ClientEarth v. Belgian National Bank
On April 13th, 2021, ClientEarth announced it was filing a legal action in Belgian courts against the Belgian National Bank (BNB) in relation to the European Central Bank's Corporate Sector Purchase Programme (CSPP). The suit challenges BNB’s implementation of the CSPP and questions the validity of the ECB’s decision establishing the CSPP on the basis that the ECB did not take into account environmental protection requirements, climate impacts, and risks to human rights.
Corporate Sector Purchase Programme (CSPP) was created in 2016 by the ECB as a form of ‘quantitative easing’. Six Member State national central banks – including the BNB – purchase bonds from companies that are eligible for the program. The CSPP helps to improve financing conditions for companies by lowering the cost of their debt. However, significantly over half of the assets purchased under the CSPP are issued by companies in greenhouse gas-intensive sectors, and studies indicate that the CSPP has a structural bias towards purchasing bonds from those sectors. The program is therefore implicitly subsidizing these companies to continue to exacerbate the climate crisis, with no strings attached.
In response, ClientEarth filed a lawsuit in Belgian courts and asked for a question to be referred to the European Court of Justice to decide whether the ECB’s purchase program is valid or invalid, in order to determine whether the Belgian National Bank’s actions carried out under that policy are legal.
- The purchasing program should immediately exclude companies whose activities are clearly incompatible with achieving the Paris Agreement goals or are associated with high transition risk, such as coal and unconventional oil and gas
- The ECB should cease or restrict purchases of bonds from carbon intensive companies if they do not adopt by January 2023 a credible Paris-aligned strategy to achieve net zero emissions
- The ECB should set a comprehensive strategy on how it will align its monetary policy portfolios and activities with the Paris goals. It should issue a report annually disclosing its progress, in line with the Recommendations of the Task Force for Climate-related Financial Disclosures – a global standard for climate-related reporting.
Relevant Laws and Principles
- Article 11 TFEU
- Article 37 EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (the principle of environmental integration)
- Article 127(1) TFEU (the ESCB’s monetary policy mandate)
- Article 3(3) TEU (the EU’s environmental objective)
- Article 7 TFEU (the principle of consistency)
- Article 5(4) TEU (the principle of proportionality)
- Article 296(2) TFEU
- Article 41(2)(c) EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (the duty to state reasons)
- Articles 2, 7 and 51 EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (the rights to life and to private and family life) interpreted in light of the European Convention on Human Rights.