TotalEnergies shareholders back oil giant's climate strategy despite protests

Six civil society organisations, two of which are from France and four from Uganda, were seeking to stop the construction of the pipeline. Photo | Courtesy  

What you need to know:

  • Protesters tried to prevent investors from attending the group's annual general assembly in Paris, but police early in the morning used tear gas to disperse those who had managed to sit in front of the concert hall where it was being held.

TotalEnergies shareholders on Friday backed the French oil giant's climate strategy as it faces pressure from both environment activists and the government to speed up its switch to renewable energy.

Protesters tried to prevent investors from attending the group's annual general assembly in Paris, but police early in the morning used tear gas to disperse those who had managed to sit in front of the concert hall where it was being held.

The demonstration was one of the latest in a series of tumultuous shareholder meetings at major corporations in Europe as activists step up pressure on companies to reduce their carbon footprints.

After three hours of debate, TotalEnergies investors attending the gathering online or in person backed the group's climate strategy with more than 88 percent of votes.

Nearly a third of shareholders supported a motion from a minority of investors for the oil giant to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to help meet the 2015 Paris accord's goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

That motion was put forward by Follow This, a group of 17 investors who together hold almost 1.5 percent of shares, but had been rejected by the oil giant.

Follow This representative Tarek Bouhouch had urged investors to support the motion to avoid "a climate collapse".

TotalEnergies chief executive Patrick Pouyanne earlier defended the company's climate strategy in front of a few hundred people in the French capital's Salle Pleyel.

"The climate is at the heart of our concerns," he said.

He said his group has done more than others to invest in renewables.

But world oil demand is growing and "if TotalEnergies doesn't respond to this demand, others will do it for us", he said.

'Go faster'

Despite police blocking off the road outside the venue, a couple of hundred protesters had remained outside the concert hall as the meeting kicked off.

"All we want is to knock down Total," protesters chanted.

In reference to rising global temperatures, they also bellowed: "One, two and three degrees, we have Total to thank".

Some poured a black liquid over their heads.

The company wanted to avoid the chaos of last year when activists prevented some shareholders from attending the annual meeting.

This year, the firm placed two-metre (6.5-foot) high plexiglass screens to separate off speakers on stage from members of the public at the concert hall.

It also forbade attendees and journalists from using their smartphones inside the venue.

Climate campaigners are growing impatient with oil majors and other companies over their impact on the planet.

Energy giants posted record profits last year as Russia's war in Ukraine sent oil and gas prices soaring.

In Switzerland on Friday, shareholders of Swiss commodities giant Glencore sought to hold the company accountable over its coal strategy.

During the annual shareholders' meeting of British group Shell on Tuesday, activists sang "Go to hell Shell!"

TotalEnergies plans to allocate a third of its investments in low-carbon sources of energy and reach 100 gigawatts of renewable electricity capacity by 2030.

But France's energy transition minister, Agnes Pannier-Runacher, urged the company to speed things up on Friday.

"Total invests in renewable energies, but the challenge is to go faster, stronger and above all faster," she told FranceInfo radio.

'The worst'

Marie Cohuet, spokeswoman for climate campaigners Alternatiba, said TotalEnergies "embodies the worst of what is done in terms of the exploitation of people and the planet".

One shareholder, who gave his name as Jean-Paul, defended himself as he made his way in to the Paris meeting.

"We are all concerned by climate issues, but there are also economic aspects, employment," he said.

TotalEnergies operations include liquefied natural gas and oil projects in the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Papua New Guinea and Uganda, where it has come under fire for a pipeline project activists say threatens a fragile ecosystem and livelihoods.

The French giant has also sparked controversy over posting a record net profit of $20.5 billion for last year, how much taxes it pays in France, and how much it pays Pouyanne.

A 10-percent hike to his salary was approved at Friday's meeting.


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