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TO GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS AROUND THE GLOBE:

We urge you to act to hold the industries and corporations that have fueled and continue to worsen the climate crisis liable, as well as the executives behind them, so that we may advance climate justice globally.

For decades, Big Polluters like Exxon, Shell, and others have spent billions of dollars simultaneously fueling and denying the climate crisis, delaying action, and pushing false “solutions” at every level—all while raking in billions in profits each year. And despite what their greenwashing advertising says, they’re still doing it, as are other major polluting industries like agribusiness.

People around the globe are fighting to protect their homelands from the rising seas, their loved ones from extreme weather events, and their lives and livelihoods from floods, droughts, pipelines, brutal fossil fuel extraction, deforestation, destruction of natural ecosystems, land grabs, and other violations of their rights. Communities in the Global South, women, youth, indigenous peoples, and other communities on the front lines of the climate crisis urgently need funding to implement a just and equitable transition away from fossil fuels and false “solutions” like carbon markets and offsets, bioenergy, and geo-engineering—and toward the community-centered solutions that must power our future: solutions like leaving fossil fuels in the ground, practicing agroecology, protecting vital ecosystems like the Amazon rainforest, and other solutions enshrined in the People’s Demands for Climate Justice.

These real, just solutions to address climate change are within reach, and have been led and practiced by communities on the front lines of the climate crisis for decades. Implementing these solutions requires economic resources. This is a debt that is already owed by corporations—and the executives behind them—to these communities, and its distribution must be accountable to them as they seek to restore balance with nature.

The industries that have fueled the climate crisis, funded climate denial, and blocked just climate progress for decades must pay for the damage they have caused. Holding them liable means ensuring that they are held criminally and financially responsible, and that they are made to end the practices that have driven this crisis in the first place.

That’s why communities around the globe are taking action toward holding polluting industries liable for the damage they have caused. We urge you to join them in doing so.

We are already experiencing the tipping points that indicate we are dangerously close to planetary collapse. It’s time for courage and justice in addressing the climate crisis. It’s time to listen to the Global South, frontline, youth, and indigenous peoples and communities leading the way. It’s time to stop Big Polluters and corporate climate lobbyists from writing the rules. It’s time to hold them liable—for the loss and for the damage they have caused, and for a just transition to sustainable life models for impacted communities and territories, most especially in the Global South. It’s time to make them pay.


 

Make Big Polluters pay so we can advance climate justice!

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FOR YEARS, COMMUNITIES ON THE FRONT LINES OF THE CLIMATE CRISIS HAVE BEEN LEADING THE WAY IN DEVELOPING EFFECTIVE, REAL, PEOPLE-CENTERED SOLUTIONS TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE—AND THOSE SOLUTIONS REQUIRE FUNDING.

 

WHY MAKE POLLUTERS PAY?

The climate crisis was not inevitable, nor was it an accident. It’s time to take action to hold those responsible to account.

For more than half a century, the bank accounts of polluting industries like the fossil fuel industry and agribusiness have swelled at the expense of the lives and livelihoods of people and communities who have done next to nothing to cause climate change. At the same time, these industries—especially but not exclusively the fossil fuel industry—have vigorously and systematically, obstructed meaningful attempts to address the climate crisis. For years, communities on the front lines of the climate crisis have been leading the way in developing effective, real, people-centered solutions to address climate change—and those solutions require funding. We demand Big Polluter industries like the fossil fuel industry be made to pay for the catastrophe they have and are causing.

What role have Big Polluters played in creating the climate crisis?

Emissions and temperature increase: The greenhouse gas emissions caused by a handful of corporations have played a significant role in causing climate change. To take just the fossil fuel industry as an example:

  • Just 20 fossil fuel producers are responsible for more than 27 percent of atmospheric carbon dioxide increase between 1854 and 2010, and 100 are responsible for nearly 70 percent.[1]

  • These same 20 producers singularly account for almost a quarter of global temperature increase over the same period.[2]

Obstruction of just climate policy: The impacts that people and the planet have endured and will endure as a result of the emissions caused by Big Polluters have been further exacerbated by the hundreds of billions of dollars the same corporations poured—and continue to pour—into climate deception and obstruction of just climate policy. If not for this obstruction, the global community could have begun implementing a meaningful and just response to climate change decades ago.

