TotalEnergies is one of the world’s biggest oil companies. In 2022, it made a profit of US$16 billion. At the company’s 2023 Shareholders’ Meeting, shareholders rejected a resolution to set targets “aligned with the Paris Climate Agreement” scope 3 emissions.

Scope 3 emissions are the emissions that take place when TotalEnergies’ oil and gas is burned. In other words, TotalEnergies decided to ignore the emissions that are largely responsible for driving climate change.

At the Annual Meeting, Patrick Pouyanné, CEO of TotalEnergies said,

“I would like remind everyone that the global demand for oil is growing even if TotalEnergies did not meet this demand, others will do so for us.”

TotalEnergies’ strategy is to have oil and gas account for 80% of revenue by 2030. It’s strategy also involves more extraction of fossil fuels. TotalEnergies is one of the companies behind the proposed US$4 billion East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP). 

The EACOP will involve drilling hundreds of oil wells in and around nature reserves. It will destroy ecosystems. And it will increase emissions from burning fossil fuels.

“I don’t think we realized that this project would become a symbol of the anti-oil fight,” Pouyanné said in a recent interview with Bloomberg.“We were slow to react and underestimated its impact.”

In the interview with Bloomberg,Pouyanné says accusations of greenwashing against his company are “unfair” and “radical positions amplified by social networks”. 

Pouyanné’s arguments are plainly ridiculous from the perspective of addressing the climate crisis. Instead, Pouyanné is firmly focussed on corporate profits. But far from being “unfair”, the accusations of greenwashingagainst TotalEnergies are perfectly reasonable – whether viewed through the lens of the climate crisis lens or the lens of human rights.

In the Republic of Congo, TotalEnergies is taking the land from some of the poorest people on the planet to plant trees in order to greenwash its destruction.

TotalEnergies’ acacia monoculture on the Batéké Plateaux

In March 2021, TotalEnergies announced plans to plant a “40,000 hectare forest” in the Republic of Congo. The trees are supposed to “sequester more than 10 million tons of CO₂ over 20 years”. But as Simon Counsell points out in an April 2021 post on REDD-Monitor

[I]n reality, the project is an egregious attempt to greenwash Total’s major contribution to climate change, and conceals likely serious local ecological and social damage.

Counsell’s article exposes the “shady deals, geopolitical manoeuvring and international agency dissembling” that lie behind the project.

In December 2022, Greenpeace UK’s Unearthed and investigative journalists at SourceMaterial reported from the Batéké Plateau. Their research was also reported on by Sky News and Mediapart

Unearthed and SourceMaterial found that TotalEnergies’ tree-planting scheme has taken away farmers’ land and threatens their livelihoods.

In November 2021, white security guards arrived and started driving farmers from their fields. 

Some farmers received compensation of about US$1 per hectare. Some received nothing.

In a statement in response to SourceMaterial and Unearthed’s research TotalEnergies writes that,

An assessment is underway to finalize the mapping of stakeholders and to propose and implement the measures that will allow them to be co-beneficiaries of the project. In addition to mechanisms, such as access to farmland and machinery, the project will offer them a stake in the agroforestry value chain, allowing them to enjoy the benefits of the region’s new socio-economic development.

But an “assessment” to “finalize the mapping of stakeholders” is clearly too little too late. The plantations have already started. Farmers have already been kicked off their land. 

TotalEnergies also states that,

TotalEnergies’ ambition is to implement international standards that will exceed local legal requirements.

Exactly what these “international standards” are is far from clear. In its March 2021 announcement, TotalEnergies stated that the plantation would “be certified in accordance with the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and Climate, Community & Biodiversity (CCB) standards”. 

In December 2022, 21 months after this announcement, Unearthedreporteda Verra spokesperson as sayingthat Verra “could not comment on Total’s project as the organisation had not yet reviewed – or potentially even received – any information about it from Total”. 

The project is still not listed on Verra’s project registry more than two years after TotalEnergies’ claim that the plantation would be certified under the Verra system. 

“How are we going to live?”

SourceMaterial reports that,

This spring, when Pulchérie Amboula went to plant crops on her land, she was chased away by men in trucks. 

“As soon as they see the tractor, there is a Hilux vehicle which starts following behind,” she says. “We no longer work. With grandchildren and children, how are we going to live?” 

Amboula told SourceMaterial that,

“The kids will no longer study. We no longer have fields, how will we pay for their schooling? If you fall sick today, where will you get the money to get treatment? I feel like these people came to kill us on our own land.”

TotalEnergies partnered with Forest Neutral Congo, which is a subsidiary of Forêt Ressources Management, a French consulting firm. The trees are to be planted on part of a 70,089 hectare area called the Lefini reserve. A September 2020 law made land in the Lefini reserve the “private property of the state”. 

This law was passed more than one year before the consultations ended with the people living and farming on the land.

On a government map, the plot of the Nkonon family group is marked as being part of the Lefini reserve. But the family has received no compensation. 

Maixent Jourdain Adzabi, the land chief for the Nkonon family, toldSourceMaterial that his family was “never included” in the consultation process. They no longer have any work, he said.

He told SourceMaterial that,

“Today populations are crying, and bitterly. And us, our children? We raise them based on our fields. We work, we find money to get them into school. Our future children will be born and eat what? And their wives and children, how will they live?” 

SourceMaterial obtained a copy of the lease agreement between Forest Neutral Congo and the government. In this agreement, the state promises“the eviction of the so-called landowners, holders of traditional and customary rights who claim the land”:

Clarisse Parfaite Loube is a farmer who grows potatoes on land inherited from her grandparents. She told SouceMaterialthat her fields have been “snatched”.

She says,“I beg the authorities to properly reflect over this situation, as well as the white man who brought this enterprise here. Let him reflect and give us back our space.”

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