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Energy Giant Total Taken to French Court for Climate Inaction  

The logo of French oil giant Total is pictured at a petrol station in Laplume, France, Jan. 16, 2020.

In a groundbreaking case in France, energy giant Total is being sued for allegedly failing to adequately fight climate change.

The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday by environmental groups and local authorities who feel it has potential global implications.

The legal action against Total will be the first use of a 2017 French law to sue for climate inaction. The legislation requires major French companies to draft so-called “vigilance plans” to prevent environmental damage, among other areas. The plaintiffs said Total has not done so when it comes to climate change.

“We’re filing a lawsuit against them because they’re still not making the energy transition necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees,” said Paul Mougeolle, who represents Notre Affaire a Tous, an environmental NGO that has filed a separate climate action case against the French government.

“Total has 1% of greenhouse gases worldwide — more than the carbon footprint of France,” Mougeolle said. “So, we think Total has a special responsibility towards this energy transition.”

Fourteen local authorities and five civil society groups have joined the Total lawsuit, which reflects a broader grass-roots uprising on climate in Europe and elsewhere.

This alliance said companies that contribute to climate change should help pay the price for mitigating it and dealing with the consequences.

France's central Val de Loire region is part of the lawsuit.

Regional councilor Benoit Faucheaux describes last summer’s devastating drought, which dried up rivers in his region of central France. Experts said climate change will make such droughts longer, more frequent and more devastating.

“We hope Total will change its business model, that it will shift from that situation where it produces energy and fossil energies (to) another model where they are involved in energy transition,” Faucheaux said.

Sebastien Mabile of Seattle Advocates law group, which has taken on the case, is uncertain about its chances — because it’s a legal first. But if it succeeds, he said, its impact could be big.

“Because Total … operates in 130 countries,” Mabile said. “So, this case can have implications all over the world, such as the U.S., Africa, in all of the oil and gas basins.”

Total faces a separate but somewhat similar lawsuit for allegedly failing to plan for potential human and environmental impacts of an Ugandan oil project. The company did not respond VOA’s requests for comment.