Clean energy advocates on March 1 hailed the world’s first climate lawsuit against a commercial bank for its massive support of fossil fuels and its substantial contribution to climate change.
Friends of the Earth (Les Amis de la Terre) France, Notre Affaire à Tous, and Oxfam France fielded legal action against BNP Paribas, Europe’s largest and fifth worldwide funder of fossil fuel expansion, to abide by its legal obligations under the 2017 French duty of vigilance law. The three organizations also urged BNP Paribas to immediately stop financing fossil fuel expansion and adopt an oil and gas exit plan.
“This unprecedented legal action sends a stern warning to all financial institutions: quit fossil fuels or face your day in court. For years, polluting banks have viewed themselves as above the law and ignored calls to do right by their responsibility to protect the environment and respect human rights. We are confident that this first climate litigation against a bank will not be the last,” said Gerry Arances, Executive Director of Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) and convenor of Withdraw from Coal (WFC), an energy advocacy and bank watchdog group.
In Southeast Asia, BNP Paribas has a total of US$6,553.14 million in transactions from January 2016 to March 2022 and is involved in financing gas and LNG projects such as Tangguh 3 LNG, Lampung FSRU, and the 250MW Sumbagut-2 Peaker Gas Fired Plant in Indonesia, all of which go against its commitments to decarbonize as part of the Net-Zero Banking Alliance.
“It is time for banks like BNP Paribas to take seriously its commitment to the Paris agreement. Banks should be held accountable for financing fuel projects despite making a public commitment to comply with the Paris agreement,” said Naing Htoo of the international environmental advocacy group EarthRights International.
The summons has been issued after BNP Paribas, which has been on notice since October 2022, failed to take the most urgent measure to comply with climate science by stopping its financial support for the expansion of fossil fuels.
“The legal action is a vital step forward in ensuring that transnational companies, such as BNP Paribas, are held responsible for their actions and that their home countries are held accountable for overseeing and regulating their extraterritorial business operations. This is particularly important for communities affected by BNP Paribas’ fossil gas investments,” added Reza Sahib of KRuHA, a human rights-based resource management advocacy group.
The call for banks and financial institutions to divest from fossil fuels financing has grown urgent as their investments have hindered achieving global climate goals.
“Climate change is the most urgent issue of our time and the financial sector is a large part of this part – and a vital part of the solution. Investing in the demise of our planet is bad business and financial institutions must realize that bold action from their end is required to save us from this catastrophe. Science experts have been telling us that we are running out of time and we also say the same to the banks and its shareholders: time is up and you need to pay up,” added Arances.
Photo credit: iStock/ dehooks. Oil spill on beach.