Defend Truth


SANParks should not be providing a platform to help climate-breaking companies like TotalEnergies look good


James Granelli is a campaigner with Fossil Free South Africa and is currently completing an honours degree in anthropology at the University of Cape Town.

The partnership announced between the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, SANParks and TotalEnergies makes a mockery of efforts to fight climate change by giving one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases a chance to seem to be supporting conservation.

Reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) show that the climate crisis has already disrupted marine, terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems, caused the first climate-driven extinctions, increased disease and mass mortality events of plants and animals, and negatively impacted ecosystem services, livelihoods and cultural practices. It is thus incomprehensible that the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment and South African National Parks (SANParks) have announced a partnership with climate-wrecking company TotalEnergies, one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases.

The company has been revealed as one of SANParks main sponsors for its yearly SANParks Week campaign, which aims to open up South African parks to citizens who can’t usually afford the entrance fees, boost local tourism and encourage citizens to experience the country’s natural wonders.

In the context of a history of exclusion and dispossession at our national parks, SANParks Week is an encouraging campaign to promote democratic access to our national heritage, increase local tourism and raise awareness for conservation initiatives. However, the campaign’s focus on South Africa’s rich biodiversity and beauty make it all the more ironic that one of its main sponsors is a company whose business practices cause irreparable climate damage that impacts many of the endemic species and endangered ecosystems SANParks seeks to protect. 

It is a hypocrisy of note to support conservation in South African parks but not in Uganda or Tanzania when their profits are at stake.

SANParks’ own climate change preparation document highlights concerns over erratic rainfall in the Kalahari Gemsbok and Golden Gate Highlands national parks, sustained heat waves of above 35°C in the Kalahari, links between rhino mortality and drought, infrastructure vulnerability, changes to malaria risk areas, and the loss of “charismatic species”, to name a few.

The deal between SANParks and the DFFE with TotalEnergies is not only a clear case of greenwashing, in which companies seek to persuade the public that they are more environmentally friendly than they actually are, but is also an example of the deep entanglement of fossil fuel companies in every aspect of our lives and democracy.

TotalEnergies, formally known as Total, is one of the world’s largest energy companies whose profiteering and fossil fuel business have contributed significantly to the climate crisis. Total’s rebrand was made to indicate the company’s move to diversify their business with more renewable sources. However, their actions and investments show that this move was more of a smart marketing choice than a real change in ideology. 

The company continues to explore for new oil and gas reserves across the continent, including on our own shoreline where they have recently been granted a licence to conduct exploratory drilling between Cape Agulhas and Cape Town. Seismic surveys and exploratory drilling have a negative impact on marine species including mammals, fish, invertebrates, plankton and reptiles. These effects include disruption to the singing (communication) of humpback whales and dolphins, changes in the behaviour of penguins off the coast of Gqeberha, and according to scientists from the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies, pose a risk to “a high number of endemic and endangered fish species across the continental shelf, such as deep-water lace corals, wreckfish and critically endangered and endemic sea breams”. Not to mention the dire consequences for small-scale fishing and coastal communities along our shoreline.

Making their sponsorship of SANParks Week more ironic is their 62% stake in the East African Crude Oil Pipeline project from Uganda to Tanzania. If built, the pipeline will generate more than 34 million tonnes of CO2 emissions every single year, will displace thousands of people from their land, open up critical ecosystems for oil development, and will be built through some of the world’s most important elephant, lion and chimpanzee nature reserves. 

It is a hypocrisy of note to support conservation in South African parks but not in Uganda or Tanzania when their profits are at stake. 

The rebranded TotalEnergies bears responsibility for its history as Total, as outlined by researchers in the journal Global Environmental Change, which described Total’s response to global warming between 1971 and 2021: “Total personnel received warnings of the potential for catastrophic global warming from its products by 1971, became more fully informed of the issue in the 1980s, began promoting doubt regarding the scientific basis for global warming by the late 1980s, and ultimately settled on a position in the late 1990s of publicly accepting climate science while promoting policy delay or policies peripheral to fossil fuel control.”

