Blog / 1 Apr 2019

Our top six Fossil Fools

Fossil fuels cause around 76% of all human-made greenhouse gases, with just 100 global companies responsible for more than two-thirds of all emissions. If we want a liveable future, these dirty forms of energy need to be phased out - but many foolish individuals and companies continue to finance, lobby for, and unjustly profit from fossil fuels. To mark Fossil Fools day, here are six of our (least) favourite Fossil Fools:

1. Malcolm Brinded CBE, former Executive Director at Shell, and current Trustee of the Shell Foundation and President of the Energy Institute

In 2017, we showed that Shell’s most senior executives made a $1.1bn payment for a huge Nigerian oil block, OPL 245, knowing it would line the pockets of a convicted money launderer, and would likely then flow into a vast bribery scheme instead of benefitting the people of Nigeria. A few months back, we revealed that Shell also secured a very generous deal to boost their profits, depriving Nigeria of a further $6 billion dollars in estimated future revenue – more than double the country’s combined annual education and healthcare budget.

Brinded is currently on trial in Milan for his part in the deal - get up to speed on the trial, and follow our Oil Campaigner, Barnaby Pace, for regular updates from the courthouse.

2. Glencore, international commodity trader, and coal exporter and producer

Glencore operate significant mining operations all around the globe – they are the world’s top coal exporter and one of the biggest coal producers outside of China. Their recent announcement that they would cap coal production is not quite the climate-friendly breakthrough it might appear. Firstly, limiting the amount of coal on the market will serve to protect or even elevate the coal price and thus maintain Glencore’s leading position on the coal gravy train. But just this week the International Energy Agency calculated that 'coal was the “single largest source of global temperature increase”, responsible for about 0.3C of the 1C of warming that the world has experienced since pre-industrial times…coal accounted for a third of total CO2 emissions last year’. The science makes it clear that Glencore’s coal production trajectory needs to be in sharp decline, not maintaining the status quo.

While the world was digesting Glencore’s self-serving coal strategy, some inconvenient truths emerged about Glencore’s real coal priorities, and the lengths they will go to in order to keep coal high in the energy mix. Glencore spent millions to fund a clandestine global campaign to support coal demand by targeting environmental activists, lobbying politicians to promote coal, and bombarding social media with pro-coal messages in a classic astroturf tactic. Glencore could hardly have done more to earn their fossil fool status.

3. UK Export Finance, the UK Government’s export credit agency

UK Export Finance (UKEF) supports UK businesses abroad. In the last measurable period, 99.4% of all energy support provided by UKEF went to fossil fuels. The £4.8 billion of support nearly matched the government’s spending on climate change aid to developing countries. Instead of supporting a clean energy future, it’s helping lock the poorest countries into dirty energy, and causing more climate chaos.

It's such a Fossil Fool that its investment has attracted comment from some of the most influential figures in global politics. In February, former UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, singled it out for criticism, saying “The time has come for the UK to change course, in the interests of the whole world”. Just last week, Mary Robinson, former UN high commissioner for human rights and special envoy for climate change also said of UKEF’s fossil fuel support “It stirs painful memories of past exploitative behaviour to see the UK and other rich, industrialised countries […] effectively exporting their emissions to poorer foreign countries and leaving them to pay the price socially and environmentally.”

And to top it off, the agency is currently being investigated by a UK Parliamentary committee.

4. Jeremy Weir, CEO of Trafigura, the world’s third-largest commodities trader, since 2014

In late 2018 Global Witness revealed the ties between the world’s top commodity traders, among them Trafigura, and middlemen heavily implicated in Brazil’s gigantic “Car Wash” bribery scandal. Brazil has since charged two former senior Trafigura officials for their alleged involvement in the payment of millions of dollars in bribes for its multibillion-dollar oil trade with the country.

Although Trafigura has said it has a zero tolerance policy to bribery and corruption, it has never fully explained who it was doing business with and why in Brazil. The buck stops with Weir, as head of the commodities behemoth, to live up to the company’s transparency pledges and address concerns over Trafigura’s apparently shady intermediaries.

5. David Bernhardt, former oil lobbyist and nominee for US Interior Department Secretary.

Having spent much of his career lobbying on behalf of fossil fuel interests in Washington, President Trump gave Bernhardt the chance to advance the interests of his former clients from within the US government. During the recent US government shutdown, Bernhardt made sure that the oil permitting bureau stayed open even as national parks were closed.

Even in Donald Trump’s cabinet, past and present, of wealthy executives and lobbyists (EPA Director Andrew Wheeler, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, and – of course – previous State Department head Rex Tillerson), Bernhardt stands out. He has so many conflicts of interest that he has to carry a card listing them all. That infamous card hasn’t stopped Bernhardt getting in trouble with members of Congress and watchdogs who have called for ethics investigations by the Inspector General.

Bernhardt is also the subject of our report published last week, noting he had been registered as a lobbyist on behalf of a company controlled by Soviet-born oligarch, Leonard Blavatnik. Bernhardt’s lobbying records were mysteriously changed one week after Blavatnik’s company reported a $1 million payment to Trump’s inauguration – a payment that was reportedly the subject of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

6.  HSBC, one of the largest banks and finance agencies in the world

Just last year, HSBC were accused of hypocrisy after claiming to care about climate change, while announcing a new coal policy that allows them to continue coal financing in Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh until 2023.

We know coal power makes poverty worse in developing countries, and Harvard University research shows that 70,000 people will die in South East Asia each year from air pollution by 2030 if coal plant expansion plans go ahead.


These are just some of the Fossil Fools we're campaigning on, to bring about a more just and sustainable future. Tell us what you think about the line-up on twitter: @global_witness

You might also like