NGOs seek climate trial of French oil giant TotalEnergies

Europe  AFP - Alain Jocard
© AFP - Alain Jocard

NGOs filed a criminal complaint against French oil giant TotalEnergies and its top shareholders in Paris on Tuesday, seeking a trial for involuntary manslaughter and other consequences of climate change "chaos".

Three NGOs – Bloom, Alliance Santé Planétaire and Mexico's Nuestro Futuro – and eight individuals have filed a complaint against TotalEnergies.

The case targets the company's board, including chief executive Patrick Pouyanne, and major shareholders that backed the group's climate strategy – including US investment firm BlackRock and Norway's central bank, Norges Bank.

In a statement, the NGOs said they accused TotalEnergies of "deliberately endangering the lives of others, involuntary manslaughter, neglecting to address a disaster, and damaging biodiversity".

The complaint was filed at the Paris judicial court – which has environmental and health departments – three days before TotalEnergies holds its annual shareholders meeting.

The prosecutor now has three months to decide whether to open a judicial investigation, the NGOs said.

If it does not go ahead, the plaintiffs can take their case directly before an investigative judge.

'Victims of climate-related disasters'

"This legal action could set a precedent in the history of climate litigation as it opens the way to holding fossil fuel producers and shareholders responsible before criminal courts for the chaos caused by climate change," the NGOs said.

The plaintiffs include "victims or survivors of climate-related disasters" in Australia, Belgium, France, Greece, Pakistan, the Philippines and Zimbabwe.

Oil and gas companies, other corporations and governments are facing a growing number of legal cases related to the climate crisis worldwide.

TotalEnergies is facing other legal cases in France related to climate change and environment.

Outside the Paris judicial court on Tuesday, the NGOs held a banner reading "climate change kills" and "let's put shareholders behind bars" - with the "share" in shareholders crossed out and replaced by the "death".

The latest complaint aims to "recognise the deadly consequences of their decisions, their stubbornness in voting for fossil projects which threaten the stability of the climate and therefore of all living things," Claire Nouvian, founding director of conservation group Bloom, said at a news conference.

50 years of 'climate scepticism'

Fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal – are the biggest contributors to heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions.

"TotalEnergies has known the direct link between its activities and climate change for over half a century, since at least 1971," the NGOs said.

"TotalEnergies followed a climate sceptic line in order to waste time, delay decision-making and protect its increasing investments in fossil fuels," they added.

One of the plaintiffs in the latest case is Benjamin Van Bunderen Robberechts, a 17-year-old Belgian whose friend Rosa died in flash floods in Belgium at the age of 15 in 2021.

"It's horrible that there are people who value their profits so much more than human lives," Van Bunderen Robberechts, who has since founded the non-profit Climate Justice for Rosa, said in the statement.

"I will do everything in my power to fight the climate situation and hold those responsible to account," he said.

They said they hope to set a legal precedent "whereby opening new fossil fuel projects would be considered criminal".

While the case was filed on Tuesday, TotalEnergies announced a deep-water project off the coast of Angola, with production set to start in 2028 to extract 70,000 barrels per day.

(with AFP)