The Possibility of Prosecuting Corporations for Climate Crimes Before the International Criminal Court: All Roads Lead to the Rome Statute?

Due to rapid developments in climate science, scientists are now able to quantifiably link significant greenhouse gas emissions caused by major oil and gas corporations to specific climate impacts. These scientific advances have been accompanied by the publication of documents and studies suggesting that the oil and gas industry allegedly had knowledge of climate change as early as sixty years ago, and yet it actively worked to promote climate change denial and to delay governmental regulation on this matter. Though climate-related litigation is proceeding against the industry in different jurisdictions, proceedings brought against oil and gas corporations mainly focus on actions at the national level, seeking damages for climate change impacts and on lawsuits brought by state Attorneys General in the United States. There has not been any attempt to hold these companies criminally accountable in the international sphere for the widespread and irreversible global consequences of their alleged conduct.

This article examines whether fossil fuel corporations––or their officials––should be held accountable for their alleged conduct at the international level, and, in particular, whether these corporations (or corporate officials) could be investigated and prosecuted for the crimes listed in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Through this prism, this article aims to evaluate a broader question: whether the Rome Statute is applicable for the prosecution of corporate environmental crimes. In this sense, the article engages with the most recent policy paper by the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor—which set forth, inter alia, the goal of prosecuting Rome Statute crimes that result in the destruction of the environment—and further explores the suitability of such proceedings for corporate actions.