities on the frontlines of TotalEnergies’ projects could finally become a reality.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

Feature image via France 24/Youtube screenshot

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