Press release: 15 November 2021

ClientEarth argues in court that BNB corporate bond purchases are illegal

Today marked the main hearing in ClientEarth’s lawsuit against the Belgian National Bank (BNB), where its lawyers argued the central bank was funding the climate crisis through its purchase of corporate bonds.

The court heard that the BNB’s purchases of carbon-intensive assets issued by some of Europe’s largest polluters are illegal and in breach of its environmental protection and human rights requirements. 

The Belgian National Bank holds bonds from fossil fuel companies including Shell, Eni, EDP and Schlumberger, which it buys under a framework designed by the European Central Bank (ECB).

In court, ClientEarth’s legal team argued that this framework – the Corporate Sector Purchase Programme (CSPP) – is invalid since the ECB did not take climate change considerations into account when establishing and implementing it.

ClientEarth asked the court to refer a question to the European Court of Justice to decide whether or not the CSPP is invalid, arguing that through the programme, national central banks are implicitly subsidising major emitters to continue expanding their climate-damaging activities.

The purchase framework, lawyers reasoned, is inconsistent with EU climate policy and undermines the EU's emission reduction targets.

Following the hearing, ClientEarth lawyer Jamie Sawyer, said: “It is simply unacceptable that when so little time is left to prevent the worst impacts of global heating, the Belgian National Bank continues to fund companies that are fuelling climate breakdown.

“The BNB risks impeding the economic transition to net zero by granting fossil fuel companies easy access to cheap finance, especially when it allows them to continue their polluting businesses with no strings attached.

“We say the Belgian central bank’s purchases of corporate bonds from Europe’s worst polluters are illegal and a serious violation of environmental protection and human rights law.”


Notes to editors:
  • Monday’s hearing took place before the President of the French-speaking Court of First Instance in Brussels.
  • ClientEarth brought its case against the Belgian National Bank in April this year.
  • It is possible a shorter follow up hearing will be held on Wednesday 24 November if the court has further questions in response to the arguments made.
  • Ahead of the hearing, lawyers wrote to the ECB over its plans to green EU monetary policy, warning that the proposed changes to the CSPP will not lessen the climate impact of bond purchases fast enough.
About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.