Belgian national bank sued for fossil fuel support

April 20, 2021|Written by Camilla Schramek|National Bank of Belgium, European Central Bank

The Belgian National Bank (BNB) is being sued for failing to protect environmental and human rights when purchasing bonds from companies contributing to the climate crisis.

Environmental advocacy group ClientEarth filed the landmark legal action in Brussels last week, challenging the BNB’s bond purchases from high-emission companies.

“By buying up carbon intensive bonds, the Belgian National Bank is providing some of Europe’s worst polluters with access to cheap finance and facilitating the expansion of their climate damaging activities,” said ClientEarth lawyer Jamie Sawyer announcing the lawsuit.

Eurozone national central banks act on behalf of the European Central Bank (ECB) in corporate bond purchases as part of the ECB’s €266 billion Corporate Sector Purchase Programme (CSPP).

Research shows a significant bias towards high-emission companies in the CSPP, with eligible companies including Shell, Total, Ryanair and major carmakers. Climate groups have repeatedly called for bonds from these companies to be eliminated from the ECB’s corporate portfolio.

ClientEarth’s lawsuit against Belgium’s central bank was filed in the Belgian courts, but it asks for the question of the CSPP’s legality to be referred to the European Court of Justice.

ClientEarth argues that “the ECB’s decision establishing the program failed to assess the climate impact of buying these corporate assets despite its legal obligations to do so”. If successful, the legal action would require the ECB to take “all measures appropriate” to remedy the illegality.

ClientEarth has also urged the bank to develop a comprehensive strategy on how it will align its monetary policy portfolios and activities with the Paris goals, a reference to the ongoing ECB strategy review.

The BNB has refused to comment on the case.

This page was last updated April 23, 2021

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