Press release: 03 March 2022
Environmental groups sue TotalEnergies for misleading the public over Net Zero
Greenpeace France, Friends of the Earth France and Notre Affaire à Tous, supported by ClientEarth, have filed a lawsuit against TotalEnergies to protect the public from the oil giant's misleading claims on alleged environmental virtues of fossil gas and biofuels.
The legal action, filed at the Paris judicial court, argues that TotalEnergies’‘reinvention’ ad campaign breaks European consumer law as it falsely portrays the company as on track to address the climate crisis.
Clara Gonzales, legal counsel at Greenpeace France, said: “We are taking TotalEnergies to court today because it is using sly propaganda to try to convince us of the impossible: that carbon neutrality can be reached while producing and selling ever more fossil fuels when, in reality, our dependence on fossil fuels is driving up bills, wrecking our climate and funding war”.
“Just as tobacco manufacturers misled people about the link between cigarettes and health, TotalEnergies’s advertising acts as a smokescreen for the harm it is causing to the planet and the people. 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 ''.
At the heart of TotalEnergies’ huge marketing push are claims that the company is committed to being “a major player in the energy transition” as part of it achieving ‘carbon neutrality’ (net zero) by 2050, which it announced ahead of its recent rebrand to TotalEnergies.
The greenwashing legal challenge comes amid growing international doubt of the legitimacy of corporate net zero pledges, particularly from big oil and gas companies. Next week, a US Congressional hearing will hear from board members at Exxon, Shell, BP and Chevron on the role of fossil fuel companies in spreading disinformation to delay climate action and explain whether their current climate pledges will truly reduce global warming.
TotalEnergies has broadcast its questionable carbon neutrality claims both in and outside France across billboards, press outlets, its home energy website, its service stations, television, and through adverts on popular social media platforms, plastering its ads with images of wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicle charging points. When asked about the campaign, TotalEnergies’ CEO denied it was greenwashing.
TotalEnergies pushed its advertising messages to audiences across the world in targeted social media adverts and in a full ‘advertorial’ series aired on CNBC which presented the company as ‘adapting to meeting the climate challenge’.
In their claim, the organisations argue TotalEnergies’ advertising to French consumers is deceptive as it gives a false picture of the company’s so-called ‘net zero’ plans. These plans actually include a massive fossil fuel expansion in opposition to climate science, while avoiding any action to meaningfully reduce the emissions of its operations and products by 2030.
Juliette Renaud, senior campaigner at Friends of the Earth France said: “While every climate expert repeatedly says that there is no room for any new fossil fuel investment, Total expands its oil and gas mega-projects, into Uganda, Mozambique or the Arctic. Each a climate bomb with serious impacts on human rights and biodiversity, that contradicts Total’s misleading claim that it’s a major player in the energy transition”.
According to the lawsuit, TotalEnergies’ ‘ambition’ to become carbon neutral is liable to be taken at face value by consumers, and therefore violate bans on misleading practices under consumer protection law, the European Unfair Consumer Practices Directive, as implemented in France.
Johnny White, ClientEarth lawyer, said: “TotalEnergies’ misleading net zero marketing is deeply concerning. Its advertising distorts the meaning of the transition to net zero and skews public understanding of what is really needed for climate action – a steep reduction in fossil fuels like oil and gas.”
“People are entitled to know whether the companies competing for their business are fuelling or fighting climate change, and the law is there to make sure consumers are informed, supported and protected. If TotalEnergies is breaking that law by failing to be honest with the public about its climate-damaging products and its role in exacerbating climate breakdown, then it must be held accountable.”
FOSSIL GAS AND AGROFUELS CLAIMS ALSO TARGETED
Lawyers also take issue with TotalEnergies’ social media adverts promoting fossil gas as the least carbon-intensive fossil fuel and “cheap” complement to renewable energy, as well as claims touting biofuel as a “low-carbon alternative” that "emit half as much CO2 as their fossil equivalents".
They argue these messages are a clear violation of the recommendations on environmental advertising, since they misrepresent the role of gas and omit a major part of the environmental footprint of these products, which comes from their supply chain, their production method and their life cycle.
Meanwhile, TotalEnergies’ agrofuels advertising fails to provide the public with essential information on significant parts of its environmental footprint. The organisations say these omissions are a clear violation of the recommendations on environmental advertising claims.
TIME FOR AN EU-WIDE BAN ON FOSSIL FUEL ADVERTISING
Recent research found that TotalEnergies promoted doubt regarding climate science in the 1980s and 90s. Another investigation found that almost two thirds of the six oil companies' advertisements assessed -including TotalEnergies’ - were misleading consumers by failing to accurately reflect the companies’ business as well as promoting false solutions.
The environmental organisations are calling for an EU-wide ban on fossil fuel advertising to finally put an end to TotalEnergies and the fossil fuel industry spreading misleading climate messages. Together with 20 other NGOs, they have launched a campaign to gather one million signatures across the EU to stop big polluters spreading dangerous lies which delay urgent climate action.
Gonzales said: “Greenwashing has been part of the oil industry playbook for decades and it must be stopped, not only by courts, but also by a more systemic change: a tobacco-like ban on all fossil fuel advertising and sponsorship.”
Notes to editors:
- The legal claim will be filed by Greenpeace France, and Friends of the Earth France (Amis de la Terre France) and Notre Affaire à Tous. The lawsuit is supported by ClientEarth, which will be intervening in support of the claim.
- An explainer about the case can be found here.
- Counsel in the case is Clementine Baldon.
ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.
Greenpeace is a non-violent organization that investigates, documents and exposes the causes of environmental destruction and takes peaceful direct action to pave the way towards a greener, more peaceful world. It works to bring about change by lobbying, consumer pressure and mobilising members of the general public. It relies on donations from individuals and doesn't seek or accept money from business, governments or political parties.
About Friends of the Earth France
Friends of the Earth France is a non-profit environmental and human rights network, independent from any religious or political influence. Created in 1970, it helped build the French ecological movement and helped found the world's largest grassroots environmental network, Friends of the Earth International, with groups in 73 countries and over two million supporters around the world. We campaign on today’s most urgent environmental and social issues. We challenge the current model of economic and corporate globalization, and promote solutions that will help to create environmentally sustainable and socially just societies. Friends of the Earth France forms a local network gathering 30 autonomous local groups that act according to their own priorities and support the national and international campaigns with a shared vision for social and environmental justice.
About Notre Affaire à Tous
Notre Affaire à Tous is an association that works to protect the living, the natural commons and the climate through the use of law. Originating from the movement for the recognition of the crime of ecocide in international law in order to punish the most serious crimes against the environment, the members of Notre Affaire à Tous position themselves as "lawyers for the planet", seeking to establish, through jurisprudence, legal advocacy and citizen mobilization, an effective and objective responsibility of humans towards the environment. Targeting the actors mainly responsible for climate change, Notre Affaire à Tous also accompanies and protects the victims of climate change to have their rights recognized and the obligation of public authorities to protect them.