May 23, 2021 News
Kaieteur News – Convinced that ExxonMobil’s Stabroek Block operations will lead to the emission of tonnes of greenhouse gases in the billions, two Guyanese have filed a landmark case in the Constitutional Court, seeking a declaration that the said operations violate their right to a healthy environment.
The first applicant, Dr. Troy Thomas, is a scientist and a University of Guyana lecturer. The second applicant, Quadad de Freitas, is a young man from the South Rupununi Region of Guyana, an area rich in biodiversity, now threatened by climate change. The legal team for the duo consists of Ms. Melinda Janki and Mr. Ronald Burch-Smith, with support from Richard Lord, QC at Brick Court and Joshua Jackson of Cloisters in the United Kingdom.
According to the court documents seen by Kaieteur News, the two applicants, through their lawyers, are asking that a declaration be made by the court to say that the State’s duties under Article 149J (1), require that it refrains from authorising activities that would contribute significantly to climate change, ocean acidification and/or sea level rise. The applicants are of the firm conviction that based on their research, which was attached to the claim, the court should provide a declaration that the direct emission of 22,030,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases from petroleum operations in the Liza Phase 1 Development Project, proposed direct emission of 34,545,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases from the Liza Phase 2 Development Project, and the proposed direct emission of 35,720,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases from petroleum operations in the Payara Development Project would make the environment more harmful to the health and wellbeing of citizens and future generations by significantly exacerbating and/or contributing to climate change, ocean acidification, and rising sea-levels and as such would amount to a violation of Article 149J(1).
Article 149J(1) imposes upon the State two primary obligations: (a) An obligation to respect the environment, which requires the State to refrain from interfering with or causing damage to the environment; and (b) An obligation to protect or guarantee the health of the environment.
Further to this, the applicants are asking the Constitutional Court to declare that the State’s duty under Article 149J(2) to take reasonable measures to protect the environment for present and future generations requires the State to carry out or obtain independent verification of the types and amounts of greenhouse gases actually emitted by the Liza Phase 1 Development Project, and the greenhouse gases actually emitted by future petroleum development in the Liza Phase 2 Development Project, the Payara Development Project and other subsequent oil and gas projects.
Finally, the applicants are asking for a declaration that any bill or delegated legislation to amend or alter the Environmental Protection Act Cap 20:05 or subsidiary legislation made under such statute, with the aim or effect of allowing activities that make the environment more harmful to human health and wellbeing would be a violation of the State’s duty under Article 149J(1) to protect the environment and would be unconstitutional unless passed in accordance with the procedure for altering the Constitution.
In their claim, the applicants note that the production, transportation, refining and use of fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) emit greenhouse gases at every stage of the product lifecycle. With this in mind, the court documents note that any significant increase in the State’s overall direct or indirect greenhouse gas emissions makes the environment more harmful to the health and wellbeing of citizens and future generations by significantly contributing to climate change, ocean acidification and rising sea levels. The applicants on this premise were keen to remind that Guyana is a signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which has as an objective for the stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Guyana is also a signatory to the Paris Agreement, which aims to restrict the increase in global temperature to no more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
Furthermore, the men cited through their lawyers that the State’s Nationally Determined Contribution of 2015 submitted by the State under the Paris Agreement states that Guyana will pursue a low carbon development path. The applicants noted however that the Stabroek Block operations are in stark contrast to this agenda. Dr. Thomas and Mr. de Freitas contended that Guyana’s combined petroleum reserves – in the Stabroek and other blocks – would in total emit billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases in the future if those resources are extracted and burned for energy.
By enabling the production of petroleum from the ExxonMobil-led projects in the State’s exclusive economic zone, the State is facilitating the emission of substantial quantities of greenhouse gases, thereby significantly exacerbating and/or contributing to climate change, ocean acidification and rising sea levels and making the environment more harmful to health and wellbeing, the applicants stated.
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