The judges' decision is not expected until 2024 or even 2025. But Wednesday's hearing will be one of the first opportunities to see the French group scrap against the coalition of six NGOs (Sherpa, France Nature Environment,...) and sixteen communities (the cities of Grenoble, Bayonne or Nanterre, in particular) who accuse it of "climate inaction".
Without delay, the coalition asks the pre-trial judge -- a magistrate responsible for deciding issues prior to the examination of the case -- to take an exceptional interim measure: order TotalEnergies to "suspend projects for the exploration and exploitation of new hydrocarbon deposits that have not been the subject of a final investment decision", until the judgment of the case on the merits.
To justify the urgency, the coalition, joined in 2022 by New York and Paris, invokes, among other things, the words of the UN chief: Antonio Guterres pointed in January at these companies that promote an economic model "incompatible with the survival of humanity".
The coalition also relies on the International Energy Agency (IEA), which deemed it necessary in 2021 to stop all new hydrocarbon exploration projects to comply with the Paris Agreement.
Opposite, the lawyers of TotalEnergies will plead to contest the admissibility of the legal action.
This dates back to January 2020 when the coalition sued TotalEnergies for breach of its "duty of vigilance" on the environmental impact of its activities. A duty imposed since 2017 by a pioneering French law on corporate responsibility.
For the coalition, the climate strategy of TotalEnergies, one of the 20 largest CO2 emitters in the world, was "clearly insufficient" with regard to the Paris agreement.
She hopes to obtain a French equivalent of the Shell case: in 2021, a court in the Netherlands, seized by NGOs, had condemned the oil giant to accelerate its plan to reduce greenhouse gases. Shell appealed.
Climate protesters outside the Paris venue where TotalEnergies' annual general meeting is to take place, on May 26, 2023, in Paris © Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT / AFP/Archives
In another procedure conducted in France in the name of the "duty of vigilance", the NGOs that attacked TotalEnergies for its oil megaproject Tilenga-Eacop in Uganda and Tanzania, were dismissed in February by the Paris court.
Faced with pressure - from public opinion, the government or even some shareholders - the CEO of TotalEnergies Patrick Pouyanné defended his climate strategy on Friday, during the group's general meeting.
The group plans to devote a third of its investments to low-carbon energy in the decade, but remains associated with oil and soon even more with gas, its priority.
© 2023 AFP