BNP Paribas sued over its support of fossil fuels

BNP Paribas has been sued by three French NGOs. This lawsuit marks the first time ever that a commercial bank is sued over its fossil fuel financing.

BNP Paribas is being taken to court by French NGOs over its support of fossil fuels and its role in the climate crisis. This lawsuit marks the first time ever that a commercial bank gets sued over its fossil fuel financing. Lorette Philippot, campaigner at Friends of the Earth France, said in a statement: “The urgent warning professed by the scientific community and the International Energy Agency has recently been reiterated through repeated statements from the United Nations: a bank cannot claim to be committed to net zero while supporting new oil and gas projects. But BNP Paribas, Europe’s largest funder of fossil fuel expansion, is ignoring scientific truths and is reluctant to address this glaring issue”.

Why is BNP Paribas being sued? 

The French NGOs Friends of the Earth (Les Amis de la Terre) France, Notre Affaire à Tous, and Oxfam France filed a lawsuit on February 23, 2023, at the Paris Judicial Court against the international French bank, BNP Paribas. The three NGOs want the French bank to discontinue its fossil fuel expansion financing and formulate an oil and gas exit strategy.

The French bank BNP Paribas is the fifth global financier of oil, gas, and coal development © STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images

“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. Instead of making concrete promises to address fundamental scientific truths, BNP Paribas is polishing its image and trying to sow doubt in people’s minds surrounding the accuracy of these scientific statements. With this lawsuit, we would like to reiterate that our organizations are firmly resolved to see the judge reach a verdict that forces the bank to honour its promises,” said Alexandre Poidatz, Advocacy Officer at Oxfam France, in a statement.

According to the 2022 Banking on Climate Chaos report, BNP Paribas ranks tenth among the world’s major banks in terms of fossil fuel financing, having provided the industry with $141.605 billion between 2016 and 2021, making it the EU’s and France’s largest financier of fossil fuels. BNP Paribas is also the fifth global financier of oil, gas, and coal development.

On what basis are the NGOs suing BNP Paribas?

On October 26, the NGOs gave formal notice to the bank to comply with its due diligence obligations under the French Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law, which mandates that corporate parent companies must identify and counteract human rights and environmental violations that could result from their activities.

The French bank did not meet these formally notified demands, so the NGOs are taking BNP Paribas to court. “The French duty of vigilance law imposes an obligation on multinationals in all sectors to take action to protect human rights and the environment and to do so efficiently. The financial sector has a huge responsibility in our collective ability to comply with the Paris Agreement. This first climate litigation against a commercial bank is undoubtedly the first of many around the world.” explained Justine Ripoll, campaigner at Notre Affaire à Tous, in a statement. The Paris Judicial Court will present a timetable for subsequent steps in the proceedings.

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