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Climate litigation has been heating up for the past few years. Typically, we’re seeing more individuals, NGOs, and municipalities suing big oil for damages caused to property by climate change. Alternatively, we also see rights-based litigation against governments arguing for more stringent climate targets. Recently, however, a different kind of case was brought in France when an NGO and several victims of climate-fueled extreme weather disasters brought a criminal case against TotalEnergies and its executives. The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre discussed the case stating:

“The case was filed… by eight people harmed by extreme weather, and three NGOs. The plaintiffs believe it to be the first such criminal case filed against the individuals running a major oil company. The public prosecutor who received the file has three months to decide whether to open a judicial investigation or dismiss the complaint. The case aims to establish the alleged criminal liability of TotalEnergies’ directors and its major shareholders for deliberately endangering the lives of others, involuntary manslaughter, neglecting to address a disaster, and damaging biodiversity. Such crimes, if proven, are punishable by imprisonment and fines.”

Criminal cases in the climate sphere are rare, though they may be on the rise. When France adopted the CSRD, they included criminal penalties in extreme cases of non-compliance. Recently an academic paper published in the Harvard Environmental Law Review made the case for bringing homicide charges against individuals and corporations whose reckless or negligent acts or omissions led to deaths from climate events. While widespread criminal prosecution of fossil fuels executives and companies may not be likely, we can expect to see this kind of litigation grow as extreme climate events grow in frequency and severity.

Our members can learn more about ESG litigation in France here

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The Editor

Zachary Barlow is a licensed attorney. He earned his JD from the University of Mississippi and has a bachelor’s in Public Policy Leadership. He practiced law at a mid-size firm and handled a wide variety of cases. During this time he assisted in overseeing compliance of a public entity and litigated contract disputes, gaining experience both in and outside of the courtroom. Zachary currently assists the editorial team by providing research and creating content on a spectrum of ESG… View Profile