Fossil Fuels and the Defence of Rights at Risk

Around the world, environment defenders are calling for an end to fossil fuel extraction. Their concerns, grounded in experience, Indigenous knowledge, and science, have led them to take to the streets, to the boardrooms of big companies, to investors, and to demand their governments end new fossil fuel exploration and expansion. They have paid a heavy price for speaking out for the planet and for people.

Burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas, accounts for more than 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Rapidly phasing out fossil fuel production and use is an urgent task if we are to reduce emissions to a level where we can mitigate the worst impacts of the climate crisis on the enjoyment of human rights.

Fossil fuel extraction, production and its related infrastructure are often associated with human rights abuses and violations, for example through contamination of local water and food supplies and air pollution caused by gas flaring. The burning of fossil fuels for electricity generation is among the main causes of air pollution, which negatively affects the right to health and to life.

A rapid shift away from fossil fuels to renewables such as solar and wind could save as many as 150 million lives over the course of the 21st century by reducing air pollution.

UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment

Despite the urgency of the climate crisis and their commitments under the Paris Climate Accords to phase out fossil fuels, the world’s richest, industrialized countries, including Canada, are condemning millions of people to starvation, drought, and displacement by continuing to support the fossil fuel industry. Fires, floods, heat domes and freezing temperatures – attributed to the climate crisis and changing global weather patterns – have already contributed to the deaths of hundreds of people in Canada and the destruction of homes, communities, critical infrastructure, biodiversity and farmland. The harm is much more severe in other countries that are least responsible for the climate crisis.

Export Development Canada, a crown corporation, uses public money to subsidize and insure fossil fuel projects in Canada and in other countries. This is a mass-scale assault on human rights.

Meanwhile, people who oppose fossil fuel projects put their lives and freedom at risk. In Canada, Wet’suwet’en water defenders are threatened and criminalized for opposing the Coastal Gaslink fracked oil pipeline. In Colombia, amidst a spike in assassinations, environment defenders opposed to fracking pilot projects in the Magdalena Medio region face death threats and have been forced to go into hiding. Indigenous women defenders of the Mujeres Amazónicas collective in Ecuador also face threats and dangerous attacks for denouncing the destructive impacts of oil operations in the Amazonian rainforest. Yet these courageous defenders refuse to back down: they continue to protect water, forests and clean air for all humanity and nature.

Amnesty International is calling on Canada to unconditionally phase out all fossil fuels by 2030 or as soon as feasible and ensure an immediate phaseout of the most polluting fossil fuels and forms of production, including coal, fracking, and tar sands. Canada should also refrain from contributing to the expansion of fossil fuel use in other countries. Export Development Canada and banks, asset managers and insurance companies should stop financing and investing in new projects, activities and industries that drive fossil fuel expansion in Canada and around the world. Amnesty International also calls for action to ensure people who speak up and mobilize peacefully against destructive oil and gas projects can do so without fear of harm or denial of their rights.


Stop Burning Our Rights! What governments and corporations must do to protect humanity from the climate crisis