A climate change whistleblower is a person who discloses information about violations of law, gross mismanagement of funds, abuse of authority or other wrongdoing that exacerbates climate change. As with all other whistleblowers, climate change whistleblowers possess information about wrongdoing not generally known by the public and disclose this information (typically to a government official, journalist or employer) for the purpose of rectifying the wrongdoing. In the case of climate change whistleblowers, rectifying the wrongdoing could include reducing threats to the economy and global financial stability posed by climate change risks as well as abating further damage to the environment and public health.
The two industry sectors that contribute the most to climate change are fossil fuels and industrial logging. Burning oil, gas and coal releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, while industrial logging deprives the environment of trees and other plant life that convert carbon dioxide into oxygen.
Those who helped expose the fossil fuel sector’s multi-decade campaign to deceive the public and decision makers about the harmful effects of fossil fuel combustion on the climate are among the most important climate change whistleblowers. However, climate change whistleblowers are not limited to those who expose deception about climate change science.
As the National Whistleblower Center (NWC) found in its July 2020 report, Exposing a Ticking Time Bomb, there is abundant evidence that fossil fuel companies are likely deceiving shareholders and the public about: (1) the impacts of clean energy policy and technological shifts on companies’ profitability, and (2) the impacts of climate on companies’ physical assets. The report finds that widespread failure by fossil fuel companies to disclose potential asset deflation threatens an economy-wide financial implosion.
There is also evidence of a high incidence of illegal activities in the industrial logging industry, which often exceeds logging quotas and harvests timber from protected areas and protected species. The past decade has seen several high-profile cases concerning importing of illegal timber in violation of U.S. laws such as the Lacey Act. Practices such as bribery, improper labelling of timber on customs form, and misleading investors regarding deforestation risks all contribute to rising deforestation, despite the increase in professed company commitments to sustainable practices in recent years.
NWC encourages those with information about improper concealment of climate change-related risks to consider serving as protected whistleblowers under the U.S. Dodd-Frank Act. Climate change whistleblowers may also have rights under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Internal Revenue Code, False Claims Act, or Lacey Act. Securing protection and eligibility for financial rewards under these laws does not require U.S. citizenship, and the laws are often enforced against non-U.S. companies doing business or selling shares in the U.S.
A wide range of corrupt activities in both sectors are encompassed under these strong whistleblower reward laws. Examples of corrupt activity in the fossil fuel sector that contributes to climate change and will likely only be known with the help of whistleblowers:
- Companies intentionally inflating the value of oil and gas reserves, including external auditors assisting with such deception
- Failing to disclose company analyses showing negative impact of carbon prices, pollution regulations or other market disruptions on the company’s bottom line
- Concealing the likely costs of environmental remediation such as well closures
- Falsely certifying compliance with environmental and safety rules such as methane emission limits
- Falsely claiming entitlement to subsidies or tax benefits such as carbon sequestration credits
Examples of corrupt activity in the industrial logging sector that contributes to climate change and will likely only be known with the help of whistleblowers:
- Bribing foreign officials to obtain forest concessions or to avoid local harvest regulations
- Falsely labeling the type or source of timber in customs declarations
- Importing wood through a trans-shipment point to obscure the origins of illegally trafficked timber
- Falsifying statements about the source of timber to shareholders or customers