NGOs and climate change victims file criminal case against TotalEnergies’ board of directors and shareholders 

Today, three NGOs, BLOOM (France), Santé Planétaire (France), and Nuestro Futuro (Mexico) and eight climate change victims filed a criminal case in Paris against TotalEnergies’ board of directors and main shareholders for their contribution to climate change and its fatal impact on human and non-human lives. In the context of intensifying climate disasters and just three days before TotalEnergies’ Annual General Meeting, this legal action could set a precedent in the history of climate litigation as it opens the way to holding fossil fuel producers and shareholders responsible before criminal courts for the chaos caused by climate change.  

TotalEnergies, the world’s sixth biggest carbon major, its board of directors and its main shareholders are being sued for deliberately endangering the lives of others, manslaughter, neglecting to deal with a disaster, and damaging biodiversity. Each offense is punishable by at least one year of imprisonment and a fine. The prosecutor will have discretion to open a judicial investigation and to determine the roster of individuals facing prosecution. Nonetheless, the complaint filed today targets the board of directors of TotalEnergies, which determines the Group’s strategic direction including its CEO Mr. Patrick Pouyanné, as well as its main shareholders who voted in favour of climate strategies incompatible with limiting global warming to 2°C and against resolutions aiming at aligning the Group’s climate strategy with the Paris Agreement. These include Total’s largest shareholder Blackrock and 6th largest shareholder Norges Bank. 

The NGOs and eight plaintiffs hope to establish the criminal liability of TotalEnergies’ directors and shareholders for their contribution to climate change and to have them condemned for past decisions, which they took despite knowing they would trigger tremendous casualties and environmental damage.  

This case also seeks to put a definitive halt to the expansion of fossil fuel extraction, which is leading to an unprecedented situation: a “globocide” (1), i.e. the irreversible disruption of the Earth System and the biosphere as a whole. Additionally, plaintiffs wish to obtain recognition that certain persons or entities like TotalEnergies’ board of directors and main shareholders hold a superior responsibility in the global destruction of the world as we know it. 

Rising sea levels and submerged coastlines, deadly heat waves, mega-fires, devastating hurricanes, floods and landslides: the number of reported weather-related disasters has multiplied by five over the past 50 years, (2) impacting the lives of the eight plaintiffs from Australia, Zimbabwe, France, Belgium, the Philippines, Greece and Pakistan as well as that of million other human beings and billions of animals. The disasters that ravaged their lives, such as the 2019 Australian bushfires, the 2021 European floods, and the 2022 Pakistan floods, have undergone scientific attribution studies, which concluded that climate change made each of them stronger and more likely to occur. 

Scientists have established that so-called ‘natural’ disasters are less and less natural: their increase in intensity and frequency is a direct consequence of climate change, 80% of which is due to fossil fuels. (3)  

Although the International Energy Agency has recommended to halt all new fossil fuel projects since 2021 to keep to a 1.5°C pathway, (4) TotalEnergies has continued to open oil and gas sites across the planet. (5) It has even become the second most expansionist fossil fuel company in the world. (6) The scientific community has determined that opening new fossil fuel projects is not compatible with limiting temperature warming to viable thresholds. (7) 

Despite being perfectly aware that climate change kills, the directors and shareholders of the multi-billion-dollar multinational have made the choice to expand oil and gas production for a single reason: to maximize profits. 

At the 2023 Annual General Meeting, the Board of Directors even called on its shareholders to vote against the resolution to align TotalEnergies’ emissions with the Paris Agreement. This crucial resolution was rejected by 70% of shareholders. (8)  

Next the prosecutor has three months to decide whether to open a judicial investigation. If a decision is made to dismiss the complaint, or if no decision has been taken, the plaintiffs can lodge their complaint directly to an investigating judge. 

Notes to editors  

1. About TotalEnergies’ strategy 

Total has willingly ignored science, created doubt to gain time, fought regulations destined to tackle climate change, pursued a strategy to establish gas as a “low carbon” fuel and developed a communication line to put the responsibility on consumers and demand (see section “about TotalEnergies” below). 

2. Who does this case target specifically? 

When a complaint concerns many potential responsible individuals or entities, the French legal system allows to file a complaint “against X”, leaving it to the prosecutor or investigating judge to decide whom to prosecute.  

In this instance, our group of plaintiffs is providing the Criminal Court with a rationale which targets the board of directors of TotalEnergies as well as its main shareholders.  

The individuals and entities we have identified as having superior responsibility are: 

  • Mr. Patrick Pouyanné, TotalEnergies’ CEO. 
  • Members of TotalEnergies’ Board of Directors. They determine the Group’s strategic direction, have an important role in decision-making on investments and asset acquisitions and disposals, and have consistently refused to put resolutions aimed at aligning the Group’s strategy with the Paris Agreement on the AGM agenda or have openly called on shareholders to vote against them. 
  • TotalEnergies’ main shareholders for whom we have evidence that they have consistently voted in favour of climate strategies incompatible with limiting warming to 2°C (for example TotalEnergies’ 2022 climate plan) and against resolutions proposed by shareholders aiming at aligning the Group’s climate strategy with the Paris Agreement (for example the 2023 “Follow This” resolution). These include for example Blackrock (Total’s largest shareholder with more than 6% of shares) and Norges Bank (Total’s 6th largest shareholder with about 3% of shares). 
3. Campaign’s website 

The campaign’s website provides more details and several videos of the plaintiffs’ testimonies as well as an open letter to shareholders. 

The press kit is also available on the Website.  

4. On attribution science 

Our arguments are partly based on attribution science, a new branch of climate science that is working to determine the extent to which an extreme weather event is attributable to climate disruption. It can be shown that climate-related extreme events are becoming increasingly intense and frequent, and in some cases that they would not have been possible in a world without climate disruption. 

(1) The word globocide was coined by German philosopher Günther Stern alias Anders (1902-1992) to designate the extermination of human beings by the atomic bomb. We propose to use the neologism forged by the thinker of the apocalypse to designate the global devastation that our way of living is generating on the biosphere at large, not just on human beings. 

(2) World Meteorological Organization, Weather-related disasters increase over past 50 years, causing more damage but fewer deaths, 2024

(3) United Nations, Causes and Effects of Climate Change

(4) International Energy Agency, Net Zero Roadmap, 2023

(5) BLOOM, the Renewable Energy Joker, 2023

(6) Global Oil and Gas Exit List 2023

(7) Carbon Brief, New fossil fuels ‘incompatible’ with 1.5°C goal, 2023

(8) Bloomberg, Total Asks Investors to Oppose Call to Cut Indirect Emissions, 2023 

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