As fossil fuel giants face a growing wave of climate lawsuits, a global coalition on Tuesday released a new tool to help guide decision-makers in holding big polluters liable for "fueling the climate crisis while raking in vast profits."
The "Liability Roadmap"—an effort from groups including Corporate Accountability, Indigenous Environmental Network, and War on Want—lays out a range of approaches, such as establishing community-based climate damage funds, ending government subsides for polluting industries, and setting up an international fossil fuel non-proliferation mechanism.
According to the groups, "Now is the time to hold polluting industries liable," as we "are breaching environmental tipping point after environmental tipping point," and the "climate inaction civil society has warned of is now an increasing certainty."
Yet despite the climate crisis—and global coronavirus pandemic—polluting industries have dug in on their destruction operations. According to the groups:
While communities around the world are fighting for their lives, polluting, destructive industries like the fossil fuel industry and agribusiness are preparing to ramp up expansion for their own greed. For example, the recent Production Gap Report indicates that there are currently plans to produce more than twice as much fossil fuel by 2030 than is consistent with the commitment made in the Paris Agreement to keep global temperature rise to as close to 1.5 degrees Celsius as possible. The trading and selling of just four products—industrially produced beef, soy, wood, and palm oil—is the main driver of deforestation in the world. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change attributes 23% of global greenhouse gas emissions to agriculture and land use. When adding other elements of the globalized food system, studies suggest this figure is as high as 40%.
At the same time, these polluting corporations depend on a system built on corporate fascism and the exploitation of people, racism, and the oppression of women. And they manipulate this system to their benefit, treating human lives—especially the lives of people of color, women, and frontline communities such as Indigenous peoples, peasants, fisherfolks, pastoralists, nomadic and rural peoples—and the natural world as expendable. They are attempting to profit from the Covid-19 pandemic and they are demanding government bailouts. Along with pushing for more draconian laws, they are also rolling out PR schemes that paint themselves as saviors in a crisis they were central to orchestrating. They regularly use international trade and investment agreements to bypass justice in courts, intimidate governments seeking to hold them accountable, and access public money through arbitration claims. They are attempting to push forward unreliable and risky climate techno-fixes such as carbon markets and geo-engineering that won’t work and that will exacerbate existing inequities and human rights violations. And whether agribusiness or fossil fuels or forestry sector, they are the biggest barriers to systems change, causing delays that make climate change even worse.
Moreover, these very industries are in large part responsible for the multi-faceted crises we're facing. They knew for decades their activities were fueling climate change, but they funded denial and junk science to delay action. They've simultaneously driven the deforestation, extinction, and biodiversity loss crises that drive animals out of their habitat and enable pathogens to spread around the world. They have extracted wealth from and perpetrated environmental racism in communities of color and Indigenous communities around the world. They have eroded the power of governments to effectively address global disasters like the climate crisis and Covid-19—disasters that are increasingly devastating and expensive. As a result, we are now likely to breach 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming by as early as 2030. These polluters are the ones who should be paying, not being bailed out.
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Achieving far-reaching accountability, as the roadmap outlines, will be the result of a variety tools including legal challenges. But "the liability roadmap is about more than lawsuits and courtrooms," Sriram Madhusoodanan, U.S. climate campaign director with Corporate Accountability, explained in a statement Tuesday.
"This is about making Big Polluters pay for the havoc they've wreaked by fueling the climate crisis and about forcing them to end their abuses," said Madhusoodanan. "This is about making Big Polluters pay for causing decades of suffering and destruction in communities on the global frontlines of the climate crisis, with no end in sight. The roadmap will carry us further down the road where Big Polluters are forced to put people's well-being and the well-being of the Earth and its ecosystems above expansion, extraction, and profit making."
Regardless of the avenue decision-makers pursue to make big polluters pay, the effort must be grounded in principles including:
- Protect the rights of local communities, Indigenous peoples, peasants, fisherfolk, pastoralists, nomadic and rural peoples, and women as stewards of nature.
- Shift the costs of climate change from people and communities to the entities responsible for both global greenhouse gas emissions and the intentional deceit that has inexcusably delayed climate action.
- Help communities fund a just transition that protects workers' rights and livelihoods.
"By holding polluting industries liable, we can end their abuses, unlock the finance needed to advance real solutions, and justly address the climate crisis," the roadmap states.
"Big Polluters have wrecked our climate, ecosystems, lives, and livelihoods, for too long," the document adds, accusing the industries of managing to "abdicate any responsibility, and only benefit from the damage they cause, which falls disproportionately on Global South communities, Indigenous Peoples, people of color, women, workers, farmers, peasants, and low-income communities."
As Sara Shaw, Climate Justice and Energy Program coordinator at Friends of the Earth International, sees it, the new effort can also help the goal of building back better post-pandemic.
"The Liability Roadmap is a tool we can use to call to account those who have knowingly caused the climate crisis, and make them pay. Not only that, it lays the foundations for systemic change—reducing corporate power and ensuring resources for the much-needed just transformation," said Shaw.