TotalEnergies lawsuit (re climate change, France)
Case profile also available in : Français
Snapshot: In January 2020, several French NGOs and local authorities filed a lawsuit against oil company Total in France based on the duty of vigilance law, in an attempt to force the company to dramatically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. They allege that Total did not include enough detailed information in its vigilance plan to reduce emissions. Total declared that its plan complies with the duty of vigilance law.
In 2017, France passed a new corporate duty of vigilance law, mandating respect for human rights and the environment to business activities carried out by large companies. It establishes a legally binding obligation for parent companies, like Total, to identify, prevent, mitigate and redress human rights and environmental impacts resulting from their own activities as well as from the operations of companies under their control, subcontractors and suppliers.
The law imposes the obligation of implementing and publishing a vigilance plan in detail or account for the failure to do it. Despite Total having published a vigilance plan, the plaintiffs argue that it is not sufficient to meet its legal obligation under the French duty of vigilance law. In fact, Total is responsible for more than two-thirds of France’s greenhouse gas emissions and one of the 20 biggest contributors to worldwide emissions.
In October 2018, NGOs and local authorities sent a letter to Total’s CEO reminding him of the company’s obligations under the duty of vigilance law. They also said that they would file a lawsuit against the company if no action was taken. Total’s CEO met with them in June 2019, but the talks were not successful in resolving the matter.
In September 2022, two more cities (Paris and New York) joined the lawsuit. Amnesty International France and the city of Poitiers also support this legal action.
The plaintiffs, 16 local authorities and 6 NGOs, are bringing the lawsuit under the French Corporate duty of vigilance law (2017) that requires large companies to set out a plan with detailed measures to identify risks and prevent human right abuses or environmental damage that could result from their activities.
The plaintiffs allege that, Total, despite its vigilance plan, has not included in details the actions to be taken in order to curb emissions and actively cut its contribution to climate change, limiting the global average temperature to a maximum of 1.5%, according to the Paris’ Agreement. Total denies the allegations.
After meeting Total’s CEO to discuss the issue, the NGOs and local authorities sent a formal notice to Total, on 19 June 2019 in accordance with the duty of vigilance law.
On 14 January 2020, 14 local authorities and 5 NGOs filed a claim before the Nanterre court (France). Total argued that the Commercial court should hear the case.
In February 2021, a Paris judge ruled that a judicial tribunal, as opposed to a commercial court, should have jurisdiction and hear the merits of the case. Total appealed the decision.
On 18 November 2021, the Versailles Court of Appeal confirmed the lower court decision.
After TotalEnergies unsuccessfully sought to have the case moved to a commercial court, the case was assigned to a single judge at the Paris judicial court in 2022.
In February 2023, NGOs and local authorities asked the court to implement provisional measures against TotalEnergies while the outcome of the case is pending. Specifically, they want the court to institute measures requiring TotalEnergies to suspend its new oil and gas projects and implement measures to reduce its emissions in order to conform with the Paris Agreement.
In July 2023, the court rejected the lawsuit, deeming the request for provisional measures as well as the initial lawsuit inadmissible. It held that Total had not been sufficiently notified before the lawsuit was filed. While the coalition of plaintiffs said the ruling was concerning, TotalEnergies stated that it had noted the court decision and had an "ambitious strategy to reach carbon neutrality by 2050".
In November 2023, the international coalition of NGOs and governments filed an appeal challenging the lower court's ruling. A decision is expected in 2024.
- France: Court declines to hear the case brought by environmental NGOs and local authorities to compel TotalEnergies to limit its emissions, Benjamin Mallet, Reuters, 20 Minutes (France) and AFP, 6 Jul 2023
- "Climate change litigation against Total: NGOs and local authorities’ request for provisional measures pending trial", Sherpa, 10 Feb 2023
- "Paris and New York join climate litigation against TotalEnergies", EURACTIV.com with Reuters, 22 Sep 2022
- “French NGOs and local authorities take court action against Total”, Angelique Chrisafis, Guardian (UK), 27 Jan 2020
- “French Communities Demand Climate Action by Oil Giant Total”, Dana Drugmand, Climate Liability News, 25 Oct 2018
Notre Affaire à Tous and Sherpa
-Procès climatique contre TotalEnergies : l’action judiciaire continue devant la cour d’appel, Sherpa, 11 Nov 2023 (in French)
-Climate change: Paris and New York join the legal action against TotalEnergies, Abdoulaye Diarra, Notre Affaire à Tous, 21 Sep 2022
-"Climate litigation against Total: the Versailles Court of Appeal confirms the jurisdiction of the judicial court", Notre Affaire à Tous, Sherpa, 18 Nov 2021
- "Climate change litigation against Total: a first victory for the NGOs and local authorities", Notre Affaire à Tous, Sherpa, France Nature Environnement, Eco Maires and ZEA, 11 Feb 2021
-“First climate change litigation against a company in France: 14 local authorities and 5 NGOs take Total to court”, Notre Affaire à Tous, Sherpa, France Nature Environnement, Eco Maires and ZEA, 28 Jan 2020
- Respondents' reply to the statement of objections before the Judicial Court of Paris, 10 Feb 2023
-Dr Yann Robiou du Pont's expert note on behalf of respondents, Consultation on TotalEnergies' Alignment with the Objective of Limiting Global Warming to 1.5°C (Paris Agreement), 8 Feb 2022
-Versailles Court of Appeal Judgement affirming the judicial tribunal's jurisdiction after TotalEnergies' appeal, 18 Nov 2021