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French oil and gas giant total intentionally downplayed climate threat since 1970s: study

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Climate campaigners reacted with fury to the findings. (Representative)

Paris:

French oil and gas major Total intentionally underestimated the threat of global warming since the 1970s, according to research based on interviews with former company executives and internal company documents.

The findings, published Wednesday by a trio of historians in the peer-reviewed journal Global Environment Change, follow similar revelations about US oil giants ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell.

The pattern that emerges is one of the oil and gas giants – often informed by their own scientists – about the dire risks posed by rising temperatures, on the one hand, while undermining confidence in their public pronouncements in climate science. doing, but others.

Total – Today Total Energy – “began to fuel skepticism about the scientific basis of global warming by the late 1980s”, moving from “denial to delay”, the researchers reported.

The company “finally came in a position to publicly acknowledge climate science in the late 1990s, while delaying policy or promoting policies peripheral to fossil fuel control.”

In 1971, Total published an article in the company’s internal journal “Atmospheric Pollution and Climate” that drew a straight line between burning fossil fuels and the potentially “catastrophic consequences”.

The piece appears to have set off alarm bells: According to the researchers, over the next 17 years, the journal never mentioned the issue of climate change again.

“In the company’s public communications, global warming was underestimated and the impact of human activities on this disruption was denied,” he wrote.

“Total & Elf”—the two companies that merged in 1999—were “actively addressing what they believed to be a very real threat to their business.”

In 1992, on the eve of the Rio Earth Summit, which spawned a United Nations treaty to combat global warming, Total’s environmental director Jean-Philippe Carruet sought to sow the seeds of doubt.

“There is no certainty about the impact of human activities [on global warming], including the combustion of fossil fuels,” he wrote in the company magazine.

– A rebranding effort –

Even as it successfully lobbied for weakening policies to reduce CO2 emissions, Total sought to brand environmental credentials, as the study showed.

“We thought that only Exxon and the US oil and gas giant were engaged in this kind of duplicity,” co-author Christophe Bonuil, a historian at France’s National Center for Scientific Research, told AFP.

“We now know that French majors also participated, at least between 1987 and 1994.”

Climate campaigners reacted with fury to the findings.

350.org and French NGO Notre Affair Tus (It’s Everybody Business) said in a joint statement: “These revelations provide evidence that TotalEnergies and other oil and gas companies have spent a generation trying to prevent the climate crisis.” Time is stolen.”

In a statement sent to AFP, a Total spokesperson said the company “openly accepted the findings of climate science from 25 years ago,” as well as “links with the petroleum industry”.

“TotalEnergies finds it regrettable to be called to a position 50 years ago without highlighting the efforts, changes, progress and investments made since then.”

In May, Total rebranded itself as TotalEnergies to reflect a shift toward renewable energy, which the company said would account for 20 percent of the investment in 2021.

Also, it projected a 50 percent increase in group-wide production of oil and gas between 2015 and 2030.

“The intensive development of new oil and gas projects is a declaration of war on humanity,” said 350.org France Team Lead Clémence Dubois, calling on banks to stop underwriting such projects.

In May, the International Energy Agency (IEA) for the first time laid out a roadmap for the transition to a global net zero energy system by 2050.

The IEA said the steps needed include no investment in new fossil fuel supply projects, and the global power sector to reach net-zero emissions by 2040.

(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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