The case

1. Why do we urgently need to get off fossil fuels?
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Within a context of climate emergency, supporting the development of new fossil fuel projects worsens the climate crisis and furthers the overreliance of our societies on these resources whose soaring prices are the main driver of the inflation currently being experienced.

Because stopping our reliance on fossil fuels is a burning priority to avoid the most dramatic consequences of climate change. Despite the scientific consensus (IPCC, International Energy Agency) on the impossibility of drilling new oil and gas fields to stay below the 1.5 global warming limit1, 95% of oil and gas producers are exploring or planning to develop new fossil fuels reserves2, financially supported by banks such as BNP Paribas.

Because stopping our reliance on fossil fuels is the only way to achieve a just transition. The rise in energy prices is not only contextual – the COVID-19 epidemic, the war in Ukraine – it is systemic. It is the result of unpreparedness to face the energy and climate crisis and their impacts on our daily life, and in particular on the most vulnerable households.

Because stopping funding fossil fuels is also to attack the crisis profiteers. The big energy and financial companies continue to make (windfall) profits from oil and gas, at the expense of the climate, human rights and social justice. In 2022, Total and BNP Paribas made the biggest profits in their histories, respectively recording 20 billion and 10 billion euros.

Without waiting for the next crisis, it is urgent to shift finance and exit the fossil fuel model we are locked in today.

1. International Energy Agency, 2021, Net Zero by 2050. 2. Urgewald, 2021, Global Oil And Gas List.
2. How do banks pollute?
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Banks provide financial support to enable companies, individuals, local authorities and governments in France and abroad to pursue and develop their activities in various sectors. These activities can be beneficial to the ecological and social transition or, on the contrary, harm climate, the environment and human rights. The climate impact of a bank can be determined by looking at the main economic activities it finances. Banks can finance companies, i.e. inject money, using tools such as loans or the issuance of new shares and bonds on behalf of these companies. In addition to these financings, banks also support industries through another channel: investments. In other words, they buy shares and bonds of companies already issued and traded on financial markets that constitute sources of cash flow for these companies. Banks are therefore at the heart of economic decisions: BNP possesses financial assets equivalent to the total GDP of France3.

Banks enable polluting projects by supporting companies that develop them. In 2020, 88% of BNP’s greenhouse gas emissions resulted from its corporate financing and investments4. The remaining emissions were associated with financings and investments in the public sector and, marginally, to individuals and households. BNP’s emissions footprint thus amounted to 749 million tons of CO2 equivalent in 2020, a carbon footprint greater than all French territorial emissions5.

3. S&P Global, 2022, Europe’s 50 largest banks by assets 2022. 4. Oxfam France, 2020, Banques : des engagements climat à prendre au 4ème degré. 5. Oxfam France, 2021, Banques et climat : le désaccord de Paris.
3. Why targetting BNP Paribas?
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BNP’s greenhouse gas emissions are this high because it still finances and invests massively in polluting industries, especially fossil fuels. BNP has risen to the rank of 1st European and 4th global funder of fossil fuel expansion between 2016 and 20226. The French bank stands out in rapidly developing sectors, despite critical impacts on ecosystems. For example, it was the world’s 1st funder of offshore oil and gas drilling on the same period7.

The reasons for this strong support? Behind a green and starry logo, the French bank maintains powerful links with the biggest names in the fossil fuel industry. Between 2016 and 2022, it was the 1st global funder of nine European and American oil and gas giants, such as Total, Shell and BP8. This handful of groups alone are involved in over 200 new fossil fuel projects expected to be approved for development by 2025. These projects would have a dramatic climate impact as they would result in the emission of an additional 8.6 gigatons of CO2, equivalent to the lifetime emissions of 77 new coal-fired power plants9. Climate bombs would not exist if banks were not there to finance them.

Even though BNP has made a public commitment to comply with the Paris Agreement and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, its current policies do not make it possible to achieve these goals. BNP is also failing to meet the recommendation set by the International Energy Agency to cease all new investment in the exploration and exploitation of fossil fuels10.

It is our money, entrusted to the banks, that finances projects that are detrimental to the environment. Citizens have the power to act by massively supporting this action and by demanding that their money finances the ecological and social transition, not climate chaos.

6. Rainforest Action Network, BankTrack, Indigenous Environmental Network, Oil Change International, Reclaim Finance, Sierra Club, Urgewald, 2023, Banking On Climate Chaos. 7. Ibid 8. Ibid 9. Oil Change International, 2022, Big Oil Reality Check. 10. International Energy Agency, 2021, Net Zero by 2050.
4. Why are we taking BNP to court?
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Friends of the Earth France, Notre Affaire à Tous and Oxfam France are suing BNP for failure to meet its duty of vigilance with regards to climate change by supporting fossil fuel expansion. It is the first climate action in the world to confront a commercial bank with its legal obligations and to demand an immediate halt to support for new oil and gas projects.

What is the due diligence law? Thanks to the mobilisation of associations and workers’ unions, French parliamentarians adopted this historic law in 201711. This law requires certain large French multinational companies, including banks and other financial actors, to take measures to identify and prevent risks of serious human rights, health and safety, and environmental violations caused by their own activities and those of their subsidiaries, as well as those of their main suppliers and subcontractors, both in France and abroad. These measures must be published annually in a vigilance plan, effectively implemented and monitored by the company to ensure their effectiveness. In the event of non-compliance, the law authorises any person with an interest in the matter to bring an action before a judge in order to prescribe the company to comply with its obligations, within a period of three months after having given it prior notice. For years, we have been investigating and publishing reports on BNP’s responsibility for the climate crisis and its unwavering support for fossil fuels. Evidence is mounting.

With this case, we want to ensure that this law is applied ambitiously: it allows us to take legal action to stop BNP’s mad rush into fossil fuels and prevent it from continuing to pose serious and irreversible risks to people, biodiversity, the environment and climate. Above all, if judges confirm that breaches have been proven, this judicial decision would set a precedent. The impact of a victory would therefore be felt throughout the entire financial sector.

What exactly are we demanding from BNP Paribas? The bank must respect its duty of vigilance, comply with the Paris Agreement, and immediately stop its financial support for the expansion of fossil fuels.

11. Legifrance, 2017, Loi n° 2017-399 du 27 mars 2017 relative au devoir de vigilance des sociétés mères et des entreprises donneuses d’ordre.
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Our organisations, supported by many citizens, are convinced that litigation before the courts is a powerful tool to ensure that the main players of the climate crisis are held accountable and forced to comply with climate objectives, but also to allow a public debate on these crucial social issues for our future.

The steps of the legal process:

  • October 26th, 2022: Friends of the Earth France, Notre Affaire À Tous and Oxfam France gave BNP Paribas formal notice to adopt reasonable and appropriate climate vigilance measures, integrated into a new vigilance plan and effectively implemented, within three months. In the absence of a satisfactory response from BNP, they can turn to the judge and take the multinational to court before the Paris Judicial Court.
  • January 24, 2023: At the end of the legal 3-month period, BNP Paribas responded to our formal notice by communicating on new commitments. However, neither these public promises, nor the official reply given by the bank to the lawyers representing the three NGOs are enough : the bank still does not refrain from supporting new oil and gas projects nor engage an exit from the sector.
  • February 23, 2023: We take BNP Paribas to court before the Paris Judicial Court. It is the first climate litigation in the world to make a commercial bank to face with its climate legal obligations.

BNP Paribas is a very powerful company. Its considerable financial resources are likely to make this legal battle last for several years. The bank will likely try everything to make us give up.

This is why the support of all of us is essential: the power of citizens can finally allow us to obtain justice against BNP Paribas.