Whistleblowers: Our Grassroots Climate Taskforce

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Graphic of hands holding up the Earth

Whistleblowers are the most powerful tool for safeguarding a sustainable future for humanity and our planet. Now more than ever, they need our support.

Governments around the world must ensure protections for climate whistleblowers.The Trump administration muzzled whistleblowers like Jeff Alson, Maria Caffrey, Chris Frey, Joel Clement, Betsy Sutherland, and Jacob Carter for speaking out on climate science. We must support whistleblowers who know about wildlife markets trafficking in endangered species, like the one many believe to be the source of COVID-19.

Countless other whistleblowers, many of whom will never be named or publicly recognized, need access to accurate information and globally recognized rights, incentives, and protections. Without these assurances, silence and complacency inevitably reign.

We cannot expect companies and organizations always to do what’s right, even if they know better, without checks and balances. Policies must be in place to safeguard those who call them out and speak up when no one else will. Whistleblowers need to know that raising the alarm to protect our planet’s future will not jeopardize their own.

Deforestation, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, illegal wildlife trade are well-documented symptoms of a flawed system. One in which loopholes and shady avenues exist for environmentally negligent actors to profit from depleting natural resources, polluting ecosystems, and communities, and carrying out other climate crimes that block pathways to a sustainable future.

Many of the world’s political and business leaders have announced ambitious climate-focused goals for the decades ahead: eliminating landfill waste by 2030, transitioning to 100% renewable energy use by 2035, achieving net-zero carbon neutrality by 2050, and so on. But without the actions of empowered and informed whistleblowers, accountability is easy to dodge.

Fortunately, government oversight agencies like the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) make it harder for companies to deceive shareholders, investors, and consumers into inadvertently financing climate crimes. The Commission’s timing is apt, as the Earthday.org official theme this year is “Invest in Our Planet.”

On March 21, the SEC announced proposed rule changes that, if adopted, would require publicly traded companies to disclose specific information to potential investors about their climate-related risks. Any companies that fail to disclose such risks would directly violate securities law. Individuals who blow the whistle on undisclosed climate risks could qualify for rewards and protection through the SEC Whistleblower Program.

Adopting these proposed changes would mark a historic win for the global whistleblower community. And while programs like this are especially relevant and encouraging for climate whistleblowers in the U.S., a long road lies ahead to ensure the same rights and protections for whistleblowers worldwide.

The public is increasingly invested in efforts to protect our planet. Environmental, Social, and Governance funds have continuously grown in market value. This year, money invested in these funds promises to surpass $55 billion. And, estimates of the costs of inaction on climate issues could cost the U.S. economy over $14 trillion by 2070. Failure to act on climate issues will have major impacts on our economy and society. Because of this, investors are taking climate issues into consideration when making investments. The importance of climate risks to investors is why it is so critical that the SEC has set monitoring Climate Risk and ESG reporting as a priority. It is so important that whistleblowers continue to engage with the Commission by reporting when companies have been dishonest.

Before sounding the alarm on any violations, whistleblowers need reassurance – that their identities will remain confidential, that their reports may be rewarded, and that they will be legally protected from any retaliation. Clear guidance about what sorts of climate risks reporting and misrepresentations are concerning to agencies like the SEC will help whistleblowers feel confident about coming forward.

As more whistleblowers realize their protections under federal law and the resources available through various agencies and organizations, the safer they will feel blowing the whistle. And violators banking on whistleblowers to remain silent will need to think twice before perpetrating crimes against humanity and our planet.

Join the National Whistleblower Center to celebrate Earth Day 2022 on April 22 (4 p.m. EDT) to learn more about how to support climate whistleblowers worldwide to expose and prosecute corruption and other wrongdoing. Whistleblowers Protect Planet is a panel discussion on the critical role climate whistleblowers and advocates play in protecting our planet. Expert panelists will discuss NWC’s Climate Corruption Campaign and how fearless climate whistleblowers can change the world by standing up against climate crimes and other violations.

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