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ClientEarth Communications

3rd March 2022

Climate accountability
Fossil fuels

We’re joining legal action against Total for greenwashing

We’re helping take TotalEnergies to court, arguing that the fossil fuel giant is using misleading advertising to convince consumers it can become carbon neutral by 2050, despite continuing to promote and sell more fossil fuels.

Are Total’s actions unlawful?

Along with environmental groups Greenpeace France, Friends of the Earth France and Notre Affaire à Tous, we’re going to court in France to hold Total accountable over greenwashing.

‘Greenwashing’ is a term used to describe instances whereby a company uses advertising and public messaging to appear more climate friendly and environmentally sustainable than it really is.

Total has rebranded itself as TotalEnergies, with its current big advertising campaign featuring wind turbines and renewable energy projects, giving the impression that the company is part of the solution to climate change. Total tells the public it is aiming for net zero by 2050 and will become a major player in the energy transition.

The reality however, is that Total is one of the biggest polluters in the world, with greenhouse gas emissions higher than those of France itself. The company is planning a massive fossil fuel expansion, increasing its production of polluting gas, and relying on as-yet-unproven technology, while avoiding meaningful action to reduce emissions this decade.

The court claim argues that the company’s advertising is misleading the public by skewing the meaning of concepts like 'net zero'. It fools us into thinking that it is a frontrunner in working towards net zero emissions, when in reality it is producing more fossil fuels, despite the fact that achieving net zero by 2050 will require a huge reduction.

When asked about the ad campaign, TotalEnergies’ CEO denied it was greenwashing.

Fossil fuel industry strategies of confusion and delay are nothing new – they've been at the centre of the industry's efforts for decades, allowing big oil, gas and coal companies to continue profiting while climate change worsens.

Consumers should not be manipulated like this, with big budget marketing campaigns. Fossil fuel companies like Total should have no power or platform to influence consumer choice in the midst of the climate emergency.

So we’re intervening in support of the case, going to court to argue that Total’s marketing is against the law.

Get updates on this case

Why do companies need to stop investing in fossil fuels?

Scientists say that to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to halve the world’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Currently more than 70% of the world’s emissions come from fossil fuels, and fossil fuel producers must focus on cutting their production every year if we are to avoid the worst climate impacts.

We don’t have the time for Total and other fossil fuel companies to mislead consumers about their products, their role in causing climate breakdown, or their plan to continue investing in and producing fossil fuels in the face of clear scientific warnings against doing so. We need action right now.

When will the court case happen?

Although a concrete timeline for the case will depend on Total’s reaction to the claim, it is likely to continue through to 2023.

What's next?

Following the filing of the claim by Greenpeace France, Friends of the Earth France and Note Affaire à Tous on 3rd March 2022, we submitted our intervention in support of the claim on 18th May. If Total does not accept the claim, it has the opportunity to raise any procedural objections, or to file its defence, to which we may file a reply. Once the written filings are completed, a hearing will be held, and after that the court will issue its judgment.

A translation of the court claim can be found here.

A translation of the intervention is available here and the original version (in French) here.