Union of Concerned Scientists-led study quantifies impacts of emissions of major fossil fuel producers on global temperature & sea level rise

A Union of Concerned Scientists-led study released in September 2017 analyzes and quantifies the climate change impacts of carbon dioxide and methane emissions traced to specific fossil fuel companies. Based on an analysis of two time periods (1880 - 2010 and 1980 - 2010), the study found that:

  • "Emissions traced to the 90 largest carbon producers contributed to around 57 percent of the observed rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, nearly 50 percent of the rise in global average temperature and around 30 percent of global sea level rise since 1880."
  • "Emissions traced to the 50 investor-owned carbon producers, including large companies such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP, Peabody, ConocoPhillips and Total, contributed around 16 percent of the global average temperature increase from 1880-2010, and around 11 percent of the global sea level rise over this period." 

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited the following principal companies named in the study to respond:

  • BP - response provided below

  • Chevron - declined to respond

  • ConocoPhillips - response provided below

  • ExxonMobil - did not respond

  • Peabody Energy - response provided below

  • Shell - declined to respond

  • Total - response provided below

Get RSS feed of these results

All components of this story

Article
26 September 2017

Climate change causes compensation conundrum

Author: Catherine Early, Chinadialogue

The insurance industry currently estimates costs of US$20-35 billion for Harvey and US$30-40 billion for Irma...[however] this underestimate the real costs... Many people in the developing world are uninsured, so their costs go uncounted... Advances in the science of attribution mean that finance to help victims of extreme weather made worse by climate change could in future come from another source... According to a peer-reviewed paper published in September... nearly 30 per cent of the rise in global sea level between 1880 and 2010 resulted from emissions traced to the 90 largest carbon producers...

A paper published in Nature Geoscience in September, argued that litigation could play a key role in spurring states and businesses to mitigate or adapt to risks associated with greenhouse gas emissions... [Co-author] Sophie Marjanac [explained that]...“Attribution science doesn’t mean that all fossil fuel majors are going to be sued next week.” Instead, she believes that local and central governments, utilities, infrastructure engineers and companies should be... fully integrating [climate science] into decisions in order to avoid court cases that could be brought using attribution science... [However, Marjanac said that]... “legal cases are inevitable because losses will continue to accumulate and the science will continue to get better. I can only hope that companies will mitigate their emissions in time to stop dangerous climate change, and to avoid protracted litigation in the future."

Read the full post here

Article
19 September 2017

Commentary: Big Oil must pay for climate change. Now we can calculate how much

Author: Peter C Frumhoff & Myles Allen, The Guardian

"Big Oil must pay for climate change. Now we can calculate how much." 7 September 2017

Lawsuits filed in July by three coastal California communities against ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and other large fossil fuel companies argue that [fossil fuel] companies, not taxpayers and residents, should bear the cost of damages from rising seas. They draw on extensive evidence that fossil fuel companies, knowing that their products contributed substantially to climate change, engaged for decades in a coordinated campaign to publicly disparage climate science to avoid limits on emissions... Today, we and several colleagues are publishing a peer-reviewed paper in the journal Climatic Change that shows it is possible for scientific evidence to help apportion responsibility for climate damages among fossil fuel producers... Our study for the first time quantifies the amount of sea level rise and increase in global surface temperatures that can be traced to the emissions from specific fossil fuel companies... More than 6% of the rise in global sea level resulted from emissions traced to ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP, the three largest contributors.

Read the full post here

Article
19 September 2017

Commentary: Responsible for what? Carbon producer CO2 contributions and the energy transition

Author: Henry Shue, Climatic Change

"Responsible for what? Carbon producer CO2 contributions and the energy transition." 7 September 2017

Once it became clear no later than the 1960s that continuing CO2 emissions would progressively undermine the climate, the major carbon producers could see that they were marketing harmful products. The simple and merely negative responsibility to "do no harm" required them to reduce that harm rapidly either by modifying the product in order to capture its dangerous emissions or by developing safe substitutes to perform the same function, that is, by developing non-carbon-based forms of energy... Ceasing to contribute to harm includes ending exploration for additional fossil fuels. The half century of failure by corporate carbon producers to reduce the harms caused by their products now gives them additional responsibility to correct the damage done by their decades of neglect of the underlying negative responsibility. If major carbon producers also wish to fulfill the general responsibility to make more than a minimal positive social contribution, their distinctive capacities of political power, wealth, and expertise qualify them for leadership in the transition to an energy regime that would be safe for future generations to rely on.

