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Climate Leaders Demand Fossil Fuel CEOs At Davos Cease & Desist

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Over 700,000 signatories endorsed a letter sent to fossil fuel CEOs in attendance this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos. In the Cease and Desist notice, the signers demanded that fossil fuel giants “stop opening any new oil, gas, or coal extraction sites” as well as to “stop blocking the clean energy transition we all so urgently need.”

Among the climate leaders who shepherded the letter were Vanessa Nakate of Uganda, Greta Thunberg of Sweden, Helena Gualinga of Ecuador, and Luisa Neubauer of Germany. A cease and desist letter does not automatically signify a lawsuit. It is a warning about illegal behavior that lets the recipients know that penalties could follow if the behavior, such as climate pollution, doesn’t stop. In practical terms, a cease and desist has no real legal weight. However, it fulfills an important function in the legal process, as it establishes that the alleged offenders have been notified about their violation.

Speaking to journalists last week, Nakate said that “it’s not hard to be cynical about the prospects for climate justice after spending a week there.” Major energy firms including BP BP.L, Chevron CVX.N and Saudi Aramco 2222.SE are among the 1,500 business leaders, Wall Street executives, and other corporate elites gathered in Davos for this week’s Forum. “Oil and gas CEOs are invited into the forum to greenwash their businesses,” she noted.

The presence of fossil fuel giants in Davos spurred local protests over the weekend, with demonstrators accusing the industry of hijacking the climate debate. “We are demanding concrete and real climate action,” said Nicolas Siegrist, the 26-year-old protest organizer who also heads the Young Socialists party in Switzerland. “They will be in the same room with state leaders and they will push for their interests.”

Debt for Climate activists protested at a private airport in eastern Switzerland, which they said would be used by some WEF attendees, and issued a statement calling for foreign debts of poorer countries to be cancelled in order to accelerate the global energy transition. They argue that developed countries of the Global North are responsible for the highest historical emissions of greenhouse gases. Moreover, these countries continue patterns of exploitation and colonization of most of the global South through their multinational corporations with the systematic plundering of natural resources.

The Power of the Greenwashing Word

The overview to the Davos’ gathering begins with an acknowledgment that the “world today is at a critical inflection point,” partially due to “a climate crisis spiraling out of control.” The Forum can be a place, the sponsors describe, “to drive tangible, system-positive change for the long term.” Without mechanisms to hold economic constituents accountable, that goal of systemic change may be little more than wishful wording.

Will Davos be another public forum that oil and gas lobbyists wield as a PR opportunity to spin their climate pollution in Orwellian terms?

Naming the hypocrisy of oil and gas CEOs, who have long known about the disastrous impacts of fossil fuels, the climate activists at Davos say it’s time to stop misleading the public and deceiving politicians on the climate crisis. We know without a doubt, for example, that Exxon’s internal documents from the 1970s and on, as well as peer-reviewed studies published by Exxon and ExxonMobil Corp scientists, overwhelmingly acknowledged that climate change is real and human-caused. By contrast, the majority of Mobil and ExxonMobil Corp’s public communications posed uncertainty on the matter.

Has anything really changed?

National governments and their negotiators tend to remain willing to listen to the interests of fossil fuel lobbyists at these big economic forums. Loopholes for the fossil fuel industry continue to allow enormous levels of production due to public commitments to making operations greener — all too often little more than greenwashing proclamations. Whether complicit or naïve, some governments have followed hobnobs with fossil fuel execs with measures such as carbon capture and storage and offsetting as solutions to bring the industry’s emissions down.

Fossil Fuel Companies Push Forward with Extraction Plans

The oil and gas industry has said that it needs to be part of the energy transition, as fossil fuels will continue to play a major role in the world’s energy mix as countries shift to low carbon economies. Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry has turned its proverbial back on scientists’ calls for a rapid phase out to prevent more catastrophic warming.

Davos attendees told Reuters that few sectors expect to be immune from the impending storm clouds.

The Davos’ open letter makes transparent the ongoing expansion of Big Oil investments, as an analysis released at the United Nations COP27 meeting in Egypt in 2022 revealed.

  • Oil and gas companies are on a massive expansion course – 655 out of 685 upstream companies on GOGEL (96%) have expansion plans.
  • Since 2021, the industry’s short-term expansion plans have increased by 20%.
  • Currently, 512 oil and gas companies are taking active steps to bring 230 billion barrels of oil equivalent of untapped resources into production before 2030.
  • Producing and burning these resources will release approximately 115 Gt CO2eq into the atmosphere. This is 30 times as much as the EU’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.
  • If the oil and gas industry simply maintained its 2021 production level, it alone would exhaust our remaining carbon budget within 15.5 years.

International Energy Agency executive director Fatih Birol used a speech at Davos to describe the US Inflation Reduction Act the most important climate deal since the Paris Agreement. The European Union responded with plans to make life easier for the bloc’s green industry, saying it would mobilize state aid and a fund to keep firms from moving to the US.

The Letter to Davos’ Fossil Fuel CEOs

Here is the full text of the open letter, which you, too, can sign, if you so choose.

To Fossil Fuel CEOs:

This Cease and Desist Notice is to demand that you immediately stop opening any new oil, gas, or coal extraction sites, and stop blocking the clean energy transition we all so urgently need.

We know that Big Oil:

    • KNEW for decades that fossil fuels cause catastrophic climate change;
    • MISLED the public about climate science and risks; and,
    • DECEIVED politicians with disinformation sowing doubt and causing delay.

You must end these activities as they are in direct violation of our human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, your duties of care, as well as the rights of Indigenous people.

If you fail to act immediately, be advised that citizens around the world will consider taking any and all legal action to hold you accountable. And we will keep protesting in the streets in huge numbers.

Vanessa from Uganda, Greta from Sweden, Helena from Ecuador, Luisa from Ger


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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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