Snowmass, CO, United States
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Heede R.,Climate Accountability Institute | Oreskes N.,Climate Accountability Institute | Oreskes N.,Harvard University
Global Environmental Change | Year: 2016

Scientists have argued that no more than 275GtC (IPCC, 2013) of the world's reserves of fossil fuels of 746GtC can be produced in this century if the world is to restrict anthropogenic climate change to ≤2°C. This has raised concerns about the risk of these reserves becoming "stranded assets" and creating a dangerous "carbon bubble" with serious impacts on global financial markets, leading in turn to discussions of appropriate investor and consumer actions. However, previous studies have not always clearly distinguished between reserves and resources, nor differentiated reserves held by investor-owned and state-owned companies with the capital, infrastructure, and capacity to develop them in the short term from those held by nation-states that may or may not have such capacity. This paper analyzes the potential emissions of CO2 and methane from the proved reserves as reported by the world's largest producers of oil, natural gas, and coal. We focus on the seventy companies and eight government-run industries that produced 63% of the world's fossil fuels from 1750 to 2010 (Heede, 2014), and have the technological and financial capacity to develop these reserves. While any reserve analysis is subject to uncertainty, we demonstrate that production of these reported reserves will result in emissions of 440GtC of carbon dioxide, or 160% of the remaining 275GtC carbon budget. Of the 440GtC total, the 42 investor-owned oil, gas, and coal companies hold reserves with potential emissions of 44GtC (16% of the remaining carbon budget, hereafter RCB), whereas the 28 state-owned entities possess reserves of 210GtC (76% of the RCB). This analysis suggests that what may be needed to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference (DAI) with the climate system differs when one considers the state-owned entities vs. the investor-owned entities. For the former, there is a profound risk involved simply in the prospect of their extracting their proved reserves. For the latter, the risk arises not so much from their relatively small proved reserves, but from their on-going exploration and development of new fossil fuel resources. The sentence should read: For preventing DAI overall, effective action must include the state-owned companies, the investor-owned companies, and governments. However, given that the majority of the world's reserves are coal resources owned by governments with little capacity to extract them in the near term, we suggest that the more immediate urgency lies with the private sector, and that investor and consumer pressure should focus on phasing out these companies' on-going exploration programs. © 2015 Z.Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Heede R.,Climate Accountability Institute
Climatic Change | Year: 2014

This paper presents a quantitative analysis of the historic fossil fuel and cement production records of the 50 leading investor-owned, 31 state-owned, and 9 nation-state producers of oil, natural gas, coal, and cement from as early as 1854 to 2010. This analysis traces emissions totaling 914 GtCO2e-63 % of cumulative worldwide emissions of industrial CO2 and methane between 1751 and 2010-to the 90 "carbon major" entities based on the carbon content of marketed hydrocarbon fuels (subtracting for non-energy uses), process CO2 from cement manufacture, CO2 from flaring, venting, and own fuel use, and fugitive or vented methane. Cumulatively, emissions of 315 GtCO2e have been traced to investor-owned entities, 288 GtCO2e to state-owned enterprises, and 312 GtCO2e to nation-states. Of these emissions, half has been emitted since 1986. The carbon major entities possess fossil fuel reserves that will, if produced and emitted, intensify anthropogenic climate change. The purpose of the analysis is to understand the historic emissions as a factual matter, and to invite consideration of their possible relevance to public policy. © 2013 The Author(s).

Frumhoff P.C.,Union of Concerned Scientists | Heede R.,Climate Accountability Institute | Oreskes N.,Climate Accountability Institute | Oreskes N.,Harvard University
Climatic Change | Year: 2015

Responsibility for climate change lies at the heart of societal debate over actions to address it. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change established the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” among nations, suggesting that industrialized nations that had produced the greatest share of historic emissions bore particular responsibility for preventing dangerous interference with the climate system. But climate responsibilities can be attributed in other ways as well. Here, we explore the conceptual territory of responsibility. We consider the distinctive responsibilities of the major investor-owned producers of fossil fuels, assessing the actions these companies took and could have taken to act upon the scientific evidence of climate change. We conclude that major investor-owned fossil energy companies carry significant responsibility for climate change. It is still possible for these companies to effectively contribute to a solution. Significant progress in reducing emissions and limiting climate change could be achieved if companies 1) unequivocally communicate to the public, shareholders, and policymakers the climate risks resulting from continued use of their products, and therefore the need for restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the 2 °C global temperature target; 2) firmly reject contrary claims by industry trade associations and lobbying groups; and, 3) accelerate their transition to the production of low-carbon energy. Evidence from history strongly suggests that a heightened societal focus on their climate responsibilities will be needed to hasten such a transition. © 2015, The Author(s).

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