TotalEnergies sued over its responsibility for climate change in Belgium’s first-ever climate action against a multinational company

Facing the devastating effects of climate change on his farm in Belgium, Hugues Falys is suing the fossil fuel giant for its climate change responsibility. Three NGOs intervene in the latest case supported by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) as part of its #SeeYouInCourt project to hold companies legally accountable for their environmental and human rights impacts.

13 March 2024. Hugues Falys, a farmer from the Hainaut province in Belgium and pioneer of the agro-ecological transition, is taking legal action today before the Tournai Commercial Court, on the border with France, against TotalEnergies for its responsibility for climate change.

"Climate change is having a tangible impact on my work and life: yield losses, extra work, and the stress that comes from dealing with a disrupted crop calendar", says Hugues Falys. "My profession is intimately linked to the climate. In recent years, climate change has caused farmers a great deal of damage and left us uncertain about the future."

Falys’ legal action is the first climate case ever brought in Belgium against a multinational company. Three Belgian NGOs - FIAN, Greenpeace, and the Ligue des droits humains (LDH) - have joined forces to intervene in the case, with support from the Belgian Climate Coalition. The case not only seeks to get recognition for the damages suffered by Hugues Falys, but also to ensure TotalEnergies’s compliance with the targets of the Paris Agreement. The case asks the court to request TotalEnergies to implement a credible transition plan, which includes a halt to new investments in fossil fuel projects, a 47% reduction in gas and oil production by 2030, and a more stringent 75% reduction by 2040.

"The solution to the climate crisis requires multinational companies to immediately stop new investments in fossil fuels to curb greenhouse gas emissions", explains Gaëlle Dusepulchre, Deputy Director of FIDH’s Business, Human Rights and Environment Desk. "We hope that the court will force TotalEnergies to invest truly in the green transition and to ensure that human rights are not endangered by climate breakdown."

FIDH is supporting this legal action by contributing legal expertise, coordination, financial support and communication, in particular alongside LDH, its member organisation in Belgium. FIDH is partaking in this initiative as part of its #SeeYouInCourt project, which aims to use strategic litigation to hold companies accountable for their human rights and environmental abuses.

TotalEnergies is one of 21 fossil fuel companies responsible for more than a third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. It is also the leading refiner and distributor in Belgium. Since the 1970s, this "carbon major" – a company that has made huge returns over decades through the extraction and production of greenhouse gas emitting products like fuel – has been aware of the climate impact of its activities but has deliberately sowed doubts about the origin of climate change to disrupt emerging climate policies at both European and international levels.

"TotalEnergies’s lack of climate action goes against scientific evidence and recommendations by international bodies to act now in order to keep the global temperature increase below 1.5°C. This action is part of a global litigation movement that can help secure justice for the victims of climate change. We believe that court decisions are a crucial component for a just transition and the rights of future generations", says Matthias Petel, President of the Environmental Justice Commission at the LDH.

For more details on the legal grounds and demands of the case, see the Q&A on the dedicated website here.

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