July 21, 2024

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TotalEnergies has filed a lawsuit over the deadly consequences of climate change.  But does the case have a chance of success?

TotalEnergies has filed a lawsuit over the deadly consequences of climate change. But does the case have a chance of success?

TotalEnergies is “intentionally” partly responsible for climate change deaths caused by oil exploitation. Eight people who lost family members and homes due to extreme weather conditions and three NGOs wrote this in a press release. On Tuesday, they jointly filed a criminal case against the French energy company.

This is remarkable. Previous climate lawsuits – such as those against Shell and ING – have involved civil cases, while directors and major shareholders of TotalEnergies are now being tried in criminal court.

Climate activists typically want to seek financial compensation through civil courts or force a company to change its climate policy. But in a criminal case, a prison sentence can be imposed. The maximum sentence for manslaughter, for which top TotalEnergies executives are charged, is five years in France.

Does the case have a chance of success? That’s hard to say, according to climate lawyer Tim Bleeker of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. While it is clear that global warming generally increases the risk of extreme weather events, “it will not be easy to prove a direct connection between the deaths of the victims and Total Energies’ contribution to global warming before a French criminal court,” he says.

Deceased mother

“I received a call from my uncle telling me that there were severe storms in my mother’s village.” He writes Frenchman William, 28 years old, is one of the defendants. His mother’s body was found approximately two weeks later. Another plaintiff, 23-year-old Hilda from Zimbabwe, survived Cyclone Idai. But her village was completely destroyed. 17-year-old Belgian Benjamin lost his girlfriend in torrential floods in Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and the Netherlands in the summer of 2021. The three NGOs involved in the complaint are the French environmental organizations Bloom and Santé Planétaire and the Mexican Nuestro Futuro. subscriber.

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The group bases its complaint against TotalEnergies on various scientific studies on the role of climate change in extreme weather events, so-called attribution studies. In such studies, researchers first calculate the probability of a given extreme weather occurring in a world without climate change. The researchers then compare this probability with the probability of the same extreme weather occurring in the current warm climate. For example, the World Weather Attribution research institute concluded that the chance of heavy rains in Belgium in 2021, during which Benjamin lost his girlfriend, has become 1.2 to 9 times more likely due to climate change.

“But such a conclusion is not enough to prove a criminal offense,” Blecker says. “‘Emitting greenhouse gases’ or ‘contributing to the causing of extreme weather events’ is not prohibited anywhere in the criminal code. So you are relying on general prohibitions, for example that ‘you may not damage the property of others’ or that ‘you may not “You endanger people’s lives.” Completing vague, open standards is an everyday matter for a civil judge, but a criminal judge has less freedom.

The French public prosecutor must decide within three months whether a judicial investigation will be conducted or whether the charges will be dropped.

The charges are against top manager Patrick Pouyanne and members of the board of directors. Prosecutors also want major shareholders, including BlackRock and Norges Bank, to face criminal charges.

Bloom Environment Organization He writes For evidence that these shareholders have consistently voted for climate policies “that are not consistent with the Paris Agreement.”

The group of plaintiffs hopes to influence the choices of shareholders who meet Friday at TotalEnergies’ annual shareholder meeting. “The filing of a lawsuit against TotalEnergies in France sends a clear message to directors and shareholders,” they wrote. “They will have to answer for their criminal actions in court.”

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