Topic: International Justice
Region: Middle East
Team International Justice Researcher,
Global Human Rights Defence.
On August 25, 2023, the UN Experts comprising of working group on the issue of Human rights and Transnational Corporations and other business enterprises; along with Special Rapporteur sent a letter of concern to Saudi oil giant Aramco, for failing its legal responsibility to reduce carbon emission, and causing largest ever climate related breach of human right by a business.
This came in the background of ClientEarth bringing a legal complaint to the UN experts against Saudi Aramco, for contributing to greenhouse gas emission, and failing to prevent and address climate harms in compliance with the Paris agreement.
Saudi Aramco’s legal obligation to reduce greenhouse emissions and redress climate-related human rights abuses
Aramco is a single largest corporate emitter of greenhouse gasses contributing to extreme climate change and threatening vulnerable populations of the world.  The overwhelming evidence points out that fossil fuel companies are disproportionately responsible for climate change, and among that, Aramco alone has contributed 4 percent of all historic carbon emissions since 1965.  Presently, Saudi Aramco has no plan to decline its production, nor does it have any plan to permanently shift their production to alternative energy, regardless of its impact on climate change. 
The legal responsibility of Aramco’s greenhouse gas emission squarely falls into two categories, (1) Aramco’s responsibility under UN’s Guiding Principle on Business and Human Rights, and 2) Saudi Arabia’s international legal responsibility to ensure the right to safe and clean environment under International human rights law.
Firstly, UN Guiding Principle 12 mandates the corporations to respect human rights guaranteed in International human rights law. Along with that Guiding principle 13 requires that companies take measures to avoid or contribute to adverse human rights impacts, and also adopt decisions to prevent or mitigate the harms of human rights abuses.  Insofar, Aramco’s acts constitute a direct breach of UN guiding principle. There is overwhelming evidence indicating that Saudi Aramco is responsible for climate change, and continues to discharge greenhouse gas emissions. Saudi Aramco’s failure to take any actions to reduce the greenhouse gas emission by cutting fossil fuel production violates not only UN guiding principles, but also Saudi Arabia’s commitment under the Paris Agreement.
Secondly, the Saudi Arabian government owns 98.5 percent of Aramco’s shares, and squarely holds responsible for wrongful acts committed by the company. Though Saudi Arabia is not a ratifying member of ICCPR or ICESCR, nevertheless, Saudi Arabia has ratified the Paris Agreement. More importantly, the right to a clean and safe environment has been recognized by both the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and Human Rights Committee.  Therefore, Saudi Arabia has both legal and moral obligation to undertake measures to prevent and mitigate climate change harms and its related human rights abuses.
Financial Investors Failure to Respect Human Rights
Apart from the responsibility of the Saudi Government, there are a number of financial investors that have invested in Saudi Aramco. The financial institutions such as JP Morgan, Citi, HSBC, SMBC, Crédit Agricole, Morgan Stanley, BNP Paribas, Goldman Sachs, Mizuho and Société Générale and EIG Global Energy Partners, had heavily invested and collaborated with Saudi Aramco. Some of the companies, particularly JP Morgan had previously issued commitment towards reducing carbon footprint and aligning their business with the goals of Paris Agreement.  Yet, these financial institutions continuing investment and collaboration with Saudi Aramco breaches UN Guiding principle on Business and Human Rights.
The complaint of ClientEarth and subsequent UN expert warning to Saudi Aramco, came in the context of increased attempts by human rights organizations to invoke international human rights law in defining contours of legal responsibility for causing climate change harms. Earlier this year, UNGA requested an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on State’s legal for climate change. Also, in the last month, the Montana Court pronounced a landmark decision striking down a legislation that prevented the state agencies from evaluating greenhouse gas emissions and its effect on climate change, on the ground such legislation violates constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment.
Citations and Sources
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