November 13, 2023
An agreement at the COP28 summit to end the production and use of fossil fuels is vital to prevent a global climate catastrophe and stop an unprecedented human rights crisis which threatens the rights of billions of people from escalating, Amnesty International said today.
In a briefing titled, Fatal Fuels, Amnesty International calls for parties at COP28, which starts later this month, to agree to a full, fair, fast and funded phase out of fossil fuels and a human-rights compliant transition to renewable power which facilitates access to energy for all.
“For decades the fossil fuel industry has spread disinformation about the climate crisis. The truth is that fossil fuels are endangering our future by wreaking havoc on the global climate and creating a human rights crisis of unprecedented scale,” said Candy Ofime, Amnesty International’s Legal Advisor on Climate Justice.
For decades the fossil fuel industry has spread disinformation about the climate crisis. The truth is that fossil fuels are endangering our future by wreaking havoc on the global climate and creating a human rights crisis of unprecedented scale.Candy Ofime, Amnesty International’s Legal Advisor on Climate Justice
“If new fossil fuel projects go ahead we will fail to limit global warming this century to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and stave off catastrophic climate damage. COP28 is the time for states to agree to move beyond the fossil fuel era and leave behind its shameful record of climate damage and human rights abuses.
“The fossil fuel industry generates enormous wealth for relatively few corporate actors and states, which have a vested interest in blocking a just transition to renewable energy, and silencing opponents. These efforts endanger everyone’s right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.”
“Fossil fuels are finite and trying to extract every last drop of oil, cubic foot of fossil gas, or tonne of coal prolongs and worsens the enormous damage they have already caused. Alternatives are at hand and renewable energy output is growing fast but much more investment is needed. COP28 must set a fast and equitable course for a sustainable future free of fossil fuels.”
Fossil fuels and an unprecedented human rights crisis
The extraction and burning of fossil fuels, and the resultant accumulation of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere, notably carbon dioxide, is the primary cause of global heating which is making extreme weather events such as storms, drought and floods more frequent and intense.
This is leading to loss of life, damage to property and infrastructure, wrecked livelihoods, disrupted ecosystems and reduced biodiversity, failed harvests and food scarcity, intensified competition for resources, and conflict and displacement, which are all associated with a range of human rights abuses.
Air pollution directly related to the combustion of fossil fuels contributed to 1.2 million deaths in 2020. Communities living near fossil fuel facilities are often directly harmed by pollutants known to cause respiratory illnesses, adverse pregnancy outcomes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. Coal mining and fracking generate toxic waste that can contaminate water sources. Gas flaring releases toxic air pollutants.
People living in “sacrifice zones” most exposed to these harms are often already subject to intersecting forms of discrimination.
Exploration, production and transportation of fossil fuels often entails devastating pollution and environmental degradation. Amnesty International has for decades documented oil spills and the resultant harms suffered by communities in the Niger Delta where Shell and other companies have undermined local communities’ human rights to an adequate standard of living, clean water, and health, and denied them effective remedies.
Indigenous peoples are disproportionately impacted because much of the planet’s remaining fossil fuel resources are situated under their ancestral land, and exploitative companies often infringe on these communities’ rights to information, public participation and free, prior and informed consent. For example, Amnesty International has shown how Adivasi communities in India affected by coal mining are rarely properly consulted before their land is acquired, ecosystems decimated and livelihoods jeopardized.
The right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment was recognized by the UN Human Rights Council in 2021 and the UN General Assembly in 2022 and is enshrined in the national constitutions of more than 100 countries. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights explicitly recognize that companies have a responsibility to “do no harm”.
Environmental human rights defenders, including those opposed to the production and use of fossil fuels, have increasingly been targeted and even killed for their advocacy in recent years. Some fossil fuel companies have sought to silence climate defenders through the use of so-called “strategic lawsuits against public participation” (SLAPPs).
Fossil fuel companies have funded think tanks to draft and propose laws to clamp down on or criminalize climate and environmental protesters. Amnesty International campaigns to protect the right to protest, and the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
Many fossil fuel companies seek to shape public opinion through greenwashing and disinformation, evade regulation through the lobbying of lawmakers and regulators, and influence multilateral forums such as COPs, which can delay states’ actions to address the climate crisis. COP28 is chaired by Sultan Al Jaber, the chief executive of the UAE’s state oil company, which is a clear conflict of interests.
Remedies and energy transition
Fatal Fuels recommends that all currently untapped fossil fuel resources remain in the ground forever. Industrialized and other high greenhouse gas emitting countries in the G20, as well as high income fossil fuel producing states, must agree to quickly lead the way by stopping the expansion of oil, gas and coal production. Others must then follow. In addition, there must be a significant reduction in the extraction of fossil fuels for non-energy purposes, such as the manufacturing of plastics.
The vast subsidies states spend supporting fossil fuel use and production must end through a process which ensures there are adequate social protections in place to shield the poorest and most marginalized.
Fossil fuel and energy companies cannot be allowed to rely on unproven technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, which their lobbyists frequently promote, to delay change. They should refrain from lobbying lawmakers, and greenwashing, which makes it more difficult for the public to access accurate information about climate science.
Financial institutions must cease investing in new activities that drive fossil fuel expansion, and phase out existing funding on a timeframe aligned with the target agreed internationally to keep global warming to below 1.5°C this century.
Developed countries, historically the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, need to deliver on their commitments to provide adequate climate finance to developing states to achieve an equitable and human rights-consistent phase out of existing fossil fuel production globally, facilitating a just transition to renewable sources of power.
The COP28 climate summit runs from 30 November to 12 December and is being held in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), one of the world’s largest oil and gas producers. Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard will attend between 1-6 December.