Holding corporations accountable to the planetary crisis

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The world is in a planetary crisis. The United Nations coins the term planetary crisis as the combination of crises between climate change, biodiversity and pollution. Sara Seck, an associate professor of law at Dalhousie University, spoke about the triple planetary crisis threat and finding potential solutions by looking at corporations and human rights.  

“We have these great green energy solutions but you know solar panels and wind turbines don’t just happen, there’s a lot of mining for minerals that needs to happen to get to a point where you bring those things into existence,” Seck said. “Solar panels have a certain life span so once they’re finished they have to go somewhere and we are yet again in this circle of climate, biodiversity, pollution and waste problem.” 

In the 2022 World Inequality Report, Seck pointed out that the richest 10% contribute 50% of the world’s global emissions while the poorest 10% contribute about 12% in global emissions. She added that oftentimes highly affluent consumers either drive overconsumption by consuming or advertising consumptions norms to others.  

“Stick someone who is environmentally vulnerable to climate change and stick them in the shareholder seat,” Seck said. “Well, they’re gonna care about a whole lot of different stuff than what our autonomous profit-seeking shareholders can care about. If you replace it with a worker, it’s not just the money, paycheck and safe working conditions they care about. They care about families, their communities and ecosystems in which they live or otherwise their children are gonna be poisoned by what’s coming out of their factories.” 

Chiara Macchi, a lecturer of law at Wageningen University, commented that the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals are not enough. SDGs don’t challenge corporations or force them to stay consistent with SDG commitments. She gave an example of water efficiency as an SDG goal but the goal did not describe the different ways water can be used.  

Seck added that SDGs are often focused on letting corporations decide how they will reduce emissions which does not hold the corporations accountable for prioritizing the environment. According to Seck, this is why it is important to protect environmental human rights defenders. However, at the same time, they should not act alone on the problems that were created by the wealthy. 

Seck concluded that researchers and activists should pay attention to the connections beyond the data because people can become too focused on the metrics. To realize the interconnections between human rights, business and climate action is to strive for change.  

“There’s a need for businesses and states to educate consumers and people about sustainable consumption but also in the environmental human rights context, educating them about their rights so that they can actualize that right,” Seck said. “So people vulnerable to environmental harms can make things happen. So they can have information to protest or do all these things to make changes happen and I think this is fantastic.” 

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