Polluters, as all those big energy producers (Big Oils, OPEC members and non members alike) are labelled, appeared to be ‘undermining’ UN climate Paris agreement. In effect, Oil, Gas and Coal world giants are exploiting a lack of conflict-of-interest protection at UN climate talks to push for continued fossil fuel use despite its contribution to catastrophic climate change through expensive lobbying campaigns because as it happens these oil, gas and coal giants could stand to waste trillions in a moderate world climate change. Patrick Galey elaborates on Phys.org.
The five largest publicly listed oil and gas majors have spent $1 billion since the 2015 Paris climate deal on public relations or lobbying that is “overwhelmingly in conflict” with the landmark accord’s goals, a watchdog said Friday.
Despite outwardly committing to support the Paris agreement and its aim to limit global temperature rises, ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, BP and Total spend a total of $200 million a year on efforts “to operate and expand fossil fuel operations,” according to InfluenceMap, a pro-transparency monitor.
Two of the companies—Shell and Chevron—said they rejected the watchdog’s findings.
“The fossil fuel sector has ramped up a quite strategic programme of influencing the climate agenda,” InfluenceMap Executive Director Dylan Tanner told AFP.
“It’s a continuum of activity from their lobby trade groups attacking the details of regulations, controlling them all the way up, to controlling the way the media thinks about the oil majors and climate.”
The report comes as oil and gas giants are under increasing pressure from shareholders to come clean over how greener lawmaking will impact their business models.
At the same time, the International Panel on Climate Change—composed of the world’s leading climate scientists—issued a call for a radical drawdown in fossil fuel use in order to hit the 1.5C (2.7 Fahrenheit) cap laid out in the Paris accord.
InfluenceMap looked at accounts, lobbying registers and communications releases since 2015, and alleged a large gap between the climate commitments companies make and the action they take.
It said all five engaged in lobbying and “narrative capture” through direct contact with lawmakers and officials, spending millions on climate branding, and by employing trade associations to represent the sector’s interests in policy discussions.
“The research reveals a trend of carefully devised campaigns of positive messaging combined with negative policy lobbying on climate change,” it said.
It added that of the more than $110 billion the five had earmarked for capital investment in 2019, just $3.6bn was given over to low-carbon schemes.
The report came one day after the European Parliament was urged to strip ExxonMobil lobbyists of their access, after the US giant failed to attend a hearing where expert witnesses said the oil giant has knowingly misled the public over climate change.
“How can we accept that companies spending hundreds of millions on lobbying against the EU’s goal of reaching the Paris agreement are still granted privileged access to decision makers?” said Pascoe Sabido, Corporate Europe Observatory’s climate policy researcher, who was not involved in the InfluenceMap report.
The report said Exxon alone spent $56 million a year on “climate branding” and $41 million annually on lobbying efforts.
In 2017 the company’s shareholders voted to push it to disclose what tougher emissions policies in the wake of Paris would mean for its portfolio.
With the exception of France’s Total, each oil major had largely focused climate lobbying expenditure in the US, the report said.
Chevron alone has spent more than $28 million in US political donations since 1990, according to the report.
AFP contacted all five oil and gas companies mentioned in the report for comment.
“We disagree with the assertion that Chevron has engaged in ‘climate-related branding and lobbying’ that is ‘overwhelmingly in conflict’ with the Paris Agreement,” said a Chevron spokesman.
“We are taking action to address potential climate change risks to our business and investing in technology and low carbon business opportunities that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
A spokeswoman for Shell—which the report said spends $49 million annually on climate lobbying—said it “firmly rejected” the findings.
“We are very clear about our support for the Paris Agreement, and the steps that we are taking to help meet society’s needs for more and cleaner energy,” they told AFP.
BP, ExxonMobil and Total did not provide comment to AFP.
To date, nine cities have
sued the fossil industry for climate damages. California fisherman are going after oil companies for their role in warming the Pacific Ocean,
a process that soaks the Dungeness crabs they harvest with a dangerous neurotoxin.
Former acting New York state attorney general Barbara Underwood has
opened an investigation into whether ExxonMobil has misled its
shareholders about the risks it faces from climate change, a push current
Attorney General Leticia James has said she is eager to keep up. Massachusetts
attorney general Maura Healey opened an earlier investigation into
whether Exxon defrauded the public by spreading disinformation about climate
change, which various courts — including the Supreme Court — have refused to block despite the company’s pleas. And in Juliana vs. U.S., young people have filed suit against the
government for violating their constitutional rights by pursuing policies that
intensify global warming, hitting the dense ties between Big Oil and the state.
