The fossil fuel industry largely behind the global climate crisis is contributing to the violation of several human rights, aggravating the conditions of persons, groups, and peoples in already vulnerable situations across the planet, warns a report by 350.org.
Oil, gas and coal companies are said to be directly or indirectly responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses committed by corporations around the world in the last three decades. Two cases from Africa stand out from the report: Shell in Ogoniland (Nigeria) and Amu Power in Lamu (Kenya).
In Nigeria, the impacts associated with Shell’s operations in the Niger Delta are believed to be the most notorious case of human rights abuses carried out by a fossil fuel corporation worldwide, sometimes with the complicity and direct involvement of state authorities. An estimated nine to 13 million barrels of crude oil has reportedly been spilled in the Niger Delta since the commencement of commercial oil exploration and production in 1958.
Protests against widespread and persistent oil pollution are said to have been brutally repressed, with loss of life and a series of other egregious human rights violations. Victims of severe human rights abuses associated with oil extraction in the Niger Delta are still awaiting remediation of the harm caused to their lands, water and livelihood, despite multiple victories before courts and human rights bodies.
In 2013, the Kenyan government set forth a proposal to build East Africa’s first coal power plant in the proximity of Lamu Old Town, a UNESCO world heritage site on the Kenyan coast. Community groups have protested plans to develop the plant, citing that its construction is unnecessary, as Kenya has enough renewable energy resources.
Protesters against the plant have been harassed, two activists disappeared, with one presumed dead.
However, in June 2019, a tribunal upheld the decision to revoke the licence given to Amu Power – one of the project financiers – on the grounds that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) had not been properly conducted. The tribunal ordered Amu Power to undertake a new EIA if it wants to continue with construction, effectively halting any further work.
Landry Ninteretse, the Africa Managing Director of 350.org, said: “Countries where these violations are being committed, have to enforce measures protecting communities affected by the human rights abuses caused by fossil fuel companies. Most of them have signed international treaties obliging them to protect threatened individuals, guarantee the right to protest and respect the decisions of Indigenous communities. Such mechanisms have to be enforced, legitimised and respected. The failure to do so represents a violation of States human right obligations.”
According to the report, considering just a few major cases of violations, the fossil fuel industry was directly responsible for about 45,000 premature deaths caused by health issues, the dump of more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into rivers and the opening of almost 2.5 million acres of previously inaccessible indigenous homeland to land speculation, colonisation and deforestation.
With the aggravation of the climate crisis, the negative environmental and social impacts of the actions of fossil fuel companies in several of these cases – and similar ones – are getting worse. The pollution and contamination often caused by fossil fuel industry activities mainly affect the poorest populations, as well as the climate crisis. Vulnerable communities are being doubly exposed to losses or scarcity of land, fish stocks and water.
The 350.org report also highlights the need for local and national governments to act to protect climate defenders, such as community leaders who are at the forefront of mobilisations for the rights of affected families. Many of them are targets of threats, aggression, torture or murder.
An exemplary case mentioned by the report is the one of Ken Saro Wiwa, a well-known environmental and human rights activist and minority spokesperson. His resistance to the fossil fuel companies as well as speaking against the exploitation of the Ogoni people, a minority group, saw Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other people executed by hanging on November 10, 1995, leaving the whole of Nigeria and the world in total shock.