Are Big Polluters still attempting to obstruct progress on climate policy?

Yes. Attempts to delay meaningful action and obstruct just progress to address the impacts of climate change continue to this day.

According to InfluenceMap, the five largest publicly traded oil and gas corporations (Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP, and Total S.A.) spent over US$1 billion of their shareholder funds “in the first three years following the Paris Agreement on misleading climate-related branding and lobbying.” They targeted their PR and lobbying efforts nationally (such as in the lead up to the 2018 U.S. midterm elections) and in international policy-making spheres.[3]

In the U.S., the fossil fuel industry and its proxies spent more than $100 million to oppose climate measures on states’ ballots in the 2018 elections—even as Exxon was trumpeting its “support” for carbon taxes (which are themselves an industry-driven distraction).[4] [5]

And around the globe, other Big Polluter corporations like Yara, Syngenta, and Monsanto have interfered in climate policy-making from the national to the international level.[6] [7]

What does “liability” refer to?

Liability refers to using legal instruments to hold corporations and industries criminally and civilly responsible for their roles in driving the climate crisis and undermining action to address it.

And it’s already happening. Check out the case study on the fossil fuel industry below for examples of liability from around the globe.

What kind of just, people-centered solutions would be funded by holding polluting industries liable?

Real, just solutions to address climate change are within reach, and have been led by communities hardest hit by climate change for decades. Many of these just, people-centered solutions are laid out in the People’s Demands for Climate Justice, which are backed by evidence and grounded in the experience, leadership, and expertise of communities around the world.

Just a few examples of such solutions: A just and equitable transition that enables energy democracy; ecological restoration to recover natural carbon sinks; and technology frameworks that recognize the importance of endogenous and indigenous technologies and innovations in addressing climate change.

In addition, liability can and must finance the measures communities worldwide urgently need to take to respond to the loss and damage they have endured as a result of corporate wrongdoing and climate change. This is a debt that is already owed to these communities, and its distribution must be accountable to them.

So if polluting industries pay to address climate damages and fund climate justice solutions, can they keep on extracting, burning, and promoting emissions-intensive products?

No! Making Big Polluters pay for their harms should never be used as a pass to allow them to continue to pollute and cause those harms. Making them pay means ensuring that they are held criminally and financially responsible, and that they are made to end practices that have driven this crisis and all its associated abuses in the first place. The call to hold polluting industries liable exists to support and strengthen all other just, people-centered demands.


Spotlight on the fossil fuel industry

What did the fossil fuel industry know about climate change, and when?

It is well documented that as early as the 1960s Exxon’s top scientists and researchers were warning company executives that burning fossil fuels could fuel catastrophic climate change[8] [9] [10] [11]—long before it became part of the popular discourse among policymakers and the general public. And Exxon wasn’t alone. Shell, for example, knew about the devastating consequences of a warming climate more than 25 years ago.[12] [13]

And what did the industry do with that information?

  1. It continued business as usual. It raked in hundreds of billions of dollars in profits while extracting, selling, and promoting the use of fossil fuels—and with that, realizing its own predictions of temperature rise.

  2. It also did all it could to prevent the world from acting on the climate science it knew was true. In the decades since that initial research, the fossil fuel industry went on to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to manufacture doubt about the causes of climate change, discredit science, buy political influence, and obstruct the development of strong climate policy,[14] [15] [16] particularly the at the U.N. climate treaty, formally known as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and its associated or similar bodies.[17] [18]

so how much money does the fossil fuel industry have?

In 2018 alone, Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP, and Total S.A.—which spent more than US$1 billion on misleading climate-related branding and lobbying in the three years after the Paris Agreement—had net profits of nearly US$83.11 billion.[19] [20] [21] [22] [23]

Compare this to the 2018 combined GDP of five of the developing countries (Mozambique, Ethiopia, Philippines, Fiji, and Bangladesh) hardest hit by climate change: US$743.871 million.[24]

What action is being taken to hold the fossil fuel industry liable so far?

