Climate & Environmental Justice

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A safe, healthy, and just environment serves as a prerequisite for enjoying all human rights, rendering the climate crisis a pervasive threat to the rights of billions of people around the world. Corporations’ contributions to the climate crisis and ongoing environmental harms are exacerbating existing challenges and inequities faced by vulnerable and marginalized communities. As part of a new Climate & Environmental Justice initiative, Investor Advocates for Social Justice is using our voice to engage with portfolio companies on business impacts to the climate and marginalized communities. 

GOALS OF THE CLIMATE & ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE CAMPAIGN

1. Advocate for a just transition to a low-carbon economy, by encouraging companies to:

a. Reduce emissions in line with a  1.5˚C warming scenario.

b. Ensure a just transition for workers & communities.

2. Advocate for robust corporate Human Rights Due Diligence around climate change and environmental justice by encouraging companies to:

a. Identify, assess, and address salient human rights impacts to the most vulnerable communities, including for example environmental justice communities or human rights defenders.

b. Prioritize efforts to prevent and mitigate impacts to the communities most affected by climate change, environmental justice, and resource extraction.

Sector Focus

Chemical Manufacturers

Chemical manufacturers are some of the largest industrial contributors to GHG emissions, and are among the most dangerous to human health.

Conglomerates

Conglomerates are multi-industry companies that are often associated with performance materials used in clothing and technology that are linked to widespread toxic, environmental pollution, disproportionately impacting communities of color in the US.

Utilities

Utilities must play a vital role in ensuring that the rapid transition to a zero-carbon economy integrates justice for communities, workers, and marginalized groups.

Mining/ Extractives

The mining sector is not only a major contributor to the climate crisis through high GHG emissions and fossil fuel extraction, but also often gives rise to serious and widespread human rights abuses and threats to human rights defenders.

Resources

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a report in 2018 on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related to global greenhouse gas emission pathways’ contained in the Paris Agreement. 

The findings point to increased extreme weather events, rising sea levels, severe heat, loss of ecosystems, water scarcity, and crop failure as some of the potential impacts that will be exacerbated at even 2°C of warming. Meeting necessary emissions reductions are possible, but require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” 

In 2019, UN Special Rapporteur David R. Boyd published a report on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The report emphasizes that impacts of the climate crisis hit vulnerable individuals the hardest, and warns that a “climate apartheid,” where the wealthy pay to shield themselves from the worst impacts of climate change while the poor suffer immensely, could be imminent. 

Special Rapporteur Boyd outlines the responsibilities of businesses to adopt human rights policies, conduct human rights due diligence, comply with the UN Guiding Principles as they pertain to climate change, and work to influence other actors to respect human rights. 

The Climate Justice Alliance published a short paper to articulate the shared analysis & principles of Just Transition, recognizing that it will look different in different places. The paper provides history and context, analysis, framework, and strategy, as well as principles to strengthen collective work. 

Delegates to the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in October 1991 drafted and adopted 17 principles of Environmental Justice. Since then, The Principles have served a s a defining document for the growing grassroots movement for environmental justice. 

OUR Historical Climate Work

Investor Advocates for Social Justice has pioneered early investor work engaging companies across sectors on developing strategies to measure, monitor, and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to curtail further negative impacts on the environment and society and to position themselves strategically to thrive in a carbon constrained economy. IASJ has a legacy of leading this climate work since the 1990s, and have more recently joined the Climate Action 100+ investor initiative, a leading campaign to tackle corporate contributions to climate change. 

Focus Companies – ExxonMobil, Chevron, Apache

During the 2017 shareholder season, investors pushed companies in the oil and gas sector for greater disclosure of climate-related risks, in the form of resolutions asking for a 2 degree scenario analysis or business plan. Many IASJ affiliates co-filed the ExxonMobil resolution, led by the NY State Common Retirement Fund and the Church of England, which received majority investor support – 62.10% – at the annual meeting. Investors will continue to engage the company on what a robust 2 degree scenario analysis should include. IASJ also co-filed a resolution at Chevron, led by As You Sow, with a more robust “Low-Carbon Transition” ask, which also received 27% support. IASJ will continue to support engagements with these companies as co-filers and encourage robust understanding of climate risks and disclosure aligned with the transformation called for in the Paris Agreement.

Focus Companies – Ford, General Motors

IASJ led engagements with Ford and General Motors on developing robust electrification strategies in line with the Paris goals as well as aligning public policy positions (on the CAFE Standards and EPA GHG Emissions Midterm Review) to the company’s objectives. These are longstanding dialogues with broad participation from ICCR members. We engaged both companies on public policy as well as their strategies for business model alignment to the 2 degrees warming scenario by monitoring how companies are maintaining commitments to doubling fleet-wide average fuel economy to 54.5 mpg by the 2025 model year.

Focus Company- ExxonMobil 

In 2019, IASJ filed a resolution with ExxonMobil on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7, which calls for universal access to reliable, affordable, sustainable, and modern energy. In light of the IPCC report on 1.5°C, IASJ reinforced the need for more urgent and aggressive action by companies in its shareholder engagement. ExxonMobil has long spoken of the “dual challenge” of increasing energy access while mitigating climate change, at times referencing expansion of energy supplies as a moral imperative. ExxonMobil has profited greatly from exploration and production in countries like Mozambique, Papua New Guinea, Guyana, and Malaysia, without amply contributing to the financial or infrastructure development essential for energy access. The “Sustainable Energy Access” resolution requested that ExxonMobil issue a report on how its business activities to the provision of affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy to alleviate energy poverty in alignment with international climate goals.

Focus Company- General Electric 

For over 40 years, General Electric disposed of at least 1.3 million pounds of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) into the Hudson River. GE plants in Fort Edward and Hudson Falls, NY are also heavily contaminated with PCBs. The Environmental Protection Agency designated 200 miles of the Hudson River as a Superfund site in 1984. The plant sites are New York State Superfund sites. In February 1976, a state Department of Conservation Hearing Officer, in a case against GE, described GE’s actions as “corporate abuse” and found that the record “overwhelmingly” demonstrated that GE violated NY State law by discharging large quantities of PCBs into the Hudson River.

Since the mid-1990s, Investor Advocates for Social Justice has used its shareholder power to pressure GE to clean up the Hudson River. Despite the EPA’s decision calling for the removal of PCBs from the Hudson River, the cleanup only began in the spring of 2009. Our shareholder resolution, calling on the company to report its costs in legal and public relations fees related to delaying the cleanup, received the support of over 25% of GE shareholders in past years.