Legal opinion puts governments ‘on alert’ over fossil fuel export financing
Governments could face lawsuits if they do not step up efforts to prevent their export credit agencies from funding infrastructure and fossil fuel-related activities abroad, legal experts warned on Tuesday and climate activists.
Advocacy group Oil Change International has released a legal opinion saying that agencies – which provide loans, insurance and guarantees for companies to invest abroad – should immediately stop lending to the world’s oil, coal and gas projects. whole.
“If they continue to do so, they are breaking international law,” said Jorge E. Viñuales, professor of law and environmental policy at the University of Cambridge, author of the opinion with Matrix lawyer Kate Cook. Chambers.
They concluded that in the context of accelerating climate change and shrinking space for countries to emit more greenhouse gases, there is an “in principle” requirement imposed on states by law. international government to stop funding fossil fuel projects.
Governments should also reduce existing support for fossil fuel-related projects and activities within a specific timeframe, and avoid locking themselves into polluting infrastructure that could use up a large chunk of the world’s remaining carbon budget, they added.
A growing group of European countries and South Korea have pledged to stop using government money to finance coal mines and coal-fired power plants in developing countries.
But climate activists also want donor governments to set deadlines to end similar support for oil and gas.
The United States said last month that its departments and agencies would seek to end international support for carbon-intensive energy projects and promote the flow of capital to “climate-aligned” investments.
The legal opinion released on Tuesday examines how obligations under customary international law, international climate change law, international human rights law and the guidelines of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD ) apply to export credit agencies.
These G20-based agencies provided around $ 40 billion per year for fossil fuel-related activities from 2016 to 2018, support that has not declined since the adoption of the 2015 Paris Agreement, according to Oil Change International.
Viñuales said scientific evidence on the urgency of reducing global warming, along with its growing impacts on people’s lives, has given export credit agencies a legal responsibility to act.
“It’s like walking through a park and seeing a drowning man – your care obligations are different than the man not drowning,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
Along with the publication of the legal opinion, green groups sent letters to officials in Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Japan, the Netherlands, South Africa, Sweden and the States. United, urging them to immediately stop supporting fossil fuel projects “in accordance with obligations under international law”.
THE ‘HAZE’ DISPEL COURTS
Climate experts have widely welcomed Britain’s decision to end overseas fossil fuel funding from last month – but London is not applying the policy retroactively.
This has led the environmental group Friends of the Earth to seek a judicial review, recently given the green light from the UK High Court, of around $ 1 billion public funding in the UK for a large natural gas project. in northern Mozambique, stricken by violence.
Karen Hamilton, program officer at Canada’s Above Ground group, said civil society organizations seeking to protect the climate were increasingly turning to legal tools.
“This advice clearly shows that financing oil, gas and coal exports could become the next target in climate disputes,” she said in a statement.
Viñuales noted that recent high profile cases of climate change were based on how late action by governments to reduce emissions from global warming affects the human rights of citizens.
Germany’s highest court last week ordered the government to update its climate law by the end of 2022 to explain how it will reduce emissions to almost zero by 2050, alongside a young woman who argued that rising sea levels would engulf her family farm.
This lawsuit and others, often supported by green groups, relied on legal standards that were already in place but whose application in a warming world was only now explicit, Viñuales said.
Governments “can no longer hide in the haze,” he added.
Laurie van der Burg, campaign manager for Oil Change International, said states and their export credit agencies had now been “warned”.
“The opinion launched today puts serious legal force behind what was already a compelling moral and financial imperative: public money must not be used to support dirty projects and worsen the terrible climate crisis which is already affecting millions. people around the world, ”she said in a statement.
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.