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What's in a Name? Environmentalists Unimpressed by Total Name Change

"This outcome is, I think, the best response to commentators who predicted, and in some cases even hoped for an investor rebellion against the company, and responds to those who act more as activists than shareholders," said Pouyanne. But Environmentalists and a chunk of the shareholders say TotalEnergy must do more to convince that they are abiding by their promises.

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Environmental and human-rights protection groups are waiting to see what the impact of the name change by from Total to TotalEnergies by the French oil and gas giant will be. 

According to the company group Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanné, this is part of their journey in the energy revolution, with the mission of being an environment -friendly energy producer of the world.

“Our ambition is to be a world class player in the energy transition. That’s why Total is transforming and becoming TotalEnergies,” he says.    

The company, which is the lead investor in the commercial development of Uganda’s oil and gas industry, has seen its projects in Uganda and elsewhere come under heavy criticism from both local, African and international civil society organisations. 

The climax so far was during the signing of the tripartite agreements between governments of Uganda and Tanzania, as well as the oil companies in April, which gave a go ahead for the commencement of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), in April. More than 260 CSOs petitioned the parties to drop the project saying it would violate economic and human rights especially for the poor residents along the route, as well as degrading the environment.

Apart from the pipeline, upstream projects like exploration and production of oil and other activities in the oil fields have also been criticized on claims that they emit sounds, vibrations and gases dangerous to the ecosystem. 

“Energy is life. We all need it and it’s a source of progress" CEO Pouyanné said in his statement to the shareholders. "So today, to contribute to the sustainable development of the planet facing the climate challenge, we are moving forward, together, towards new energies. Energy is reinventing itself, and this energy journey is ours.”

The name change, according to the company, is an example of the direction TotalEnergies has decided on towards a broad energy company committed to producing and providing energies that are ever more affordable, reliable and clean. 

The name change did not happen without challenges, as 10% of the shareholders had opposed the whole green energy goals of the company as not ambitious enough.

Total's climate strategy provides for the company to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.  Carbon neutrality refers to achieving net-zero carbon dioxide emissions. 

This can be done by balancing emissions of carbon dioxide with its removal (often through carbon offsetting) or by eliminating emissions from society. 

Other oil companies based in Europe and America, like Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil are facing similar challenges including court actions to force them cut emissions. 

The Petroleum Authority of Uganda says the allegations by the crusaders on the country’s industry are either intentionally exaggerated or based on misinformation.  Following the passing of the name change resolution, Pouyanné said the shareholders have perfectly responded to the criticism by both CSOs and the investors critical to the company’s plans. 

"This outcome is, I think, the best response to commentators who predicted, and in some cases even hoped for an investor rebellion against the company, and responds to those who act more as activists than shareholders," he said.

Rebranding on its own, however, was supported by more than 99% of the shareholders. 

The company is increasing its focus towards renewable energy with more attention to solar and wind power, as well as light nitrogen gas. 

“In the next decade, oil products sales from Total will diminish by almost 30% and Total’s sales mix will become 30% oil products, 5% biofuels, 50% gases, 15% electrons,” says TotalEnergies in a statement. 

By doing this, it hopes to derive revenues from electricity production, and reduce its reliance on oil products. 

Pouyanne said much as his wish was for the company to become a "green energy major", a more radical shift may not be tenable as the company needs to fund its transition from revenues from fossil fuels.

Total in Uganda has insisted that its operations follow internationally accepted standards, as well as its own international policies regarding the environment and human rights generally. 

It cites the government-approved environmental impact assessments, the independent assessments conducted by third parties and dialogues with communities, which it says have been instrumental in improving the safety of the company’s operations. 

Dickens Kamugisha, the Chief Executive of one of the petitioners, the African Institute for Energy Governance one of the petitioners, says TotalEnergy must do more to convince that they are abiding by their promises. 

  

//Cue in: “I don’t think…. 

Cue out:….one percent.”//

  

However, Kamugisha says that since the petition, Total has approached them to update them on what they are doing and explain where the NGOs are wrong.

  

//Cue in: “ I don’t know…, 

Cue out:…Across the world.”//

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