Climate Denialism Gets Personal
Energy bosses should think twice before denying the reality of climate change.
Corporate executives of major fossil fuel companies could face personal liability for funding climate denialism and opposing policies to fight climate change, according to environmental NGOs.
Greenpeace International, WWF International and the Center for International Environmental Law have written to the executives of large insurance corporations as well as fossil fuel and other carbon major companies seeking clarity on who will pay the bill if such a lawsuit is brought against their directors or officers.
Energy organizations like ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum and Husky Energy and insurers like AXA, Zurich and the Devonshire Group have been sent the letters.
Generally, liability policies provide coverage for claims that put individual directors' and officers’ assets at risk. These liability policies protect individuals who are conducting their business in good faith but are at risk of being held liable for undesirable business occurrences, which may be beyond their control. However, a serious question is whether these policies would cover a director facing a climate-related claim.
According to Leanne Minshull, Greenpeace International's Climate and Energy Campaigner, 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. 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 responsibility – not just the devastating effects – should be personal."
Carroll Muffett, President of the Center for International Environmental Law, added that from "asbestos to tobacco to oil spills, 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.
“As the impacts of climate denialism and regulatory obstruction become clear, we want to understand how corporations, insurers, and officers and directors are allocating those risks among themselves. Just as importantly, we ask what steps they're taking to prevent the misconduct that creates those risks in the first place."
Samantha Smith, leader of WWF International's Global Climate and Energy Initiative, said fossil fuel companies owe it to their shareholders and the public to tell us the truth about the devastating impacts of their activities on our shared climate. "Sooner or later, those who hide the facts and oppose policies to fight climate change will be held to account by the courts. By signing this letter, we hope to bring attention to the importance of truthful, transparent and responsible corporate reporting and policy engagement on climate change."