Aramco Targeted in UN Human Rights Probe Tied to Climate

Saudi Aramco is being investigated by the United Nations for possible human rights violations tied to fossil-fuel induced climate change.

(Bloomberg) — Saudi Aramco is being investigated by the United Nations for possible human rights violations tied to fossil-fuel induced climate change.

The company has been informed by the UN’s human rights and transnational corporates working group that it is looking into allegations that Aramco’s operations “appear to be contrary to the goals, obligations and commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change,” and are “adversely impacting the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change,” according to a letter dated June 26 and published Friday. 

The probe follows a 2021 request to the UN Special Procedures human rights system by the environmental advocacy group ClientEarth to investigate Aramco. The nonprofit is targeting the Saudi oil company because it’s the world’s biggest fossil-fuel producer and “the largest single corporate emitter of greenhouse gas leading to climate change,” according to Fran Warburton, a spokeswoman for ClientEarth. 

“We expect that the UN Special Procedures human rights system will be increasingly used to bring international legal attention to corporate responsibility for climate change and nature in the coming years,” Warburton said. “At ClientEarth, we will continue to consider all legal avenues.”

A spokesperson for Aramco didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.  

The UN said the letter was sent “without prejudging the accuracy of these allegations.” However, it also underlined what it called its “serious concern” regarding the detrimental impacts on human rights “caused by activities such as the exploitation of fossil fuels which contribute to climate change” and which it described as an “existential threat.”

The UN has repeatedly called for countries and companies to accelerate the move toward net zero under verified frameworks that exclude building new fossil fuel supplies. In a November statement that also targeted the financial industry, Secretary-General António Guterres said commitments mustn’t be used as a “toxic cover-up.”

Though the UN itself has no legal authority to force Aramco to change the way it conducts its business, a negative finding by the UN could lay the foundation for other parties to pursue litigation. The number of climate lawsuits rose to 2,341 as of May from 190 a year earlier, according to the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

Similar letters to the one sent to Aramco were distributed to the company’s banks, and to the countries in which they operate, the UN said. Recipients of the letters were given 60 days to respond to the allegations, and to disclose measures taken to avoid “public information campaigns based on inaccurate, misleading and unfounded assertions that harm the ability of States and the public to make informed decisions pertaining to climate change.”

(Bloomberg Philanthropies has provided funding to ClientEarth. Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, is UN Special Envoy for Climate Ambition and Solutions.)

–With assistance from Anthony Di Paola.

(Updates to add Bloomberg disclaimer at end of story.)

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