PARIS: Non-governmental organisations and persons affected by climate-induced disasters have filed a criminal complaint against French oil giant TotalEnergies and its top shareholders in Paris on Tuesday, seeking a trial for involuntary manslaughter and other consequences of climate change “chaos”.

In total, 11 plaintiffs have filed the case, including three NGOs and eight “victims or survivors of climate-related disasters” in Australia, Belgium, France, Greece, Pakistan, the Philippines and Zimbabwe.

Khanzadi K, from Pakistan, witnessed the death of her sister in devastating floods in 2022, UK newspaper The Guardian reported. The other plaintiffs also said they were harmed by storms, floods or wildfires.

The case targets the company’s board, including chief executive Patrick Pouyanne, and major shareholders that backed its climate strategy, including US investment firm BlackRock and Norway’s central bank, Norges Bank.

TotalEnergies accused of deliberately endangering lives by ‘ignoring science’

In a statement, the three NGOs and eight individuals said they accused the group of “deliberately endangering the lives of others, involuntary manslaughter, neglecting to address a disaster, and damaging biodiversity”.

“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,” Bloom, one of the complainants NGOs said in a statement.

The prosecutor now has three months to decide whether to open a judicial investigation, the NGOs said.

The offences carry prison sentences ranging between one year to five years and fines of as much as 150,000 euros.

“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,” the NGOs said. TotalEnergies did not immediately return a request for comment.

The latest complaint aims to “recognise the deadly consequences of their decisions, their stubbornness in voting for fossil projects which threaten the stability of the climate and therefore of all living things,” Claire Nouvian, founding director of conservation group Bloom, said at a news conference.

In their statement, the plaintiffs said, “TotalEnergies has known the direct link between its activities and climate change” since at least 1971.

They said they hope to set a legal precedent “whereby opening new fossil fuel projects would be considered criminal”.

Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2024

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