BNP Paribas sued in France over fossil-fuel financing


World first against a commercial bank -plaintiffs


Case based on law that enhances corporate duties


BNP says ecological transition is only “viable path”

PARIS, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Three climate-minded organizations are set on Thursday to sue BNP Paribas, the eurozone’s biggest bank, on grounds its loans to oil and gas majors breach a legally binding duty to ensure its activities do not harm the environment.

The three advocacy groups - Oxfam, Friends of the Earth and Notre Affaire à Tous - said in a statement that the lawsuit is aimed at making the French lender stop and exit the financing of fossil fuels, in what they called a world first against a commercial bank.

“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,” said Alexandre Poidatz, advocacy officer at Oxfam France.

In a statement sent to Reuters, BNP said it regretted the advocacy groups chose litigation over dialogue and that it could not stop all fossil-fuel financing right away.

“We’re convinced that the ecological transition is the only viable path for the future of our economies,” it said.

“We are focused on our fossil-fuel exit path, accelerating financing for renewable energies and supporting our customers, without whom the transition cannot be made.”

Legal activism is an increasingly popular move for campaigners as they seek to push companies to move faster in the shift to a low-carbon economy and to hold laggards to account.

The Paris Agreement on climate change has set a goal to limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius - a target that looks out of reach, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said last year.

The case against BNP is part of a number of legal attacks taking place, targeting different laws and organizations ranging from Air France-KLM’s Dutch branch to Shell, TotalEnergies and even the French state.

It is based on a French law adopted in 2017 that requires companies to draft so-called environmental damage vigilance plans. No court in France has yet forced a firm to change its ways on the basis of this law.

A much-awaited ruling in a similar case against TotalEnergies - a top client of BNP’s - is expected early next week.

The three NGOs said their legal approach against BNP is modeled after a historic lawsuit in the Netherlands against Shell, which in 2021 was forced by a Dutch court to drastically reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of its global operations to be brought in line with science-based climate assessments.

The groups claim that while BNP does not directly finance such projects, its general extension of credit allows it to make climate-friendly claims, such as joining the Net Zero Banking Alliance, while continuing to support potentially damaging projects via its banking clients. (Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain and America Hernandez in Paris; Additional reporting by Simon Jessop in London Editing by Matthew Lewis)