Belgian organic farmer sues TotalEnergies over climate change

Belgian organic farmer Hugues Falys is taking TotalEnergies to court over the French oil company’s role in climate change. This is the first climate case against a multinational in Belgium. Several human rights and environmental organizations support the case, including Greenpeace and the International Federation for Human Rights.

“The climate crisis has a huge impact on me and my farm,” says Falys, a farmer from Lessenbos/Bois-de-Lessine in the province of Hainaut. “Extreme weather like drought or heavy rain causes me much less yield; it also gives extra work and stress due to uncertainty, not to mention the disrupted harvest calendar.”

Climate damage

“Our profession is closely linked to climate. The future is very uncertain for us farmers,” says Falys, who runs a beef farm with Charolais cows for organic meat but also grows cereals, protein crops, vegetables, and strawberries and is considered a pioneer of the agroecological transition.

The extreme weather that has hit his farm in recent years has caused considerable damage, and he wants to recover this from the oil and gas company he believes is partly responsible for his climate damage.

Falys, also a spokesperson for the farming syndicate Fugue, believes TotalEnergies has not complied with Belgian law, which states that anyone who causes damage must compensate for it. Hence, he filed his complaint at the Tournai corporate court.

Disastrous consequences

TotalEnergies is the largest refiner and distributor in Belgium. According to Greenpeace, the multinational is one of 21 fossil fuel companies responsible for more than a third of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The environmental organization also argues that it is proven that the oil company has known about its impact on the climate since the 1970s, but the multinational maintained doubts about the origins of climate change for decades to delay policy.

The NGOs say this has disastrous consequences for climate, agriculture, food, and the environment. They believe TotalEnergies should be held accountable and move away from fossil fuels.

They want TotalEnergies to adopt a credible transition plan, with an investment freeze on fossil fuel projects, a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and a 75% reduction in oil and gas production by 2040.

‘Collective effort of the whole society’

Commenting in the business newspaper De Tijd, the oil giant said it had not received official notification of the summons and regretted that legal action had been taken. “The challenge of climate change and energy transition is not the legal responsibility of one player, but the collective effort of the whole society,” TotalEnergies said.

Headquartered in Paris, the company’s operations in Belgium include the Olefins refinery in Antwerp. It also operates a network of gas stations in a joint venture with Canada’s Couche-Tard (Circle K).

Green investments

According to Falys, TotalEnergies is not the only one responsible for global warming and crop damage in Wallonia. But the company has a specific responsibility, he says. “First, because of geographical proximity,” Falys told La Libre Belgique newspaper. “Next, because the company has long denied climate change and its responsibility for this change, and today, it continues to invest in the search for new oil reserves instead of investing its profits in the search for alternatives,” Falys says.

TotalEnergies stresses that it has invested firmly in renewable energy, especially gas and electricity, since 2020. “In electricity, we are already one of the largest developers of solar and wind power in the world, which should place us in the top five in the sector worldwide by 2030,” the company states.

Pierre-Arnaud Perrouty, director of the Human Rights League, is not convinced. “There is a huge gap between the image the company wants to project of itself and reality,” he says. The company may communicate extensively about its commitment to renewable energy production, but fossil fuels still comprise 80% of its operations. Of course, there is a transition plan. But the scientists who have analyzed this plan think it will never succeed in achieving the goal of global warming of no more than 1.5 degrees.”

According to Reclaim Finance, TotalEnergies’ fossil fuel extraction will increase between now and 2030 while representing, as it claims, a smaller share of the energy production mix. The company’s new extraction activities are primarily based on fossil gas, with, in particular, a 40% increase in liquefied natural gas (LNG) production between 2020 and 2030.

Similar climate cases

In a similar major climate case, Peruvian farmer Saul Luciano Lliuya claims that emissions from German utility RWE have contributed to the melting of Andean glaciers. That case has been pending before a German court since 2015.

Energy giant Shell was also convicted in a similar case earlier in the Netherlands. A complaint against TotalEnergies is still pending in France over the impact of their oil pipeline in Uganda.

By the way, Falys, who also calls on the site to support him. He is not looking for a large compensation payment and only asks for a symbolic euro, writes VRT NWS. His main concern is the broader story.


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