Read the full post here

Article
19 September 2017

The rise in global atmospheric CO2, surface temperature, and sea level from emissions traced to major carbon producers

Author: B. Ekwurzel, J. Boneham, M.W. Dalton, R. Heede, R.J. Mera, M.R. Allen, P.C. Frumhoff, Climatic Change

Researchers have quantified the contributions of industrialized and developing nations’ historical emissions to global surface temperature rise. Recent findings that nearly two-thirds of total industrial CO2 and CH4 emissions can be traced to 90 major industrial carbon producers have drawn attention to their potential climate responsibilities.. Here we use a simple climate model to quantify the contribution of historical (1880–2010) and recent (1980–2010) emissions traced to these producers to the historical rise in global atmospheric CO2, surface temperature, and sea level... Emissions traced to seven investor-owned and seven majority state-owned carbon producers were consistently among the top 20 largest individual company contributors to each global impact across both time periods. This study lays the groundwork for tracing emissions sourced from industrial carbon producers to specific climate impacts and furthers scientific and policy consideration of their historical responsibilities for climate change.

Read the full post here

Article
19 September 2017

Tracing who’s responsible for temperature increase and sea level rise

Author: Union of Concerned Scientists

A new study [by Union of Concerned Scientists] quantifies the impacts of emissions traced to major fossil fuel producers on our changing climate... As early as 1977, investor-owned fossil fuel companies knew their business was risky—that the use of their products released dangerous amounts of carbon dioxide and methane emissions that could destabilize our climate... [N]ow have the science to determine how much the emissions related to fossil products have contributed to global temperature rise and sea level rise.... A peer-reviewed study...  analyzed and quantified the climate change impacts of carbon dioxide and methane emissions traced to each company for two time-periods: 1880 to 2010 and 1980 to 2010... Emissions traced to 50 investor-owned carbon producers, including BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Peabody, Shell and Total, were responsible for:

  • roughly 16 percent of the global average temperature increase from 1880 to 2010,
  • and around 11 percent of the global sea level rise during the same time frame.

“Companies knowingly violated the most basic moral principle of 'do no harm,' and now they must remedy the harm they caused by paying damages and their proportion of adaptation costs," argues Henry Shue, professor... at the University of Oxford and author of a commentary on the ethical implications of the [study].

Read the full post here

Company response
18 September 2017

BP response

Author: BP

BP’s position on climate change is long-standing and well-known: we believe that meeting the climate challenge will require efforts by all – governments, companies and consumers. BP is playing its part. We are calling for a price on carbon, increasing gas in our upstream portfolio, investing in renewables and low carbon innovation, and pursuing energy efficiency.

We are also collaborating with others to help address this global challenge. As one example, we participate in the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative - currently chaired by our group chief executive Bob Dudley – which brings together 10 oil and gas companies. The initiative’s current focus areas are minimizing methane emissions and accelerating the deployment of carbon capture, use and storage. More detail on our position and how we are playing our part in addressing the global challenge of climate change, can be found in our most recent Sustainability Report.  The Report is available on bp.com.

Download the full document here

Company non-response
18 September 2017

Chevron declined to respond

Company response
18 September 2017

ConocoPhillips response

Author: ConocoPhillips

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the reference to ConocoPhillips in the Union of Concerned Scientists article and the study published in Climatic Change. At ConocoPhillips, we operate responsibly and take climate change issues seriously; managing greenhouse gas emissions in our operations and integrating climate change-related activities and goals into our business planning. We recognize the benefits of efficient use of our products and the role natural gas plays in reducing global emissions.

Download the full document here

Company non-response
18 September 2017

ExxonMobil did not respond

ExxonMobil did not respond in this case. See here an earlier response from ExxonMobil to Union of Concerned Scientists' 2015 report, "The Climate Deception Dossiers," about its actions to address climate change. 

Company response
18 September 2017

Peabody Energy response

Author: Peabody Energy

We question the conclusions of the study around this complex issue and have long advocated technology as the proper approach for addressing society's interest in managing greenhouse gas emissions. Greater use of technology can help meet the world's need for energy security, economic growth and environmental solutions through high-efficiency low emissions coal-fueled power plants today and research and development funding for carbon capture over time. Our position statement on energy and climate can be found on PeabodyEnergy.com and in our Corporate and Social Responsibility Report.

Download the full document here