A legal action filed by a group of environmental organizations with greenwashing claims against energy giant TotalEnergies will be permitted to proceed in the Paris judicial court, a pre-trial judge ruled today, clearing a major hurdle for the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed in March 2022 by Greenpeace France, Friends of the Earth France and Notre Affaire a Tous, and supported by environmental law organization ClientEarth, argued that TotalEnergies’ “reinvention” campaign, in which the company claimed to be “a major player in the energy transition,” and noted its 2050 net zero ambition, falsely portrayed the company as being on track to address the climate crisis.

The legal action also targeted TotalEnergies’ promotion of gas as a less carbon-intensive fossil fuel, and of biofuel as a low-carbon alternative allowing an at least 50% reduction compared to their fossil equivalents.

In a statement following the ruling, ClientEarth lawyer Johnny White said:

“Today’s judgment heralds a major step forward in protecting consumers from misleading marketing claims like the ones broadcast by TotalEnergies’ across billboards and in targeted social media adverts.

“Oil companies have all been singing from the same hymn sheet of ‘sustainability’ – while continuing to explore and expand their use of fossil fuels – even with impending EU law closing in on greenwashing.”

In its recent Sustainability & Climate – 2023 Progress Report, TotalEnergies described natural gas as a “transition energy” that is key to the energy transition, given its ability to replace coal in many applications. The report also introduced a strengthened target for the company’s 2030 reduction of Scope 3 emissions from oil, although its overall Scope 3 goal remained unchanged due to the planned expansion in its natural gas business.

ESG Today reached out to TotalEnergies following the ruling. In its response, the company said:

“TotalEnergies is implementing its strategy in a concrete way (investments, new businesses, significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions…) and is in line with the objectives the company has set to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, together with society. It is therefore wrong to claim that our strategy is “greenwashing”.”

TotalEnergies also pointed out that the judge partly granted its request by declaring that ClientEarth’s voluntary intervention in the proceedings was inadmissible, with the organization not allowed to proceed as a formal intervener in the case.

The court’s decision follows the dismissal last week in a UK court of a climate-focused legal action against the board of directors of energy giant Shell filed by ClientEarth. It also follows a lawsuit filed by TotalEnergies in April against Greenpeace France over a report claiming that the energy company “massively underestimates” its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

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