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TotalEnergies Execs Face Criminal Complaint for “Globocide,” But Don’t Hold Your Breath

Posted by John Donovan: 30 May 2024

The big win so far was a 2021 Dutch court ruling that ordered Royal Dutch Shell to slash carbon emissions by 45% by 2030. Shell’s response? Pack up and move headquarters from the Netherlands to London and rebrand as Shell plc. Classic.

In a move that’s both dramatic and probably futile, three climate nonprofits and eight individuals have filed a criminal complaint in Paris against the board, CEO, and major shareholders of French oil behemoth TotalEnergies. They accuse these corporate overlords of engaging in criminal activities due to their “contribution to climate change and its fatal impact on human and non-human lives.” But, in a plot twist that surprises no one, prosecutors have yet to take any action, and formal criminal charges are about as likely as a snowstorm in the Sahara.

Climate activists have been increasingly turning to the legal system to force companies and governments to give a damn about the planet. Most of the action has been in civil courts, where the penalties are financial—because, clearly, money solves everything. The big win so far was a 2021 Dutch court ruling that ordered Royal Dutch Shell to slash carbon emissions by 45% by 2030. Shell’s response? Pack up and move headquarters from the Netherlands to London and rebrand as Shell plc. Classic.

Meanwhile, activists have scored some victories against governments, with courts ruling that climate action plans are unlawful due to a lack of scientific evidence. The European Court of Human Rights even slapped Switzerland on the wrist for not doing enough about climate change, ruling that climate protection is a human right. But again, the penalties were mostly about covering legal fees. Real game-changer there.

On the criminal side, a new legal theory is emerging that attempts to slap a criminal penalty on environmental damage. They’re calling it “ecocide,” but the climate complaint against TotalEnergies prefers the term “globocide,” evoking atomic bomb imagery for that extra punch.

The complaint, filed by NGOs Bloom, Santé Planétaire, and Nuestro Futuro, targets TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Pouyanné, the board, and major shareholders like BlackRock and Norges Bank. It all stems from a shareholder vote at the 2023 Annual General Meeting, where 70% of shareholders gave a big middle finger to a proposal to align the company’s emissions with the Paris Agreement. The complainants argue this makes them criminally liable for “deliberately endangering lives, manslaughter, neglecting to deal with a disaster, and damaging biodiversity.”

In France’s criminal justice system, a prosecutor has three months to decide whether to open a judicial investigation. If they don’t, the complainants can appeal directly to a judge. But let’s be real—this complaint will most likely fade into obscurity without ever seeing the inside of a courtroom.

So, in the grand scheme of things, this complaint is the legal equivalent of shouting into the void. Will it make a difference? Probably not. But at least someone’s trying to hold these corporate titans accountable, even if it’s just for show.

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