Taking fossil fuels to court

ExxonMobil is one of the richest and most powerful companies in the world. Just last week, Greenpeace released recordings of ExxonMobil lobbyists boasting about the devastating impact their multinational oil and gas corporation has had on the ability of the world to fight climate change. Fossil fuel companies have known about the climate crisis for decades, but they have spent billions to prevent anything from being done about it. This is why it is time to legislate against them.

This year, court cases have been won delivering amazing and unprecedented victories for the environment. In Germany, the supreme constitutional court recently ruled that the government’s climate protection measures are insufficient. This ruling was on the enshrined need to protect future generations. The German government has until the end of 2022 to improve its Climate Protection Act. Court action is leading to more meaningful action, and judges have taken the hard decisions where politicians fail. This follows a similar case by Friends of the Earth against the Irish government in 2020.

Another incredible court victory took place in a district court of the Hague in May of this year. This time, instead of against a government, it was against one of the most powerful corporations in the world. The Hague ordered Royal Dutch Shell to cut its global carbon emissions by 45% by the end of 2030 compared to 2019 levels. The company’s obligations to future generations according to both law and science were confirmed by law.

Such drastic victories are particularly meaningful because they set a precedent. Other courts around the world hearing similar cases will have an example to follow. After decades of fossil fuel companies intentionally muddying the science, lobbying politicians and preventing effective action, it is time for laws to be created which prevent such active measures against environmental action. Activists around the world are pushing for an ecocide law.

France is on course to have ecocide illegal, but Malta can push for this law to be adopted on a European level. Malta can punch above its weight in the European Parliament, European Council and can petition the European Commission to enshrine ecocide into European legislation, so fossil fuel companies will be obliged to change their ways. Actions like those admitted to by the ExxonMobil lobbyists would then become illegal. As it stands, they boasted how they may derail Biden’s climate plan. The consequences have never been more severe, and such actions have never been more vile. Let us empower citizens so that they will be able to hold government and companies alike to account in courts of law, if need be.

Mark Zerafa
ADPD Deputy Chairperson
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 11 July 2021