Environmentalists join forces to fight ‘carbon bomb’ fossil fuel projects

Coalition of lawyers, journalists and campaigners challenge climate-busting mega projects exposed in Guardian investigation

A coalition of environmental lawyers, investigative journalists and campaigners has launched a group to challenge the “carbon bomb” fossil fuel projects revealed in a Guardian investigation.

After a meeting in May, more than 70 NGOs and activist groups from around the world have formed a “carbon bomb defusal” network to share expertise and resources in the fight to halt the projects and prevent the catastrophic climate breakdown they would cause.

The Guardian investigation identified 195 carbon bombs, gigantic oil and gas projects that would each result in at least a billion tonnes of CO2 emissions over their lifetimes, in total equivalent to about 18 years of current global CO2 emissions. About 60% of these have started pumping.

The US is the leading source of emissions from these mega projects, with its 22 carbon bombs spanning the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the foothills of the Front Range in Colorado to the Permian Basin. Together they have the potential to emit 140bn tonnes of CO2, almost four times more than the entire world emits each year.

Saudi Arabia is the second biggest potential emitter after the US, with 107bn tonnes, followed by Russia, Qatar, Iraq, Canada, China and Brazil.

The new campaigning network aims to coordinate legal challenges and activist campaigns against these projects and the companies and politicians supporting them.

Organisers plan to create a central hub to formalise the burgeoning movement and urge other groups of activists, journalists and lawyers to sign up.

“It only takes a handful of dedicated people – lawyers, campaigners, activists – to defuse a carbon bomb,” said Kjell Kühne, from the University of Leeds, who led the carbon bomb research. “And we need such a team for each and everyone of these projects. These will be the epic battles of the ‘keep it in the ground’ movement.”

The 350.org environmentalist group is one of those backing the new campaign. Its chief executive, May Boeve, said: “With our local and global partners [we] are campaigning fiercely to keep fossil fuels in the ground and difuse these carbon bombs to make staying at 1.5 possible, and avoid irreversible and catastrophic climate change. We need to take action at the scale of the crisis by stopping all fossil fuel projects and transitioning to 100% renewables for all.”

Several prominent climate justice groups in the global south are also involved in the new network.

Nnimmo Bassey, from OilWatch Africa, said: “We call for global solidarity against the carbon bombers and work together to stop the expansion of fossil fuels extraction, take direct actions and litigate to ensure that polluters are held to account over their ecological misbehaviours.”

Carroll Muffett, the president of the Center for International Environmental Law, also backed the project, warning the oil majors were “racing to open massive new oil and gas frontiers from South America to southern Africa, asking governments and people across the global south to gamble their futures on fossil fuels when it is clear that fossil fuels have no future.”

Alongside those organisations that have signed up, organisers say other groups of environmental lawyers, investigative journalists and philanthropic funders have expressed an interest in the movement.

Mark Hertsgaard, from Covering Climate Now, a network of more than 500 news outlets, said there had been huge interest from journalists after the Guardian investigation.

“[The carbon bombs investigation] ranks as one of the landmark climate investigations in years, not just because it reveals how fossil fuel companies and governments are giving the finger to humanity’s chances of hitting the 1.5C target, but also because its insights and data offer other newsrooms abundant opportunities for further reporting that can hold the companies and governments accountable and … stop as many of these carbon bombs as possible.”

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