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Enviros: Industry Executives Could Be Liable for Opposing Climate Change Mitigation

In a letter sent to the CEOs of 32 global energy companies and 44 insurance firms that provide risk management services to them, a group of nongovernmental organizations (NGO) warned each executive that he or she may be subject to personal liability risks in the future if their organizations oppose efforts to rein in climate change.

The letter was sent the same day that ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson told an annual shareholders meeting in Dallas that the company views climate change as a top priority (see Daily GPIMay 28). Tillerson was one of the CEOs who was sent the letter and attachments on climate change.

The companies comprising a who's who in their respective industries on the energy side were categorized by the letter-writing, led by Greenpeace International, as being among the "largest historic contributors to industrial greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions." Targeted by the mailing on Wednesday are some of the largest oil, natural gas and coal producers and the major insurance providers for their directors and senior officers.

The unwritten message was: Oppose GHG emissions mitigation programs at your personal risk. The groups, which include the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and World Wildlife Federation's Global Climate and Energy Initiative, in addition to Greenpeace, acknowledged that the companies have a right to lobby and engage with the public.

"While lawful lobbying is a vital part of the democratic process, corporate influence...aiming to obstruct action on climate change, coupled with development, sponsorship or dissemination of false, misleading or intentionally incomplete information about the climate risks associated with fossil fuel products and services... could pose a risk to directors and officers personally," said the letter signed by CIEL and Greenpeace leaders.

Attached to the letter were four addenda, including published material verifying industry lobbying against climate action; the potential adverse implications of climate litigation regarding director and officer policies; questions specifically for fossil fuel company officers and directors; and a set of questions for executives of underwriting insurance providers to officers and directors.

The questions seek to determine whether companies have “a clear and specific policy” to ensure that the company is not involved in distorting the perceptions of the public, investors, regulators, insurers or policymakers.

The letter writes also seek to find out what companies have “disclosed to director/officer liability insurers and insurers from whom you seek such coverage the extent of any lobbying activities [on climate].”

The NGO environmental groups asked that each of the letter recipients respond within four weeks.

Some of the energy companies included are: Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Apache Corp., Chevron, Devon Energy, Encana Corp., ExxonMobil, Hess, Occidental Petroleum Corp., Total, and most of the major global coal companies.

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