These are welcome attempts to hold the industry
responsible for its role in warming our earth. It’s time, however, to take this
series of legal proceedings to the next level: we should try fossil-fuel
executives for crimes against humanity.
a Reasonable Doubt
Just one hundred fossil fuel producers — including privately
held and state-owned companies — have been responsible for 71 percent of the
greenhouse gas emissions released since 1988, emissions that have already
killed at least tens of thousands of people through climate-fueled disasters
Green New Deal advocates have been right to focus
on the myriad ways that decarbonization can improve the lives of working-class Americans. But an important
complement to that is holding those most responsible for the crisis fully
accountable. It’s the right thing to do, and it makes clear to fossil-fuel
executives that they could face consequences beyond vanishing profits.
More immediately, a push to try fossil-fuel
executives for crimes against humanity could channel some much-needed populist
rage at the climate’s 1 percent, and render them persona non grata in
respectable society — let alone Congress or the UN, where they today enjoy
broad access. Making people like Exxon CEO Darren Woods or Shell CEO Ben van Beurden well known and widely reviled would put names
and faces to a problem too often discussed in the abstract. The climate fight
has clear villains. It’s long past time to name and shame them.
Left unchecked, the death toll of climate change
could easily creep up into the hundreds of millions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC), in turn unleashing chaos and suffering that’s simply
impossible to project. An independent report commissioned by twenty governments in 2012
found that climate impacts are already causing an estimated four hundred
thousand deaths per year.
Counting a wider range of casualties attributed to
burning fossil fuels — air pollution, indoor smoke, occupational hazards, and
skin cancer — that figure jumps to nearly 5 million a year. By 2030, annual
climate and carbon-related deaths are expected to reach nearly 6 million.
That’s the rough equivalent of one Holocaust every year, which in just a few
short years could surpass the total number of people killed in World War II.
All caused by the fossil-fuel industry.
Knowing full well the deadly consequences of
continued drilling, the individuals at the helm of fossil-fuel companies each
day choose to seek out new reserves to burn as quickly as possible to keep
their shareholders happy. They use every possible tool — and they have many —
to sabotage regulatory action.
That we need to instead strip fossil fuels from the
global economy isn’t up for debate. Without the increasingly distant-seeming
deployment of speculative, so-called negative emissions technologies, coal
usage will have to decline by 97 percent, oil by 87 percent, and gas by 74
percent by 2050 for us to have a halfway decent shot at keeping warming below
1.5 degrees celsius. That’s what it will take to avert pervasive, catastrophic
climate impacts that will destabilize the very foundations of society. (Keeping
warming to a more dangerous 2.0 degrees celsius will require decarbonization
that’s almost as abrupt.)
A recent report by
Oil Change International detailing the climate costs of continued drilling lays
the problem out in simple terms: either we embark on a managed decline of the
fossil-fuel industry, or we face economic and ecological ruin. Simply put, the
business model of the fossil-fuel industry is incompatible with the continued
existence of anything we might recognize as human civilization.
Barring a major course correction, that business
model — and more specifically, the executives who have designed and executed it
— will be responsible for untold suffering within many of our lifetimes, with
the youngest and poorest among us bearing a disproportionate burden, along with
people of color and residents of the Global South.
As recent research and reporting have documented,
some of the world’s biggest polluters have known for decades about the deadly
threat of global warming and the role their products play in fueling it. Some
companies began research into climate change as early as the 1950s. These days,
none can claim not to know the mortal danger posed by their ongoing extraction.
Crime Against Humanity
Technically speaking, what fossil-fuel companies do
isn’t genocide. Low-lying islands and communities around the world are and will
continue to be the worst hit by climate impacts.
Still, the case against the fossil-fuel industry is
not that their executives are targeting specific “national, ethnical, racial,
or religious” groups for annihilation, per the Rome Statute,
which enumerates the various types of human rights abuses that can be heard
before the International Criminal Court. Rather, the fossil industry’s behavior
constitutes a Crime Against Humanity in the classical sense: “a widespread or
systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of
the attack,” including murder and extermination. Unlike genocide, the UN
clarifies, in the case of crimes against humanity,
it is not necessary to prove that there is an
overall specific intent. It suffices for there to be a simple intent to commit
any of the acts listed…The perpetrator must also act with knowledge of the
attack against the civilian population and that his/her action is part of that
Fossil-fuel executives may not have intended to destroy the world as we know it. And climate change may not look like the kinds of attacks we’re used to. But they’ve known what their industry is doing to the planet for a long time, and the effects are likely to be still more brutal if the causes are allowed to continue.