The climate crisis is accelerating at an alarming rate. While no one denies that fossil fuels are the primary cause of the climate crisis and that, for a long time now, the international consensus has been that we must “leave it in the ground”, it’s clear that huge amounts of coal, gas and oil are still being extracted and new deposits are being explored. There has been a sharp acceleration in renewable energy development, but by continuing to exploit fossil fuels, we risk derailing the development of renewables and depriving the transition of the required resources.
After decades of denial and overt obstruction, big oil and gas multinationals like TotalEnergies are now choosing to adopt a more subtle and seemingly more constructive narrative on climate change. They’ve claimed to whoever would listen (mostly successfully when it comes to political leaders) that although they were definitely part of the problem, they are also part of the solution, if not the solution itself. They’ve hugely monopolized the climate action narrative — aiming to neutralize and undermine the arguments — while also managing to secure a large share of the funding to finance the development of the “solutions” they’re pushing. There’s no denying it. The apparent participation of oil and gas multinationals in the energy transition is merely a front. TotalEnergies and their peers have only jumped on the climate transition bandwagon so that they can continue to exploit fossil fuels for as long as possible.
In this report we analyze the following question: faced with Big Oil’s pursuit to continue exploiting fossil fuels and to block all ambitious climate initiatives, what can we do to take back control for an effective response and a fair and inclusive transition approach to the climate emergency? The choice to maintain the economic and political power of the fossil fuel industry, allowing them to block ambitious climate action and pass on the costs to others, has led us to an impasse. If we want to achieve a total phase out of fossil fuels by 2050, we need to address this power imbalance to accelerate the renewable energy transition.
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Using the example of TotalEnergies, this report details different ways to regain control and rapidly phase out fossil fuels, within the “just transition” framework that is democratic, transparent, and inclusive. It also looks at the historic influence and disruptive power that the fossil fuel industry has wielded up until now and offers ways to steer that power back toward the general interest. The report suggests one avenue for this is to prioritize interests beyond shareholder profit demands through a nationalization process. Transforming TotalEnergies into a public entity, and engaging it, in an exit from fossil fuel extraction. Once complete, all the company’s resources would be redirected to serve society and its needs. However, history shows that state control of a company’s shareholding alone doesn’t guarantee democratic supervision or the “right direction” of corporate decisions. This report proposes solutions such as requisition or implementing a climate safeguard procedure that could be explored to avoid these problems.
This report details what a different future for TotalEnergies could look like. Starting with a planned exit from oil and gas extraction activities and then broadening out to how France could apply this logic beyond oil and gas to electricity, transport and gas distribution sectors. And then outlining what a coordinated international approach to how transforming fossil fuel companies throughout Europe and North America would look.
TotalEnergies is the focus of this report, but the subject is not unique. Similar studies on ways to build decarbonized and democratic energy systems, serving populations rather than large corporations have been initiated on the future of the fossil energy industry players like Shell, Eni, or RWE. This proposal could fit into a coordinated and shared international approach targeting the entire fossil fuel sector, making it more plausible and easily achievable.
Faced with the climate crisis, there is no option other than the “radical choice.” There is not enough time for gradual changes that do not materialize. The acceleration of the climate crisis and its impacts necessitates change at a faster pace and requires radical scenarios to become inevitable.