In March a Milan court found Shell and Eni, two of the world's biggest polluters, not guilty of international corruption. The trial, which related to the 2011 purchase of an offshore Nigerian oilfield (OPL 245), followed years of campaigning by Global Witness and our global partners HEDA, Re:Common and The Corner House. It took evidence from our numerous reports and investigations.
Global Witness is proud that our years of dogged campaigning and hard-hitting investigations resulted in bringing these two energy giants to an unprecedented trial. Never has a fossil fuel company the size of Shell - whose reach and influence spans every continent - been forced into the dock on corruption charges.
Whilst we are disappointed with this verdict and we will read the judge’s reasoning closely when it is released in June, let’s be absolutely clear; this verdict is neither a vindication for the companies nor the oil and gas industry at large. We all know this sector is plagued by corruption scandals and is overwhelmingly responsible for the climate crisis we’re facing - and we won’t stop campaigning to hold them accountable.
Shell and Eni may wish otherwise but the OPL 245 case is not going away anytime soon. In addition to the possibility of an appeal in Milan, there are a whole raft of related legal cases and investigations still ongoing all over the world, including in Nigeria, the Netherlands and the UK. And allegations of wrongdoing go much further than this case alone - in February, UK courts ruled that two Nigerian communities, who accuse Shell of polluting their area for decades can have their case heard in the British legal system.
OPL 245 is just one case, involving just two companies from an industry whose reach - and offenses against both people and planet - go far beyond this particular story. Were we celebrating a different outcome in this trial it would not be enough. Even if the Nigerian communities who say Shell polluted their homes get to see justice done, it would not be enough. Were one or two fossil fuel companies to drop their fossil fuel business and seriously pursue renewable energy, once again, it would not be enough.
Until the excessive power and influence of the entire fossil fuel industry is ended, it will not be enough. Until fossil fuels are a thing of the past, we will not be satisfied.
Just 20 fossil fuel companies are responsible for more than a third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the modern era. The climate crisis is driven by the fossil fuel industry. Their toxic practices are suffocating our planet and its people - in 2018 one in five deaths globally was attributed to the burning of fossil fuels, underlining that the climate crisis is also a health crisis.
It’s hard to picture an industry responsible for so much suffering yet still operating behind a mask of respectability with influence, power - and often a direct link into those at the very top of Governments - to help shape policy that directly benefits their bottom line.
The political power that the fossil fuel industry buys is so critical to their existence. First they worked hard to convince politicians climate change was a hoax. Although successful for decades, when they lost that argument, they turned their attention to telling the world how vital they are for jobs, deflecting away from the need to create green jobs as part of a sustainable global economy. And now their focus is to talk up grand, but unproven and unviable, technologies to capture carbon or make hydrogen from fossil gas while continuing as business as usual.
Whatever the rationale, the approach is consistent - the industry is clinging on to a model of operating that relies on burning fossil fuels. It is their raison d’etre and they will fight to keep doing the same, even as the world around them burns.
Following the OPL 245 verdict we are disappointed but we are not disheartened. We are resolved, and not resigned. The future we fight for cannot be resolved in the courtroom alone. So much of what we know is wrong is beyond the reach of today’s laws. But we know the path to a greener and more just world lies through ending the political power amassed by an industry that bends the rules, breaks laws and bullies their way into power, for the sole outcome of burning more fossil fuels and making more money. All at the expense of our planet and its inhabitants.