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Will Big Oil Execs Ever Stand Trial for Willful Climate Deceit?

Green groups issue letter to insurance companies and energy giants asking, 'Who will pay?'

Protesters demanding an end to impunity for energy companies on fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. (Photo: Steve Rhodes/ Creative Commons)

Fossil fuel executives, watch out.

A group of environmental organizations want to know who is going to be held responsible for the corporate obstructionism of climate change information and policies, despite clear scientific consensus.

In a letter of warning issued Wednesday to over 75 major insurance and fossil fuel corporations, Greenpeace International, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) beg the question: Who will pay for this climate deceit?

Citing "asbestos to tobacco to oil spills," Carroll Muffett, president of CIEL,said history shows that "those who mislead the public, the market or the government about the risks of their products, or the availability of safer alternatives, can face substantial legal liability, both as companies and as individuals."

"While lawful lobbying is a vital part of the democratic process," the groups write, "corporate influence—either directly or through outside organizations—aiming to obstruct action on climate change, coupled with the development, sponsorship or dissemination of false, misleading or intentionally incomplete information about the climate risks associated with fossil fuel products and services to regulators, shareholders, and insurers could pose a risk to directors and officers personally."

As the groups explain, liability policies typically provide coverage for claims that put individual directors' and officers’ assets at risk and therefore protect individuals from  being held personally liable for "undesirable business occurrences."

"These policies protect individuals who are conducting their business in good faith," they continue. "However, a serious question is whether these policies would cover a director facing a climate-related claim."

“Sooner or later, those who hide the facts and oppose policies to fight climate change will be held to account by the courts," added Samantha Smith, leader of WWF's Global Climate and Energy Initiative.

Leanne Minshull, climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace International, added that the cost of climate change is "personal."

“It’s personal to the victims of super typhoon Haiyan who lost family members and homes in the Philippines. It’s personal to farmers in California and Australia whose land is now too dry for farming," Minshull said. "It should also be personal for any oil, gas and coal company directors who mislead the public by funding climate denialism and stopping action on climate change."

The letters are part of a growing demand to end impunity for those who have benefited from and have perpetuated our economy's dependence on fossil fuels and thus have significantly contributed to global warming.


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