Cases of forcing governments and energy companies to give up fossil fuels are on the rise in South America. They are not only numerous but also very effective.
eLawyers and environmental activists say the much-debated lawsuit against the Guinean government, arguing that oil production is fueling climate change could lead to similar legal action in the region.
The case before the Constitutional Court is the first of its kind in the Caribbean. The allegation is that the oil exploration and production led by the US oil company ExxonMobil on the Guinean coast is unconstitutional.
The right to a healthy environment
Two Guinean citizens filed charges in the Constitutional Court in late May. Protecting the environment for present and future generations often revolves around the duty of the state. Melinda Jonki, Advocate for Plaintiffs. “We want to test whether this oil production is compatible with the right to a healthier environment,” he says.
This includes estimated greenhouse gas emissions from marine oil fields. According to Jonki, the plaintiffs relied on “exxon calculated” figures in the company’s environmental impact report.
‘We stand for ourselves, for our country, for our planet.’
Not only does CO2 emissions from fossil fuels cause climate change, they acidify the oceans, damaging Guyana’s corals and marshes, Janki says.
‘These are citizens, their governments must be held accountable for the common good … We stand for ourselves, our country and our planet.’
Guyana’s Ministry of Natural Resources and the Office of the Minister of Justice did not respond to requests for comment.
‘Sustainable oil exploitation’
The consortium of ExxonMobil, Hess Corp and the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOC-Nexon) have already made eighteen new oil discoveries in the Strobok area off the coast of Guinea. It is one of the largest oil reserves in the world.
An ExxonMobil spokesman said Guyana “complies with all laws applicable at every stage of the research, development and production stages, and evaluates each new project in the country” outlining potential environmental impacts and mitigation. “
Pressure on oil and gas companies is mounting as activists increasingly go to court.
The country’s natural resources minister said in April that the government was committed to sustainably exploiting its oil and gas resources to “improve the lives of the Guineans”.
Oil production is expected to earn tens of billions of dollars in the coming years, which are the country’s most needed resources.
Carol Muffet, Head of the American Voluntary Charity Center for International Environmental Law, says the case will “help others in the region fight similar fossil fuel exploitation.” We see a rapid evolution in the judiciary and the foundations of every case are getting stronger. ‘
Companies and governments need to be held accountable for the climate impact of their actions, as pressure on oil and gas companies increases and operators increasingly go to court. These lawsuits should force governments to eliminate coal, oil and gas and increase investment in renewable energy sources. Tight emission targets in the context of the Paris Climate Agreement are often among the demands of lawyers.
Last week, a Dutch court ordered oil company Shell to reduce its CO2 emissions by 45 percent by 2030. The Dutch-British energy company said it would appeal the decision.
Gaddafi sees a great desire among the citizens to put pressure on their governments to reduce deforestation and increase climate action.
Dennis von Berkel, The legal adviser to the plaintiff Urgenta, called the verdict “underground”. He says legal action has proven to be one of the “most effective tools” for forcing climate change.
“Human rights and constitutional obligations still depend primarily on the state,” he said. “However, the fossil companies will find that they can’t escape saying, ‘Well, we do what the law requires of us.'”
Global climate issues are increasingly focused on the impact on human rights, while fossil fuel investments are increasingly being questioned. Sam Hunter Jones, Client Earth Lawyer of the Environmental Organization. “We expect lawsuits filed around the world to apply these principles.”
Those policies are already well established in Latin America. Numerous countries have enshrined in the Constitution or the law the right of citizens to a healthy environment and nature.
Cayo Borges Leads the Climate Law Program at the Institute for Climate and Society. He says many South American countries have “excellent laws and environmental protections.” ‘But of course there is a huge gap between the formal rules and the implementation of those rules in this field.’
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Climate issues in Latin America are often brought about by indigenous peoples. They have sued the government for failing to protect the Amazon rainforest, which spans more than eight countries.
Borges sees a great desire among citizens to put pressure on their governments to reduce deforestation and increase climate action.
“In Brazil and other countries in the Amazon, these cases mainly revolve around land use,” he predicts. ‘They will explore how important it is to protect rainforests to fulfill climate promises.’
Borges previously predicted that resource-rich countries such as Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil would have more climate lawsuits against governments and corporations. He also predicted that youth activists would play a key role.
Until now, climate issues in Latin America have been mainly focused on governments. But there is a case from Peru Saul Luciano Liao Against the German utility RWE.
He spoke at the RWE in 2015 about the company’s role in the climate crisis. A farmer from the city of Huarez beneath the melting Balkaraju glacier that raises the water of Lake Balkocha.
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Liuya argued that greenhouse gas emissions from RWE’s coal-fired power plants were partly responsible for the melting of the glacier, which threatened to flood his home.
Borges said efforts are underway to weaken environmental laws in some Latin American countries, especially Brazil.
“A regional campaign now involves state and business actors. They are urging governments to remove environmental protection. That is why many of those cases are aimed at enforcing existing rules.”