By Lisa Göldner, Lead Campaigner from Greenpeace Germany for the Fossil Free Revolution campaign
France, Nigeria, Finland, South Sudan, Italy, Peru, Romania. What do all of these places have in common? They are just some of the countries in which Europe-headquartered fossil fuel companies stand convicted or credibly accused of criminal, civil, or administrative offences.
The history of fossil fuels is a litany of criminal accusations, from corruption and bribery to human rights violations and even complicity in war crimes. Most of us only hear about fossil fuel crimes in the news. But for many, the industry’s law-breaking is a cold and hard lived reality, especially for people in climate-vulnerable communities and in the Global South.
The proof? Greenpeace Netherlands has compiled The Fossil Fuel Crime File: Proven Crimes and Credible Allegations, a sample of 26 proven or credibly alleged criminal and civil offences committed by 10 of the most powerful European fossil fuel majors, from 1989 to the present day. The file shows the extent to which unlawful activity is baked into the fossil fuel industry’s DNA and finds that, of the offences compiled, corruption was the most common in the industry.
But these 26 cases are just a drop in the ocean when it comes to fossil fuel pollution. For every unlawful act, there is more destructive and brutal fossil fuel behaviour which is entirely “legal”. For instance, despite the overwhelming evidence that we’re in the throes of a devastating fossil-fueled climate crisis, the fossil fuel industry is recklessly digging its heels in and meeting behind closed doors this week at the 2023 European Gas Conference in Vienna to — in their own words — “future-proof gas”. A desperate attempt by big polluters to delay the transition to renewable energy.
Hundreds of concerned citizens and climate activists gathered outside the conference centre in protest against the industry’s heinous plotting to extend the life of fossil fuel projects and force global warming beyond dangerous limits. Activists from Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe climbed the conference venue, the Marriott Hotel in Vienna, with a huge banner reading ‘End Fossil Crimes’ on Tuesday morning.
The fossil fuel industry considers itself above the law, has lied about climate change for decades, and humanity is now paying the price. Hundreds have died in Malawi from unprecedented flooding, and we have all just left behind 2022, which was peppered with extreme and record-breaking weather events.
Enough is enough — we have to solve this now. Last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that the world’s current fossil fuel infrastructure alone would exceed the remaining carbon budget for 1.5°C. Their recommendation: all new fossil fuel projects need to be stopped immediately and existing infrastructure rapidly phased out.
There is hope, and people are standing up and calling for an end to fossil fuels across the globe. A paper published in the Harvard Environmental Law Review last week argued that fossil fuel companies “have not simply been lying to the public, they have been killing members of the public at an accelerating rate” and should be prosecuted for homicide. I’m joining that call.
I want new fossil fuel projects to be banned now. I want the fossil fuel industry to stop breaking the law and pay for their crimes against people and the planet. European governments must urgently begin a rapid phase-out of all fossil fuels, and stop subsidising this industry.
Ending the fossil fuel era and making a just transition to renewable energy is the only way to stop the climate crisis and to serve justice. As the IPCC says, “if we act now, we can still secure a liveable sustainable future for all”.