TotalEnergies has targeted other opportunities for greenwashing, including sponsoring events such as the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

TotalEnergies’ history of climate denial, misinformation, and their continued pursuit of climate-breaking fossil fuels sits in opposition to many of the goals and efforts of SANParks to protect and conserve our natural heritage as climate change threatens many of these endangered habitats. 

We have already seen how vulnerable our national parks are to the effects of climate change, be it the increasing likelihood of drought, extreme rainfall and flooding, or ocean acidification. Just this year the Kruger National Park was hit by floods which damaged roads and bridges, with a repair cost of upwards of R110-million. At the same time climate change has increased the risk of extreme wildfires in Cape Town, home of the Table Mountain National Park – a biodiversity hotspot and a protected area for South Africa’s endemic fynbos. Endemic plants in South Africa’s national parks, many of which consist of biodiversity hotspots, are under particular threat – the IPCC notes that the risk of extinction of endemic plants due to climate change is 10 times greater than other native species.

Having the TotalEnergies logo across SANParks Week promotional material that includes beautiful photos of lions, sunsets and South Africa’s landscape, gives the company a platform where it is associated with conservation and efforts to protect the natural environment, rather than holding them to account for the harm their business model causes.

SANParks should not be associating with companies that are known contributors to climate change.

But SANParks is not alone. TotalEnergies has targeted other opportunities for greenwashing, including sponsoring events such as the 2023 Rugby World Cup. The strategy has recently been called out by former Australian captain David Pocock, among others. Other initiatives gaslight the public into thinking the onus for fighting climate change is on individual action rather than pointing the finger at the 100 companies who produce 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: SA companies hold $17-billion in investments of coal, oil and gas companies — global report

TotalEnergies’ marketing relationship with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment also runs deeper than just SANParks. In 2022 they were the sponsor of the department’s Arbour Month, which put out infographics about the benefits of tree planting as a climate solution, when one of the most obvious ways to “help climate change”, as they put it, is to stop extracting fossil fuels and destroying ecosystems!

We should celebrate campaigns like SANParks Week that begin to democratise South Africa’s natural heritage and get us outside and away from our screens, but we cannot allow our rich natural heritage and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment to hand out promotional opportunities to climate-breaking businesses that are destroying the very life-sustaining biodiversity they wish to be associated with. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Moraig Peden says:

    Thank you to the writer for raising this issue. So much green washing going on that remains unnoticed.

  • Michele Rivarola says:

    Let alone them being responsible for starting a civil was in northern Mozambique which our faithful foreign minister has blamed on something and someone else. Same thing is about to happen in SA with the same company who could not care less about the destruction they visit on the countries they pillage

  • Vas K says:

    If our “government” was doing what is good for the country rather than for the mafia, there would be no need for any sponsorships.

  • TotalEnergies partnership with Sanparks spans over 50 years! TotalEnergies also sponsors Sanparks with fuel for their helicopters in the fight against poachers. This is not green washing, this is part of TotalEnergies program to give back to the communities. TotalEnergies South Africa will start building it’s firts Solar plant and wind farm in the next few coming months. We are nowhere near ready for going fully green and until that time, the world still needs fossil fuel. Instead of making TotalEnergies the bad guy, celebrate the fact that they make SANParks week possible. I don’t see any other “green” company doing it!

  • Henry Coppens says:

    Well, I’m not so sure. Total advertises in SAN parks, because they hope by doing so they will convert users to their brand. They have been a SANParks sponsor for decades. They thought, then, by supporting a worthy wild life cause they would get mileage. That was before fossil fuel based climate change rose. So while they may have gained mileage, and upped their share a bit, they would not affect the overall consumption of fossil fuel in SA. What they gained other such companies would lose. So knowing this why not milk them for sponsorship.

    Secondly, take the tobacco industry. Advertising was banned by ALL tobacco product suppliers. This has had the desirable and intended effect of reducing tobacco consumption overall. The same applies to the fossil fuel supply industry. In order to reduce fossil fuel emissions, advertising bans need to be placed on ALL these companies. Singling out one company, just because of its link to an environmental enterprise (SANparks) is neither effective nor fair. It’s a bit like vegans wearing leather shoes.

    • Ben Harper says:

      Smoking tobacco products is not a critical need, you are simply demented if you think reducing advertising is going to change the NEED for fossil fuels for the country and economy to function.

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