The idea of fossil fuel industry liability is gaining traction around the globe. Just a few examples:

  • The EU Parliament investigated Exxon’s attempts to mislead the public.[25]

  • The Philippines’ human rights commission is considering the fossil fuel industry’s responsibility for human rights violations arising as a result of climate change.[26]

  • Groups in the Netherlands are suing Shell for failing to comply with the Paris Agreement.[27]

  • City and state-level lawsuits in North America are attempting to hold fossil fuel corporations liable for the damages their residents are incurring as a result of rising sea levels.[28]

  • The small island nation of Vanuatu is considering suing transnational corporations for their role in creating the existential threats now posed to low-lying island nations.[29]

  • In July, mayors from around the United States passed a resolution at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in support of holding Big Polluters liable. They passed this resolution despite intense industry lobbying.[30]

  • A national survey by Yale University, released in June, found that a majority of people in the U.S. support making Big Polluters pay for climate damages.[31]


Notes

[1] Heede, Richard, “Tracing anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane emissions to fossil fuel and cement producers, 1854–2010.” Climatic Change (2014) 122: 229. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-013-0986-y

[2] Heede, Richard, “Tracing anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane emissions to fossil fuel and cement producers, 1854–2010.” Climatic Change (2014) 122: 229. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-013-0986-y

[3] “Big Oil’s Real Agenda on Climate Change.” Influence Map. March 2019. Accessed June 05, 2019. https://influencemap.org/report/How-Big-Oil-Continues-to-Oppose-the-Paris-Agreement-38212275958aa21196dae3b76220bddc.

[4] “Big Oil Kills Carbon Initiative in Washington State.” Rolling Stone, November 7, 2018. https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/washington-state-carbon-initiative-vote-752961/

[5] “Big Oil is sloshing a crude tsunami across the country.” Bill McKibben, Washington Post, October 30, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/big-oil-is-sloshing-a-crude-tsunami-across-the-country/2018/10/30/f0830948-d895-11e8-83a2-d1c3da28d6b6_story.html

[6] “Yara: Poisoning our soils, burning our planet.” Corporate Europe Observatory, September 17, 2019. https://corporateeurope.org/en/2019/09/yara-poisoning-our-soils-burning-our-planet

[7] “Polluting Paris: How Big Polluters Are Undermining Global Climate Policy.” Corporate Accountability. https://www.corporateaccountability.org/resources/polluting-paris-big-polluters-undermining-global-climate-policy/.

[8] Banerjee, Neela, John H. Cushman, Jr., David Hasemyer, and Lisa Song. “CO2’s Role in Global Warming Has Been on the Oil Industry’s Radar Since the 1960s.” InsideClimate News. April 27, 2016. https://insideclimatenews.org/news/13042016/climate-change-global-warming-oil-industry-radar-1960s-exxon-api-co2-fossil-fuels.

[9] Robinson, E., and R.C. Robbins. “Sources, Abundance, and Fate of Gaseous Atmospheric Pollutants.” Smoke & Fumes. 1968. https://www.smokeandfumes.org/documents/document16.

[10] “The Smoke and Fumes Committee.” Smoke & Fumes. https://www.smokeandfumes.org/fumes/moments/2.

[11] Schwartz, John. “Pressure on Exxon Over Climate Change Intensifies With New Documents.” The New York Times. April 14, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/14/science/pressure-on-exxon-over-climate-change-intensifies-with-new-documents.html

[12] Carrington, Damian. “’Shell Knew’: Oil Giant’s 1991 Film Warned of Climate Change Danger.” The Guardian. February 28, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/feb/28/shell-knew-oil-giants-1991-film-warned-climate-change-danger.

[13] Small, Mike, and Chloe Farand. “What 30 Years of Documents Show Shell Knew About Climate Science.” DeSmog UK. May 18, 2018. https://www.desmog.co.uk/2018/05/17/shell-knew-charting-thirty-years-corporate-climate-denialism.

