The Need to Hold the Fossil Fuel and Tobacco Industries Accountable and Make Them Pay for the Damage That They Have Caused

Photo by: Matthew Brown

Photo by: Matthew Brown

The title of this post underlines the drastic implications that the fossil fuel and tobacco industries have imposed on our environment and health. Prior to the finalisation of the Paris Agreement and the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), there has been impeding efforts in minimising carbon emission, whilst constantly attempting to maximise their profit and refusing to shed light on a fair share of accountability on the effects of climate hitherto.

Such conducts have therefore disabled people and communities around the globe from the full enjoyment of human rights and also posed consequential threats to their circumstances.[1] The primary woe, however, is the far-reaching damage which has profoundly affected vulnerable and small island states, where they clearly lack the capacity and resources to respond adequately without sufficient capacity and financial means.[2]

For as long as it has been used for various purposes, these industries have also been accumulating permanent and prolonged environmental deterioration which could subsequently be further aggravated and affected by climate impacts, water pollution, ecological loss etc.; resulting in food security, scarce resources, increased number of climate refugees, the problem of salinity which prohibits soil to cultivate, and the vicious cycle continues.

Although it is observed that these industries are responsible for the narrow and misleading information which induce the reliance on fossil fuel and the smoking of cigarettes, regulating measures to restrict such manipulations are often neglected from being put on the table of the climate change negotiations, thereby making the reduction of carbon emission more difficult to achieve, and the pursuing efforts to limit the temperature rise of 1.5°C would remain unfeasible if these industries are not subjecting themselves to mitigating effort to influence a position shift in the consumption trend.

Throughout the years, United Nations member states have gathered at the Conference of Parties (COP) to broker a deal to alleviate the atmospheric concentration of GHGs despite constant efforts of huge firms injecting monies into lobbying for the fossil fuel and tobacco industry to delay action meant to remedy climate change.[3] It is worth noting that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has undertaken steps to retain oil reserves on the ground by addressing the crucial role of redirecting investments in the latest scientific report, stating that accelerating the reform of fossil-fuel subsidies is an urgent priority and “substantial reductions in emissions would require large changes in investment patterns.”[4]

Furthermore, the International Energy Agency (IEA) emphasised fossil fuel subsidy reform as a key element of energy regulating measures to tackle climate change and reckoned that a partial reduction of fossil fuel subsidies as an opportunity cost could allow for doors to be opened in order to achieve the 2°C target.[5]

Therefore, divesting from the fossil fuel and tobacco industry can arguably be deemed as the priority action being discussed in the climate change negotiations to date, and have always been perceived as the main reason for disrupting the chemistry of the planet.[6]

However, the above efforts are too minute for these industries to negate their responsibilities and duty for the series of damage that they have caused when lives are lost and homes are destroyed; yet they show no remorse and hungrily seek for short-term gains, whilst wholly missing the point of preserving and conserving what we currently have, and at worst, getting away scot-free.

One may argue that the government should stop subsidising these products and propose a carbon tax and cap on them, but the truth of the reality is how do we suppose we could hold these industries accountable when they command huge bargaining power, which in turn allowing them to hide behind the consumption pattern and lurking behind the decision-making process? We should be concerned that whether these “decision-making parties” are actually acting in our best interest or are they economically driven?

Essentially, if we want to yield a better outcome for our future and put a halt on such consumption, we cannot merely rely on these industries and deliberately avoid our own responsibility. As real change comes from the bottom and floats to the top, the responsibility lies within us and the choices that we make could ultimately affect our environment.

Written by Choy Moon Moon

[1] T Greiber, Conversation with Justice: A Rights-based Approach (IUCN, 2009) 38

[2] V Hoffmeister & S Huq, ‘Loss and Damage in INDCs’ [2015] ICCCAD 6

[3] A Goodman, ““Corporate Conquistadors”: New Report Exposes How Multinationals Drive, Profit from Climate Change” [2014] Democracy Now accessed 15 October 2016

[4] IPCC, ‘Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers’ [2014] IPCC, 30

[5] IEA, ‘Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map’ [2013] IEA, 1 – 3

[6] J Spector, ‘To Fight Climate Change, We Need to Go Beyond Burying Fossil Fuels’ [2016] The Atlantic accessed 15 October 2016

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