TotalEnergies suffers investor revolt over climate goals

A large group of TotalEnergies shareholders has urged the French oil and gas company to speed up efforts to switch to cleaner energy at an annual meeting marked by protests and clashes between police and climate activists.

More than 30 per cent of investors supported a resolution filed by Dutch activist shareholder Follow This calling for Total to cut its emissions at a faster pace by 2030.

The rebuke — significant by the common standards of annual shareholder meetings — echoes other calls pressing for faster transition plans at rivals including Shell. A similar activist motion at Total in 2020 garnered support from 17 per cent of investors.

Shareholder meetings of Big Oil companies have become the stage for increasingly forceful climate protests both outside and inside the premises.

Total’s meeting in central Paris on Friday took place in a charged atmosphere, as dozens of climate activists attempted to block the entrance but were dispersed by police using pepper spray and tear gas.

Small groups of protesters later gathered outside the venue under a heavy police presence. They chanted slogans against Total’s oil pipeline project in Uganda and Tanzania and brandished placards taking aim at the group as well as banks that had financed some projects.

Total’s chief executive Patrick Pouyanné hit out at the “grumps” who accused the company of greenwashing as he defended the company’s investments in wind and solar power, alongside a greater focus on gas from oil as a transition fuel.

“We’re convinced of the credibility of our climate transition plan,” Pouyanné said. He added that if Total were to suddenly sell oil assets they would be bought by less climate-minded rivals, which would not be in the interests of shareholders nor the planet.

Follow This urged Total to do more to reduce its emissions by 2030, particularly those known as Scope 3, which covers carbon emissions produced by a product during its entire lifetime. It has suggested the company should end new oil and gas projects as a first step.

Pouyanné hit out at Scope 3, saying there were limits to what the company itself could do to influence what its clients needed. “Do you want to make us responsible for demand in air transport?” he said.

Like many of its peers, Total has been shifting more of its budget towards clean energy. It will spend $5bn this year on renewable energy assets, up from more than $4bn, although most of its $16bn to $18bn investments are dedicated to other areas, including oil.

Some investors have commended Total for making this shift but signalled that momentum should continue at a faster pace than the company has so far indicated.

“The solution is around the rapid scale-up of affordable and reliable clean energy,” said Lloyd McAllister, head of sustainable investment at Carmignac. The asset manager voted against Total’s climate goals, on the basis that they lacked clarity and were not ambitious enough, as well as against the Follow This resolution, saying it was too prescriptive and could lead to unintended consequences.

Pouyanné, who complained about the valuation gap affecting the company because it was listed in Europe rather than the US, said on Friday that US shareholders made up about 46 per cent of its institutional investors, compared with a third four or five years ago. The Frenchman, however, said that moving Total’s listing to the US was not an option, in part for political reasons.

ExxonMobil and Chevron are due to hold shareholder meetings next week.

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