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Total quits the tar sands and CAPP

This week, French oil and gas company Total announced that it would stop investing in tar sands projects, referring to resources wrapped up in projects that are intended to carry on for more than 20 years as “stranded assets.” At the same time, the company revoked its membership with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). According to CBC News, “Total said it is leaving CAPP because of a ’misalignment’ between the organization’s public positions and those expressed in Total’s climate ambition statement announced in May.”  

Total is not the only company that has left CAPP over climate-related policy. Teck Resources Ltd. withdrew its proposal for the Frontier tar sands mine in February 2020 and ended its membership with CAPP for “cost cutting” reasons. 

Also this week, the Deutsche Bank announced that it would immediately end funding for tar sands projects and all oil and gas projects in the arctic. The Deutsche Bank joins a growing number of banks and investment plans refusing to fund certain oil and gas activities that are especially heavily polluting and violate human and Indigenous rights, including JPMorgan, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs. 

Let’s not give these companies too much credit 

To be clear, Total leaving the tar sands does not absolve them of climate crimes – they continue to extract oil in Myanmar, Russia and Nigeria. Total says in its statement about the abandonment of its tar sands projects that the decision was made due to the “weakness of investments in the hydrocarbon sector.” 

Similarly, when Teck cancelled its Frontier project CEO Don Lindsay said, “investors and customers are increasingly looking for jurisdictions to have a framework in place that reconciles resource development and climate change.” 

Social movements around the world have created conditions where companies are forced to contend with climate policy and the social and environmental impacts of extractive projects. This changing context means that while companies continue to prioritize profits and returns for investors above all else, they must now do that in a world where climate action is becoming demanded by both movements and the law.  

What does this all mean? 

Some key things I’m taking away from this news are: 

  • Big industry is recognizing the power of the climate movement and the shifting tide of legislation and regulation around the world that is leaving oil and gas assets “stranded.” In other words, our movements have created the conditions where it is actually cheaper for companies to leave it in the ground!  

  • CAPP is so out of sync with the reality of climate action and the price of oil that even its own members are leaving.  

  • Our collective work in pushing back against industry groups’ influence on climate policy is having an impact and we need to keep going.