court case calls for manslaughter charges on climate

  • Post last modified:May 21, 2024
  • Reading time:5 mins read

French fossil fuel giant TotalEnergies will once again feeling the heat in a court of law.

On Tuesday 21 May, three nonprofits and individuals filed a criminal complaint against the company and its top shareholders in Paris. Crucially, they are calling to try the company for involuntary manslaughter and other consequences of climate crisis “chaos”.

The case targets the company’s board, such as its chief executive Patrick Pouyanne, alongside major shareholders that backed its climate strategy. Naturally, this includes key shareholders like US investment firm BlackRock, and Norway’s central bank, Norges Bank.

On the same day they launched the legal action, a new report has singled out TotalEnergies among eight companies setting the world on a trajectory to climate disaster.

TotalEnergies ‘deliberately endangering’ lives

In a statement, the three nonprofits and eight individuals said they accused the group of:

deliberately endangering the lives of others, involuntary manslaughter, neglecting to address a disaster, and damaging biodiversity

Specifically, the nonprofits underscored TotalEnergies’s role in delaying action on the climate crisis. They said that:

TotalEnergies has known the direct link between its activities and climate change for over half a century, since at least 1971… TotalEnergies followed a climate sceptic line in order to waste time, delay decision-making and protect its increasing investments in fossil fuels

Of course, TotalEnergies has also maintained its climate-wrecking business-as-usual. As the Canary previously reported during its investor day in 2023:

TotalEnergies’ green energy trajectory pales in comparison to the company’s fossil fuel expansion plans. By 2030, its solar, wind, and low carbon energy – which includes biofuels, biogas, and hydrogen – will make up just 20% of its energy mix.

Meanwhile, the oil and gas major is intending to develop new fossil fuel projects. Oil Change International has estimated that its expansion plans between 2023 and 2025 alone will generate over 1,600Mt of carbon dioxide over the new project’s lifetime.

Naturally, the company’s 80/20 fossil fuel/green energy mix will also fail to lower its emissions. Despite the vital need for emissions reductions from all sectors, TotalEnergies’s plans will maintain its output at the same level to 2030.

Now, a new report has also spelled out how TotalEnergies’s continued polluting operations are wreaking havoc on the climate. Coinciding with the legal case announcement, Oil Change International published its ‘Big Oil Reality Check’ report.

This analyses the climate pledges and plans of eight international oil and gas companies. Predictably, all of them fall short of keeping to Paris climate goals. Instead of keeping temperatures under 1.5°c above pre-industrial levels, the eight companies will send them soaring over 2.4°c. Moreover, as the report noted, TotalEnergies has:

explicit goals to increase oil and gas production within the next three years or beyond

Time to ‘hold those responsible to account’

The nonprofits filed their complaint at the Paris judicial court three days ahead of TotalEnergies’s annual shareholders meeting. The prosecutor now has three months to decide whether to open a judicial investigation. If it does not go ahead, the plaintiffs can take their case directly before an investigative judge.

Plaintiffs include “victims or survivors of climate-related disasters” in Australia, Belgium, France, Greece, Pakistan, the Philippines and Zimbabwe.

One of the plaintiffs in the latest case is Benjamin Van Bunderen Robberechts. The 17-year-old from Belgium whose friend Rosa died in flash floods in Belgium at the age of 15 in 2021. Van Bunderen founded the non-profit Climate Justice for Rosa in her memory. He said that:

It’s horrible that there are people who value their profits so much more than human lives…I will do everything in my power to fight the climate situation and hold those responsible to account

Of course, it isn’t the first time nonprofits and individuals have put the French oil giant in the hot seat either. For instance, in June, nonprofits took the company to court to stop TotalEnergies proceeding with fossil fuel projects across the world.

However, this new case it taking a new and groundbreaking tack. As the nonprofits stated:

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

In other words, the case could mark a sea change in holding destructive fossil fuel corporations to account. Put simply, TotalEnergies is risking peoples’ lives through the devastating impacts of the climate crisis with its continued reckless fossil fuel profiteering. Plaintiffs will say enough is finally enough.

Feature image via TotalEnergies – Youtube

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

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