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Activists sue BNP over energy loans, TotalEnergies over human rights

file photo: the logo of french oil and gas company totalenergies is seen at a totalenergies gas station in bugnicourt
FILE PHOTO: The logo of French oil and gas company TotalEnergies is seen at a TotalEnergies gas station in Bugnicourt, France

Climate and human rights activists sued two of France’s biggest corporations over fossil fuel financing and alleged human rights abuses on Thursday, as campaigners increasingly turn to lawsuits to push big companies to change their behaviour.

Oxfam, Friends of the Earth and Notre Affaire à Tous argue BNP Paribas BNP.PA loans to oil and gas firms breach a legally binding duty in France to ensure its activities do not harm the environment.

Separately, the MENA rights group sued TotalEnergies TTEF.PA on behalf of two people who say they were subjected to detention and torture by UAE forces at the Balhaf gas liquefaction plant operated by Yemen LNG, in which the energy major is the biggest shareholder with a 39.6% stake.

BNP Paribas said it regretted the advocacy groups’ choice of litigation over dialogue and that it could not stop all fossil-fuel financing right away.

It said last month it had 23.7 billion euros of outstanding loans for fossil fuels at end-September and that it had stopped oil project financing in 2016, committing to reduce outstanding financing for oil extraction and production by a quarter by 2025.

TotalEnergies said it was a minority shareholder in Yemen LNG and did not control the company, which “thus situates it outside of the perimeter of (TotalEnergies’) vigilance plan”, but called the situation in the country “a source of concern”.

UAE authorities did not immediately respond to requests for comment outside office hours.

The two lawsuits were filed before the Paris Court of Justice using a 2017 French law that places the onus on large French companies to identify and prevent risks to human rights and the environment that could occur as a result of their business activities.

The first ruling by a French court based on the law is due in another environmental case against TotalEnergies on Feb. 28.

Alexandre Poidatz, advocacy officer at Oxfam France, said BNP Paribas “continues to write new blank cheques to the largest fossil fuel companies without setting any conditions for an oil-free, gas-free ecological transition”.

FOSSIL FUELS

The three groups said BNP Paribas was involved in indirectly funding eight European and North American oil and gas companies involved in more than 200 new fossil fuel projects.

At the same time the euro zone’s biggest bank was making climate-friendly claims, such as joining the Net Zero Banking Alliance.

The “Banking on Climate Chaos” report from RainforestAction Network said BNP Paribas ranks tenth among international banks that have contributed the most to oil and gas production, with $142 billion worth of fossil fuel financing in 2016-2021.

In the TotalEnergies case, MENA’s legal adviser Alexis Thiry said the group had been informed of gross human rights abuses at Yemen LNG’s Balhaf site on multiple occasions.

“Total has continued to exclude Balhaf (from) its Vigilance Plan,” on the grounds that its 39.6% share in the Yemen LNG site is below the 40% legal threshold for inclusion.

MENA says the “dominant influence” threshold over the site mentioned in France’s 2017 law applies to TotalEnergies and would mandate its inclusion.

TotalEnergies said it had expressed its concern to Yemen LNG so it could make inquiries about the situation with local authorities.

“In line with its code of conduct, TotalEnergies places the respect of human rights at the heart of its operations,” it said.

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