A farmer in Belgium and a number of environmental non-government organisations (NGOs) are attempting to sue a major fossil fuel company, claiming damages as a result of climate change caused by the company’s activities.

In the first case of its kind in Belgium, environmental groups FIAN Belgium and Greenpeace, along with a Belgian human rights organisation, have, jointly with organic farmer Hugues Falys, taken a case against France-based petroleum company TotalEnergies.

The plaintiffs in the case claim to be supported by a “broad-range of Belgian civil society groups”.

The parties taking the case have set-up a website titled ‘The Farmer Case’ to seek support and financial donations, as well as to outline their plans.

This website claims that Falys, an organic beef farmer who also grows cereals, vegetables and strawberries, and a “peasant and farmer for around 30 years”, is “bearing the full brunt of the effects of climate change”, citing “extreme weather events” including heatwaves and droughts.

This, the parties claim, has resulted in “major losses, extra workload, constant stress, and immense worry for the years to come”.

The stated aim of the case is to demand that TotalEnergies repair the damage that the farmer claims he has suffered. He is also demanding that the courts force TotalEnergies to transition away from fossil fuels “to prevent further damage”.

The case follows a growing trend of climate activist groups, jointly with private citizens or groups of private citizens, taking legal action against fossil fuel companies claiming damage, or potential future damage, caused by climate change.

This is done on the grounds that the activities of those companies are contributing to climate change, and therefore pose a threat to the general public.

In 2021, multinational fossil fuel business Shell was ordered by a court in the Netherlands to reduce its CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030.

The official court summons was filed in a commercial court in the city of Tournai, officially marking the beginning of the case.

The plaintiffs to the case outlined three reasons for taking the case, namely to “obtain recognition of the damage suffered by the farmer”; to force TotalEnergies to move away from fossil fuels; and to “end impunity for the fossil fuel industry”.