Addressing the climate crisis at scale and at speed requires not only halting the expansion of oil and gas — but also holding governments and companies alike to higher standards of ambition and action in the face of the climate emergency.
CIEL is actively supporting constitutional and human rights cases brought by partners around the world to accelerate climate action and accountability, from litigation in the European Court of Human Rights to suits before national courts in South Korea, Canada, and beyond.
A critical part of this work is exposing the human rights impacts of climate change and of the activities driving it. CIEL has worked within the United Nations human rights system to raise critical questions about how governments are responding to the climate crisis. In the past year alone, CIEL helped secure or strengthen 11 authoritative statements from UN human rights bodies and experts clarifying States’ obligations to respect and protect human rights from threats posed by climate change and climate action.
In addition to holding governments accountable, CIEL is also exposing and confronting the role of corporate actors in the climate emergency. We continue the critical work of revealing what polluting industries knew about their products’ climate impacts, and how their denial and deception about those impacts have compounded the climate crisis and delayed responses to it, even as our past work continues to shape climate accountability efforts around the world. Over the last year, a growing number of states and localities across the US have sued fossil fuel companies for their role in the climate crisis; in case after case, documents unearthed through CIEL’s Smoke and Fumes research play a key role in detailing the industry’s early awareness of climate risks and its decades-long campaigns of denial and obstruction.
But fossil fuel companies were not alone in such campaigns. In late 2020, documents unearthed by CIEL helped expose that major automakers, too, understood climate dangers decades ago yet continued to discourage government action to address those risks. In January, following the release of major new research showing that fine particulate matter (PM2.5) from fossil fuel pollution kills more than 8 million people per year, CIEL worked with an investigative journalist and the Climate Investigations Center to demonstrate that industry actors understood the health risks of PM2.5 a half century ago yet blocked progress on vital public health regulations.
Taken together, the accelerating global opposition to oil and gas, growing demands on governments for ambitious climate action, and the mounting evidence of corporate climate denial and deception are exposing major polluters not only to increasing legal risk, but to rapidly accelerating financial risk. CIEL has been instrumental in highlighting those intersections.
The Time is Now for Human Rights in Climate Action
Over the past year, evidence continued to accumulate regarding the human rights cost of atmospheric pollution, ecosystem degradation, and climate change. But the United Nations’ most authoritative human rights body is not keeping up. The UN Human Rights Council’s (HRC) response to these crises remains inadequate and out of step with the urgency required. CIEL is working to challenge this status quo head-on by building campaigns with civil society partners to compel the HRC to take these matters seriously. With over a thousand organizations from around the world, we have stressed that #TheTimeIsNow for the HRC to unequivocally recognize the right to a clean, safe, healthy, and sustainable environment. In parallel, we mobilized international civil society allies to demand that the HRC take action to face the human rights cost of climate change. Doing so, we contributed to building momentum behind the request from the world’s most vulnerable countries that the UN establish a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change to support frontline communities and enhance accountability.