A group of French NGOs, including Friends of the Earth (Les Amis de la Terre) France, Notre Affaire à Tous and Oxfam France announced today that they have launched a lawsuit against Paris-based global bank BNP Paribas, targeting the bank’s financing for new oil and gas projects.

According to the NGOs, the aim of the legal action, described as the first-ever climate lawsuit against a commercial bank, is “to force BNP to implement an effective climate policy and to immediately stop supporting the development of fossil fuels.”

BNP Paribas is Europe’s leading funder of the development of fossil fuels, and the fifth largest in the world, according to the NGOs, providing $55 billion of financing between 2016 and 2022.

In a circular describing the background and details of the suit, the organizations explain that the legal basis of the case rests on the “duty of vigilance” law, adopted in France in 2017, that requires large companies to have a vigilance plan to assess and prevent their operational impacts on the environment and human rights. Earlier this year, a group of environmental and legal campaign organizations filed a lawsuit against French global food and beverage company Danone over its use of plastic, citing the same law.

Describing the lawsuit as the “first of many around the world,” Justine Ripoll, Campaigner at Notre Affaire à Tous, said:

“The French duty of vigilance law imposes an obligation on multinationals in all sectors to take action to protect human rights and the environment, and to do so efficiently. The financial sector has a huge responsibility in our collective ability to comply with the Paris Agreement.”

The lawsuit follows BNP Paribas’ announcement in January of a new policy to reduce its fossil fuel  financing activity, including a goal to reduce outstanding financing for oil extraction and production by more than 80%, to less than €1 billion by 2030.

The NGO’s however, said that the bank’s new policy is not sufficient, adding that BNP Paribas “still does not require its clients active in the oil and gas industry to immediately stop developing new fossil fuel projects and engage in a progressive exit from the sector.”

Alexandre Poidatz, Advocacy Officer at Oxfam France, said:

“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.”

BNP Paribas is also facing pressure over its fossil fuel financing policy from investors. Earlier this month, the company was among a group of large European banks targeted in a campaign led by responsible NGO ShareAction and including investors representing more than $1.5 trillion in assets, calling for commitments from the banks to end financing for new oil and gas fields this year, and noting that similar pledges from banks including HSBC, BBVA, ING, Lloyds Banking Group, and UniCredit, have set a new “minimum level of ambition” for banks committed to net-zero.

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