Ecuador: The Waorani community and our organisations sue PetroOriental for its contribution to climate change

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The indigenous Waorani community of Miwaguno, FIDH, its Ecuadorian member organisation, Acción Ecológica, and the Union of People Affected by Texaco (UDAPT) have launched the first climate litigation against a company in Ecuador, targeting the Chinese oil company PetroOriental.

The facts

On top of housing a unique ecosystem, the Ecuadorian Amazon is home to indigenous peoples whose way of life has developed in harmony with nature. These peoples have established rights, relating particularly to territory and the maintenance of their traditional ways of life. But for several decades the Ecuadorian government has allowed oil companies to set up drilling operations in the Amazon. Since 1987, a concessions has been granted for Block 14, currently operated by PetroOriental S.A., a subsidiary of the Chinese transnational corporations China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and China Petrochemical Corporation (SINOPEC).

Oil consumption is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, as is oil extraction, which also releases greenhouse gases (GHGs). Although gas capture and recycling technologies are widely available, PetroOriental has opted instead to burn the gas off using flares located near the oil wells or to release it directly into the atmosphere in a process known as venting. The systematic, continuous – but avoidable – emission of GHGs is clearly contributing directly to climate change, whose effects are being felt globally. GHGs also irreversibly alter the ecological balance and damage the health and way of life of indigenous peoples. Furthermore, these peoples are particularly vulnerable to climate change, as their survival depends on their detailed knowledge of their environment, ensuring that their use of resources is in harmony with what nature has to offer. Disrupting the natural cycles undermines indigenous knowledge and makes traditional ways of survival impossible.

Legal action

We have filed a constitutional complaint, an instrument designed to provide emergency protection in the event that constitutional rights are violated. The lawsuit instigated by our organisations condemns the impact of gas flaring and venting that contribute to climate change, which in turn threatens the ecological balance and the rights of affected populations. Upsetting the balance of the ecosystems underpinning the livelihoods of these peoples is a violation of the rights of nature (as protected by the Ecuadorian constitution) and threatens the rights to food, health, to a safe environment and the right to live with dignity. This lawsuit is the first ever to be filed against a company in the name of climate change in Ecuador.

Our demands

The complaint calls for the gas flares to be shut down and for an end to gas burning and venting. The complainants call on the companies concerned to assume their share of responsibility for the damage caused by the local impact of the global phenomenon of climate change and to compensate for this. Protecting the cycles of nature and preventing and reducing the effects of climate change are essential if the constitutional rights of the communities affected are to be guaranteed and future violations in similar circumstances prevented.

Timetable and next steps

The lawsuit was filed on 10 December 2020 and was the subject of an unfavourable summary ruling on 20 April 2021. The judge considered that the evidence put forward was insufficient to demonstrate that the rights of nature and of the indigenous peoples had been infringed. The community has been threatened with reprisals and subjected to attempts by the company to sow division, making the situation particularly sensitive. We are in the process of assessing how to follow up on the lawsuit.

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