[14] Lawrence-Samuel, Tamar, Rachel Rose Jackson, and Nathan Thanki. “13. The Pivot Point: Realizing Sustainable Development Goals by Ending Corporate Capture of Climate Policy.” Spotlight on Sustainable Development. https://www.2030spotlight.org/en/book/1165/chapter/13-pivot-point-realizing-sustainable-development-goals-ending-corporate-capture.

[15] “Big Oil’s Real Agenda on Climate Change.” InfluenceMap. March 2019. https://influencemap.org/report/How-Big-Oil-Continues-to-Oppose-the-Paris-Agreement-38212275958aa21196dae3b76220bddc.

[16] “How Much Big Oil Spends on Obstructive Climate Lobbying.” InfluenceMap. April 2016. https://influencemap.org/site/data/000/173/Lobby_Spend_Report_March_2016.pdf

[17] “Polluting Paris: How Big Polluters Are Undermining Global Climate Policy.” Corporate Accountability. https://www.corporateaccountability.org/resources/polluting-paris-big-polluters-undermining-global-climate-policy/.

[18] “Inside Job: Big Polluters’ Lobbyists on the inside at the UNFCCC.” Corporate Accountability. https://www.corporateaccountability.org/resources/inside-job-big-polluters-lobbyists-in-the-inside-at-the-unfccc/.

[19] “2018 Annual Report.” Chevron Global. 2018. https://www.chevron.com/-/media/chevron/annual-report/2018/documents/2018-Annual-Report.pdf.

[20] 2018 Summary Annual Report. Exxon Mobil. 2018. https://corporate.exxonmobil.com/-/media/Global/Files/investor-relations/annual-meeting-materials/annual-report-summaries/2018-Summary-Annual-Report.pdf.

[21] BP Annual Report and Form 20-F 2018. Report. 2018. https://www.bp.com/content/dam/bp/business-sites/en/global/corporate/pdfs/investors/bp-annual-report-and-form-20f-2018.pdf.

[22] Shell Annual Report 2018. https://reports.shell.com/annual-report/2018.

[23] Fourth Quarter and Full-year 2018 Results. Report. 2018. https://www.total.com/sites/default/files/atoms/files/4q18-results.pdf.

[24] “Report for Selected Countries and Subjects.” International Monetary Fund. https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2019/01/weodata/index.aspx

[25] Neslen, Arthur. “ExxonMobil Faces EU Parliament Ban after No Show at Climate Hearing.” The Guardian. March 22, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/mar/22/exxonmobil-faces-eu-parliaments-ban-after-climate-hearing-no-show.

[26] Wang, Ucilia. “Philippines Human Rights Commission Begins Climate Hearings vs. Oil Giants.” Climate Liability News. March 27, 2018. https://www.climateliabilitynews.org/2018/03/27/philippines-human-rights-climate-change/.

[27] The Summons of the Climate Case against Shell. Report. 2019. https://www.foei.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/english-summary-of-legal-summons.pdf.

[28] Irfan, Umair. “Pay Attention to the Growing Wave of Climate Change Lawsuits.” Vox. April 10, 2019. https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2019/2/22/17140166/climate-change-lawsuit-exxon-juliana-liability-kids.

[29] Cox, Lisa. “Vanuatu Says It May Sue Fossil Fuel Companies and Other Countries over Climate Change.” The Guardian. November 22, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/22/vanuatu-says-it-may-sue-fossil-fuel-companies-and-other-countries-over-climate-change.

[30] “U.S. Mayors Pressure Congress on Carbon Pricing, Climate Lawsuits and a Green New Deal.” Inside Climate News, July 2, 2019. https://insideclimatenews.org/news/02072019/mayors-vote-carbon-tax-green-new-deal-climate-change-fossil-fuel-lawsuits

[31] ”New Poll: Big Oil should pay the climate tab.” Grist, June 24, 2019. https://grist.org/beacon/new-poll-big-oil-should-pay-the-climate-tab/

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THE INDUSTRIES THAT HAVE FUELED THE CLIMATE CRISIS, FUNDED CLIMATE DENIAL, AND BLOCKED JUST CLIMATE PROGRESS FOR DECADES MUST PAY FOR THE DAMAGE THEY HAVE CAUSED.