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The world’s most damaging energy projects

Some of the largest companies in our energy suppliers product guide are involved in the dirtiest and most damaging energy projects around the world.

Below, we run through just a few examples that show how energy companies continue to extract from and exploit poorer nations, exporting profits to shareholders in the rich world.

Environmental damage and human rights abuses are sadly not new, with some of the companies having a long history of unethical practices.

Shell and Nigeria

Shell operates fossil fuel projects globally. The company has been condemned for its impacts on local environments and communities, particularly in Nigeria, where it is responsible for multiple oil spills, ongoing pollution and the displacement and violation of local communities.

Shell has been ordered to pay over $450 million to the Ejama-Ebubu community, for the pollution of their lands and waters, destruction of their livelihoods and multiple diseases resulting from a Shell subsidiary’s oil spill in Ogoniland in 1970. The company is also being sued by four widows of the Ogoni 9 who, in the 1990s, were convicted in a sham trial and hanged in secret by the state after opposing Shell’s actions in Ogoni.

In 2019, the Nigerian government decreed that Shell and several other companies should restart oil exploration in Ogoni – despite failure to clean up earlier spills in the region. Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) says there is a “very real threat of violence from the oil companies and the Nigerian government in an attempt to force their way into Ogoni.”

“Our suffering has not stopped, pollution has increased. The clean-up exercise is not happening, yet Shell is planning to return back to Ogoniland for more oil exploration. We are ready to resist any encroachment by Shell in Ogoniland,” said Lazarus Tamana, president of MOSOP.

Nigerian woman Esther Kiobel
“When you see the government, you see Shell.” Esther Kiobel is one of four widows suing Shell over its role in the unlawful detainment, torture and execution of their husbands by the Nigerian state.

Iberdrola in Brazil

Iberdrola (owner of the Scottish Power brand) is involved in renewable generation projects. Unfortunately, these include several massive hydroelectric projects which, while generating low carbon energy, are also responsible for other environmental damage and the violation of indigenous rights. Neoenergia, a company 51% owned by Iberdrola, is involved in the Belo Monte and Teles Pires dams in Brazil, which have displaced over 40,000 people, including many Indigenous ribeirinhos (river and forest dwellers) and Munduruku, Kayabi and Apiaka peoples.

Brazilian woman Sheyla Juruna campaigning against dam
Sheyla Juruna calls for the halting of three controversial mega-dam projects under construction in the Amazon, Brazil. “For me and my people the Belo Monte dam is a project of death and destruction."

Raimundo Braga Gomes was forced to move to Altamira, Brazil’s most violent city to make way for the Belo Monte dam. He told The Guardian in 2018, “I didn’t need money to live happy. My whole house was nature … I was rich … Now I’m poor. I have to buy everything I need … I used to have a living river, today I have a dead lake – and to get there I have to pay for transportation.” Gomes says that he signed a document after being told that his island would flood. “But I can’t read. I only know how to draw my name.”

In 2019, after years of fighting, 315 ribeirinhos families gained the right to establish a collectively owned Ribeirinho Territory beside the Belo Monte reservoir. Many though are still waiting to be allocated the land promised.

Also in Brazil, the Teles Pires dam has destroyed Munduruku sacred sites, including a burial ground and the Sete Quedas waterfall. Archaeologists removed over 270,000 ‘artefacts’, placing them in a museum to ‘protect’ them. In December, 70 Munduruku occupied the museum and reclaimed 12 funeral urns as well as other property.

Myanmar and EDF

On March 19th 2021, EDF announced that it was suspending development of the Shweli 3 dam project, due to human rights concerns following the military coup in Myanmar. It is therefore no longer involved in the below project. The Shan State Refugee Committee is calling on other energy companies to follow suit.

French energy company EDF has previously been accused of human rights violations in Myanmar.

The company was involved in the Shweli 3 Dam in the Shan State of Myanmar. According to the Burma Campaign UK, the Shan State has been under the control of ethnic armed organisations. Preparations for the dam caused Burmese Army battalions to move into the area, “triggering conflict that forced hundreds to flee their homes.”

“Now the project is moving closer to development and construction, there are fears of more conflict and abuses,” according to the campaign group. “Dozens of grassroots civil society organisations have called for a moratorium on dams and other major developments in ethnic states at the current time because of the link between large scale projects and conflict and human rights violations.”

The Ta’ang Students and Youth Union stated: “The implementation of the Shweli 3 dam will threaten the lives of local people, prolong wars and jeopardise the peace process.” Burma Campaign UK asked consumers to write to EDF calling on them to withdraw from the project and commit to ending its involvement in dams in conflict zones.

Fossil fuel companies sued for climate breakdown

Recent lawsuits against companies in our energy suppliers guide could change the legal landscape for global emitters. Environmental activists in the Netherlands took Shell to court in December, accusing the company of knowingly undermining global climate targets. The case states that Shell has violated Articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to life and the right to family), by failing to take action in line with the Paris Agreement targets.

Led by Friends of the Earth Netherlands, the suit represents “17,379 Dutch co-plaintiffs, around a million global supporters from 70 countries,” and six other Dutch organisations. It will argue that Shell knew of climate change since at least the 1950s and its large-scale consequences since 1986; yet invested in public relations campaigns that misled the public about Shell’s intentions and lobbied against climate action and policies. It will demand that Shell cut emissions by 45% by 2030 from 2019 levels. A verdict is expected 26 May 2021.The company is also being sued for its climate impacts in the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights.

Meanwhile, RWE (15% owner of E.ON) is being sued by Saúl Luciano Lliuya, a Peruvian farmer and mountain guide whose home is threatened by climate breakdown. Saúl lives in Huaraz, which has been threatened by flooding from Lake Palcacocha as water levels rise due to melting glaciers. He is amongst 120,000 local residents, whose livelihoods could be destroyed if the lake floods.

Saúl is suing RWE in the German courts for €17,000, 0.47% of the protective measures he needs – the same percentage as the share of greenhouse gas emissions for which RWE is responsible since the start of industrialisation. If successful, the case could set a legal precedent for those impacted by climate breakdown around the world.