TotalEnergies, the French oil giant, filed a lawsuit against Greenpeace France and climate consulting company Factor-X over a report that claimed that Total had significantly underestimated its emissions from burning fossil fuels.
The report, released in November by Greenpeace France, said that Total massively undercounted the emissions it reported in 2019, which amounted to 455 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). Greenpeace’s report alleged that Total’s emissions were four times higher, at 1.6 billion tons of CO2.
Total countered that Factor X, the Brussels-based firm contracted by Greenpeace to do the accounting, used flawed methodology that double-counted emissions.
Total’s civil complaint, served on April 28, claims that Greenpeace’s report contains “false and misleading information,” echoing the accusations Greenpeace levied at Total. Additionally, Total wants the court to recognize what it says were knowingly false claims by Factor-X, challenging the company’s expertise in carbon emissions accounting.
Factor X declined to comment in response to Total’s allegations.
Total’s suit seeks a judicial order to withdraw the report and cease all references to it, with a penalty of €2000 ($2,213) per day, and a symbolic €1 ($1.10) in damages.
A procedural hearing will take place on Sept. 7, and it will likely be another several months before a judge begins to rule on the merits of the case.
Why calculating emissions is tricky
Burning fossil fuels is the primary driver of human-caused climate change, and accounting for a companies’ emissions is a way to assign liabilities and responsibilities. However, carbon accounting is notoriously imprecise, and a shift in assumptions could dramatically change the final tally.
Total’s lawsuit against Greenpeace is a reversal of an exploding trend in recent years of climate activism through lawsuits, many of which have Big Oil at the receiving end. (Greenpeace France filed a lawsuit against Total last year, over greenwashing.)
For their part, oil companies have pushed back on litigation with appeals, often spurious, that make the legal processes longer and more expensive.
In a statement, Greenpeace France director Jean-François Julliard, suggested that the oil company’s lawsuit was part of an effort to silence them. “TotalEnergies wants to drag Greenpeace through a long legal process ... erase our reports and prevent us from denouncing their misleading and climate-killing practices,” Julliard said. “We will continue to lift the veil on their responsibility in global warming.”