CAC40: The True Annual Report

Carbon Emission Reductions an Illusion

The environmental reports of CAC40 corporations are nowhere near as accurate or thorough as their financial reports. But they do give an indication of where their carbon footprint stands as well as highlighting how little effort these companies are really making in reducing them– in spite of the grandiose claims.

According to the most comprehensive emissions data available, France’s biggest corporations emitted approximately 1.6 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2019 (including both direct and indirect emissions). This represents around 5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions – approximately the same amount as that emitted by Russia.

In absolute terms, Total is responsible for nearly 30% of the emissions generated by France’s major corporations, followed by ArcelorMittal (12.2%), Engie (11.4%), Michelin (8.9%), Crédit agricole (8.7%), PSA (7.9%) and Renault (6%). Yet these figures are not entirely reliable, as some companies are more transparent in their calculation methods than others. Crédit agricole is the only French bank to include (although only partially) emissions generated by the projects it finances, which explains why it features as one of the top emitters, while BNP Paribas and Société générale sit comfortably further down the list. Other big polluters, such as Carrefour, don’t disclose the emissions embedded in their international supply chain.

Overall, the emissions of CAC40 companies have fallen 3.13% since 2017 (1.16% between 2018 and 2019). Yet this fairly modest drop is all due to Engie, one of France’s most polluting companies, which in recent years has been divesting from its coal assets. If we put Engie aside, the emissions of France’s top corporations have actually increased 2.6% since 2017 (1.2% between 2018 et 2019). It’s worth noting that Engie has often simply sold its power plants and coal mines to investors that are less concerned about their public image. Divesting from them has not actually resulted in a real drop in real emissions; all it has done is polish up Engie’s carbon footprint, and consequently that of the CAC40.

Five years ago, French companies came righteously together for COP 21 and the signing of the Paris Agreement, pledging to protect the climate and commit to ambitious goals. Our 2019 report on the “real” carbon footprint of France’s corporations showed, however, that only a third of CAC 40 companies had actually reduced emissions since COP 21. [1]

This year’s figures show the same trend. The emissions of twenty firms on the French index again rose between 2017 and 2019, including those of oil company Total (+3.3%). The companies responsible for the biggest jump in emissions over these years are Dassault Systèmes (3.5 times more emissions), Unibail (twice as many emissions), Essilor (+60%), Vivendi (+55%), PSA (+50.9%), Teleperformance (+35%) and Danone (+29.8%). The companies that boast the biggest drop in emissions include Carrefour, Publicis and Engie. But, as previously noted, Carrefour’s figures are very partial and don’t accurately reflect its real environmental impact.

Many French corporations avoid citing their actual number of emissions, breaking down CO2 emissions into “emissions per employee” and “emissions per unit of revenue”. This suggests that corporations are still guided by a paradigm of “efficiency” and of “decoupling” the company growth from the environmental impact of their activities. According to this logic, it’s fine for CO2 emissions to keep rising, as long as they don’t rise as quickly as revenue and staff numbers.

CAC40 companies indeed look a lot better if we look at overall emissions per employee and per revenue, with a -11% and -10.6% drop respectively between 2017 and 2019. And again, the final results are quite different without Engie in the mix: -6.5% and -5.3% respectively. Nevertheless, twelve firms on the CAC 40 still managed to increase their emissions per revenue between 2017 and 2019, and fifteen increased emissions per employee. These “climate dunces” are Dassault Systèmes, Danone, PSA, Unibail, Vivendi, Pernod Ricard – and to a lesser extent, L’Oréal and Axa (again, taking the figures published by other firms with a good pinch of salt).

This article in an excerpt, translated from the French, of Chapter 3 of "CAC40: le véritable bilan annuel 2020". More about this publication here. French original here.

Related Reports

Multinationals involved

Most read