BNP Paribas threatened with climate litigation over fossil fuel financing

French NGOs give banking group three months to comply with duty of vigilance law.

Oxfam France, Friends of the Earth France and Notre Affaire à Tous have written to BNP Paribas threatening to take legal action over the group’s fossil fuel financing.

In the letter, which was addressed to BNPP’s CEO Jean-Laurent Bonnafé, the NGOs asked the bank to comply with the Paris 1.5C goal by immediately halting support – both direct and indirect – for new fossil fuel projects, in accordance with the French corporate duty of vigilance law.

The 2017 French law states that financial institutions and large corporations have a legal responsibility for the social and environmental impacts of their business activity.

BNP Paribas told Responsible Investor that it is looking into the accusations.

“BNP Paribas continues to reinforce its commitments in reducing carbon emissions linked to its financing of the economy,” a spokesperson said.

The bank defended its position on energy transition, noting that it has committed to reduce its credit exposure to oil and gas by 12 percent by 2025 and has also pledged to reduce its exposure to oil by 25 percent by 2025.

The statement added that “the level of the objectives, fixed to a three-year time period (2025) is in line and compatible with the perspective of financing a carbon-neutral economy by 2050”.

The NGOs warned that they will escalate the legal action to a lawsuit should BNPP fail to address the issues within the next three months.

If further action is taken, it will be the first lawsuit to target a commercial bank in France for its activities in the oil and gas industries. Notre Affaire à Tous and Oxfam France launched a lawsuit against the French government for inaction on global warming in 2018.

Jamie Sawyer, a lawyer for ClientEarth, said: “Banks continuing to fund fossil fuel expansion run a real risk of breaching their legal responsibilities to mitigate climate risks and prevent harm to the environment and human rights – not just in France, but in markets worldwide.”

He added: “The French government was right to enact the new duty of vigilance law to hold firms accountable. More of these cases are likely to follow if polluting businesses fail to meet their legal obligations to manage climate risks and prevent environmental and human rights abuses.”

This summer, Crédit Agricole committed to cut its financing of oil and gas emissions, following accusations of slow progress from Friends of the Earth.