30th Mar 2023

French bank BNP Paribas sued over fossil-fuel lending

  • BNP Paribas is France’s biggest fossil-fuel lender, and one of the biggest in Europe behind only Deutsche Bank (Photo: Can Pac Swire, Flickr)
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Three organisations are suing the Eurozone's biggest bank, BNP Paribas, over oil and gas financing — in what is the first case of a commercial bank being sued over its fossil-fuel lending.

Climate organisations Oxfam, Friends of the Earth and Notre Affaire à Tous said in a statement on Thursday (23 February) that the bank has a duty to prevent environmental harm.

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"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," said Alexandre Poidatz, advocacy officer at Oxfam France, citing a French law that obliges French companies to identify risk and prevent severe environmental and human-rights violations.

So far, no French court has convicted a company based on that 2017 law. But a ruling in a similar case against TotalEnergies, also a client of BNP's, is expected next week.

François de Cambiaire, a partner at Paris-based Seattle Avocats, an environmental law firm, said a successful lawsuit could result in "cessation of the activity causing the damage, and even divestment."

BNP Paribas is France's biggest fossil-fuel lender and one of the biggest in Europe, trailing only Deutsche Bank. According to a 2022 study by the climate group Rainforest Action Network, BNP is the world's leading funder of Arctic and offshore gas projects in the six years between 2016 and 2021, with financing worth respectively $6bn and $36bn [€5.5bn and €34bn].

In a statement, BNP said it regretted the litigation and could not end all fossil-fuel financing immediately.

In January, the bank committed to reducing its outstanding financing by 2030, but NGOs claim it is still lending money to clients developing new fossil-fuel projects.

The bank is a member of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), a global coalition of leading financial institutions committed to increasing investments in solar, wind and gas substitutes to 80 percent of all energy investments by 2030. BNP Paribas so far has managed only seven percent.

This lawsuit is part of a global litigation movement that aims to hold the banks accountable and is based on similar cases against Shell, which was forced to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a Dutch court in 2021.

The Paris Judicial Court will propose a schedule for the next steps in the proceedings.

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