As oil giant TotalEnergies held a high-pressure AGM last week (https://bit.ly/3z6AUrh), climate activists, and civil society groups both in Paris and on the African continent mobilised against the dangerous and destructive projects of the seventh world oil group which continue to disrupt the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable populations while increasing carbon emissions. Internally, 10 institutional shareholders clearly spoke out against the greening plan that the group had submitted to its shareholders for consultation. The AGM coincided with the release of an analysis by Oil Change International (https://bit.ly/3lYDOqx) which revealed that the climate plans of the eight oil and gas companies including TotalEnergies are largely insufficient to achieve the Paris climate objectives. These majors are involved in over 200 expansion projects pending approval from 2022 to 2025 – equivalent to the lifetime emissions of 77 new coal power plants.
Pan-African mobilisations targeting TotalEnergies
The same meeting also coincided with Africa week. For 2022, African civil society, local communities affected by the TotalEnergies projects and impacts as well as artists are mobilised to denounce and expose the insatiable appetite of the oil giant, in particular its controversial project in the heart of the Great Lakes region, the East African Crude Oil Pipeline.
In Goma (Democratic Republic of Congo), Jinja (Uganda), Dar-es-Salaam (Tanzania), and Nairobi (Kenya), the message is the same: the longest heated pipeline ever built on the continent must never see the light of day. This mega project of 1.443 km is expected to emit 34 million tons of CO2 per year, equivalent to 6 times the current emissions of Uganda. It is a real nightmare, not only for the directly affected communities (https://bit.ly/3z5XPmJ) but also for their daily activities, the rich fauna and flora ecosystems of the territories crossed by the pipeline, as well as for the basin of Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa, which directly supports the livelihoods of more than 40 million people in the region.
While many voices are rising loudly starting from Uganda (https://bit.ly/3t4sT2B) and Tanzania, the main countries concerned, but also on the continent and in the four corners of the world to oppose this climate bomb, Pan-African and environmental civil society groups decided to mark Africa day with a clear call: real climate justice requires the immediate and non-negotiable halt to a disastrous and destructive project such as EACOP. After all, this project is not just an East African affair. These impacts will surely affect primarily local populations, but their magnitude will be global. This is happening at a time when renowned scientific institutions such as the IPCC (https://bit.ly/3wYbPgP) and the International Energy Agency (https://bit.ly/3Gvqcwd) are constantly sounding the alarm on the urgency of immediately stopping any new fossil fuel project.
Why is TotalEnergies so unpopular on the continent and beyond?
If TotalEnergies is so contested today, it is because of its multiple crises and shortcomings committed over decades which were for a long time either tolerated or went unpunished. However, such an attitude and practice have become downright unacceptable. For many Africans, the French multinational is surfing on the France-Afrique heritage to conquer new markets in the eastern and southern parts of the continent.
Historically present in North, West, and Central Africa, TotalEnergies was born following the absorption of Elf-Aquitaine, a French company shaken by a politico-financial scandal tinged with shenanigans, corruption, and parallel diplomacy in the mid-1990s. In his book De quoi Total est-elle la somme?, (https://bit.ly/3GvmNgY) Alain Deneault accused TotalEnergies’ ancestors of involvement in, among other things, arms trafficking, forced labor, complicity in crimes, corruption, influence peddling, and tax avoidance. Today, few are aware that its growing annual profit comes at the cost of countless human casualties, unprecedented ecological destruction, and firm support to reputedly authoritarian or corrupt regimes that have overshadowed the needs and priorities of their peoples. This was particularly the case in Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, and today in Uganda and Tanzania.
The other big criticism of the French giant is its lies and gross greenwashing strategies. Scientific research (https://bit.ly/3wYRzdM) released last October showed how the oil company understood climate science before it became a public issue and spent millions to promote misinformation.TotalEnergies was aware of the harmful global warming impacts due to burning fossil fuels since 1971 and actively engaged in a sophisticated denial campaign of climate science. Instead of publicly acknowledging the impacts of its operations and induced emissions on climate change, the company covered up the truth, funded misinformation, lied to its shareholders and the public, presenting itself as a global leader in the energy transition
When it comes to greenwashing, TotalEnergies seems to have become an expert. Anxious to preserve its brand and to make people forget the climate impact of its oil and gas activities, the company stated for example that the greenhouse gas emissions caused by the EACOP project are estimated at 0.8 million tons of C02 (https://bit.ly/3N1cgg5) annually. An extreme underestimate that does not take into account scope 3 emissions, by far the most important, which once added lead to the well-known figure of 34.3 million tonnes of C02 per year. Worse, the oil giant argues that this project is well compatible with the scenario of 1.5 degrees celsius and that only 18,000 Project Affected People are concerned by the land acquisition program and that they will have a main residence. The sad reality is that TotalEnergies is actively pursuing 22 oil and gas projects around the world and that more than 100,000 people in Uganda alone are deprived of the free use of their land and are still waiting for just compensation. The list of lies, half-truths, and manipulation of numbers can go on and on.
EACOP: the drop that broke the camel’s back
By steadfastly accelerating the Tilenga and EACOP projects despite multiple warnings and opposition, TotalEnergies has clearly crossed the red line. Gone are the days when its bosses would meet Heads of State and ministers in the capital cities and sign opaque contracts without any form of consultation, transparency, and accountability to the locals directly impacted. Today, times have changed. Not only are communities fiercely opposed to fossil fuel projects, but citizen vigilance and global solidarity are more acute than before. Information circulates despite misinformation attempts, oppressed peoples are raising their voices. What is done in Paris or Kampala is reported worldwide in real-time. If the French multinational persists in favoring the exploitation of fossil fuels to the detriment of human rights and the environment as it was done in the past, it must now know that African and world public opinion is more vigilant than ever. TotalEnergies must know that we will not allow its profits alone to come before our survival, our lands, our means of subsistence, and our future. Another proof that the multinational is off to a bad start with this project: 20 financial institutions (https://bit.ly/3t46dzl) previously approached to finance the mega-pipeline have changed their decision. The level of ecological demands from its own shareholders is now stronger than in previous years, despite the war in Ukraine and the energy shock it caused.