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Belgian farmer and activist NGOs start climate litigation case against oil and gas major in Belgium

A Belgian farmer, supported by three NGOs, announced today (13 March 2024) his intention to sue an oil and gas major before the Belgian courts (Enterprise Court of Tournai), in what is said to be the first time a Belgian citizen has taken a multinational company to court for climate litigation.

The legal action 

The Belgian farmer alleges that the oil and gas major’s activities contribute significantly to global warming, which in turn disrupts the climate and therefore his farm’s operations. The farmer argues that climate disruption has had concrete consequences for him, such as yield loss, extra work, reduced size of the herd, and extra stress.

The Belgian farmer – supported by three NGOs (FIAN, Greenpeace and Ligue des Droits Humains) – announced on 13 March that it will summon the oil and gas major before the Enterprise Court of Tournai. 

According to the Ligue des Droits Humains (see press release, available only in French), the legal action purses three objectives: 

  • to obtain recognition of the damage suffered by the farmer;
  • to force the oil and gas major to withdraw from fossil fuels; and 
  • to “put an end to the impunity of the fossil fuel industry”. 

The farmer told the press that he was not seeking enrichment, but rather trying to force the multinational company to adopt a “credible transition plan” and move away from fossil fuels (see, for instance, here and here).

The legal basis for this legal action appears to be the general civil liability rules, which puts the burden on the Belgian farmer to prove: 

  • an illegality or a fault on the part of the oil and gas major; 
  • damage suffered by the farmer; and 
  • a causal link between the alleged fault and the alleged damage (Articles 1382 and 1383 of the old Belgian Civil Code).

Already coined in the press as the “Farmer Case”, this is said to be the first time a Belgian citizen has taken a multinational company to court for climate litigation in Belgium (see Greenpeace press release: FR / NL). 

Nonetheless, this case will undoubtedly be influenced by other recent climate cases:

Next steps

The case has been formally launched and a procedural timetable for the next steps in the proceeding will have to be adopted. Cases before the enterprise courts in Belgium usually take around one year to one year and a half, with appeals possible before the Court of Appeal and the Belgian Supreme Court.

The court’s decision in this case will no doubt influence the NGOs’ actions in Belgium, and probably also a number of other climate litigation under other civil liability regimes in other jurisdictions.

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climate change & environment, corporates, litigation, belgium, blog posts