Could Fossil Fuel Execs be Personally Liable for Climate Damages?

June 5, 2014

A correspondent writes me – “I think I want to practice law again.”

Fierce Energy:

Corporate executives of major fossil fuel companies, including oil, gas, and coal, could face personal liability for opposing policies to fight climate change, and are being put on notice via letter sent jointly by Greenpeace International, World Wildlife Federation (WWF) and the Center for International Environmental Law.

The letters, aimed at both fossil fuel companies and their insurance providers, pose the question: “Who will pay the bill if such a lawsuit is brought against their directors or officers?”

“[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,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law. “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.”

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, Greenpeace and the others raise the question of whether these policies would cover a director facing a climate-related claim.

The organizations say they hope that the letter will lead to the truth about the effects of climate change.

“Sooner or later, those who hide the facts and oppose policies to fight climate change will be held to account by the courts,” said Samantha Smith, head of WWF’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative. “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.”

The cost of climate change is personal to victims of typhoons and droughts, according to Leanne Minshull, Greenpeace International’s Climate and Energy Campaigner, and she wants individual executives to pay the price.

“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,” Minshull said. “The responsibility — not just the devastating effects — should be personal.”

Greenpeace:

Amsterdam, 28 May 2014 – Corporate executives of major fossil fuel companies could face personal liability for funding climate denialism and opposing policies to fight climate change, say 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 [1], seeking clarity on who will pay the bill if such a lawsuit is brought against their directors or officers [2].

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 [3].

Leanne Minshull, Greenpeace International’s Climate and Energy Campaigner, says 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, says 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, says 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.”

The responses from the fossil fuel companies and insurers and will be published on the Greenpeace International website.

 

 

 

 

36 Responses to “Could Fossil Fuel Execs be Personally Liable for Climate Damages?”


  1. […] Fortunately, Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund are fighting back. They hope to hold fossil fuel companies liable for the damages occurring from misleading information and their interference in solutions being proposed by government.  Targeting executives and board members, these nonprofits have written to 36 of the largest oil and gas companies, as well as concrete manufacturers.  They are asking that these corporate game-changers should be personally liable for their role in the “big bluff.” […]


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