French cities and NGOs sue oil giant Total over 'climate inaction'

Oil giant Total is sued by French NGOs and cities over their 'climate inaction', January 28 2020.
Oil giant Total is sued by French NGOs and cities over their 'climate inaction', January 28 2020. Régis Duvigneau

A group of French cities and advocacy groups said Tuesday they had filed a lawsuit against oil giant Total, claiming it was not doing enough to limit carbon emissions and prevent climate change.


“We’re asking for them to be held accountable, but also for positive and concrete actions for our citizens and territories,” Patrick Jarry, mayor of the Paris suburb of Nanterre where the case was filed, told journalists.

It is the first time a French company has been sued for what the NGOs call “climate inaction”, based on a March 2017 law that requires large French companies to draw up “vigilance plans” to prevent environmental damage and uphold health and human rights.

They say Total’s plan is “clearly insufficient” if France is to meet its pledges under the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which aims to limit global temperature rises to well below two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit).

Even though the accord was signed by national governments, the plaintiffs argue that courts should use it to evaluate the effectiveness of companies’ environmental commitments.

'Needs thorough analysis'

“We want the judge to carry out a thorough analysis, point by point, of Total’s plan. Is it pertinent? Does it respond to the stakes in play?” said Sebastien Mabile, a lawyer for the group.

The case was filed by advocacy groups including Sherpa and France Nature Environment and by around a dozen cities including Grenoble and Bayonne.

The NGOs had already warned last June that Total was in their cross-hairs, urging the energy giant to step up its efforts to curb carbon emissions.

The company said it “regretted” the lawsuit, saying “the solutions to responding both to the need for energy sources accessible to all, and to the challenges of climate change, require cooperation among the various stakeholders”.


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