ExxonMobil Plays Key Role in Global Warming,
Says New Report
By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, D.C., -- As a U.S. federal judge in Alaska Wednesday ordered ExxonMobil to pay nearly US$7 billion in damages and interest as compensation for the disastrous 1989 oil spill of the Exxon Valdez, the world's largest grassroots environmental group said the U.S. oil giant should be held liable for many more billions of dollars for its contributions to global warming.
In a new report released shortly after the Alaska ruling, Friends of the Earth (news - web sites) International (FoIE) charged that ExxonMobil's combined operations and production have caused between 4.7 and 5.3 percent of all human-made carbon dioxide emissions, which have been affecting the Earth's climate since the Standard Oil Trust, the company's oldest ancestor, was founded in 1882.
The report, "Exxon's Climate Footprint", found that seven of the top ten years of Exxon-Mobil's emissions and production took place since 1996, the year when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)--an international committee of experts that reviews the scientific research on global warming--found "a discernible human influence on global climate."
This finding echoed earlier studies on the relationship between the emission of carbon dioxide and climate change.
That finding should have promoted a more cautious approach to the production of fossil fuels, such as oil and gas, the report argues, but ExxonMobil's response was both to pour money into lobby groups that have questioned the link between fossil-fuel combustion and global warming and ''to increase its production of fossil fuels to record levels."
"[ExxonMobil] must be held responsible for its behavior, both morally and legally," according to the report, which cited a number of recent studies projecting losses the hundreds of billions of dollars in storm damage, agricultural losses, and other natural disasters associated with the climatic effects of warming.
"We hope this assessment will bring forward the day when the victims of climate change can take legal action against ExxonMobil for the damage its activities have caused and will cause in the future," said Tony Juniper, FoEI's vice president.
ExxonMobil is one of the world's largest energy companies whose subsidiaries and affiliates also include Esso, Mobil, Imperial Oil, Tonen General and Exxon. Producing 4.5 million barrels of oil a day in 2002 alone, the company made more than $11 billion in profits that year. Total 2002 production--2,831 barrels--was equivalent to 209 million tons of carbon released into the atmosphere, nearly twice of Britain's total annual emissions.
The report is based on two studies carried out by independent experts in the United States and New Zealand, commissioned by FoEI. The first estimated the carbon dioxide and methane emissions from ExxonMobil operations and the burning of its products since 1882; the second, based on a widely used computer program, estimated the contribution these emissions have made and will make to the presence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and their contribution to average surface temperatures and sea level rise.
According to the IPPC and other independent scientific panels that have become increasingly persuaded since the 1996 study that fossil fuel combustion contributes directly to global warming, the burning of coal, oil products, natural gas, and gasoline accounts for about 75 percent of all human-made carbon dioxide emissions. The remaining 25 percent is produced by deforestation, cattle raising and the cultivation of rice and other related crops. The United States alone produces about 25 percent of all greenhouse emissions.
ExxonMobil was chosen by FoEI as the first company for a comprehensive assessment because, virtually alone among the world's biggest oil giants, it has tried to undermine the growing scientific consensus about the emissions-warming link and delay effective international action to curb emissions.
The company lobbied hard against the 1997 Kyoto Protocol (news - web sites) to reduce emissions by developed countries, and funded such groups as the Global Climate Coalition, the Cooler Heads Coalition, the American Petroleum Institute, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which question the scientific basis for the link. ExxonMobil has also strongly opposed shareholder actions efforts to urge management to take the issue more seriously and invest more in renewable energy sources.
The two current studies found that ExxonMobil's emissions, both from its own operations and the fossil fuels that it has produced and sold, totaled an estimated 20.3 billion tons of carbon between 1882 and 2002, or roughly five percent of all emissions released globally over that 120-year period.
This amount is equivalent to about three times the amount of carbon dioxide that the entire world emitted from fossil fuel combustion in 2002. If methane is added, total emissions come to about 21.53 billion tons of carbon equivalent.
About two-thirds of the company's total emissions in those years took place after the 1971 "Study of Man's Impact on Climate" international conference in which leading scientists reported a danger of rapid and far-reaching global climate change, according to the report.
Based on the most recent models, the second study found that ExxonMobil's emissions also contributed between 3.4 percent and 3.7 percent of total attributable temperature change (about 0.6 degrees Centigrade) since 1882, and about two percent of the total sea level rise.
Tuvalu, a tiny, low-lying South Pacific nation whose survival is particularly threatened by a significant rise in sea level, has been considering a lawsuit against countries responsible for the greatest greenhouse emissions, but FoEI suggested in the report that individual companies should also be held responsible for the impacts of warming, at least from the time that the scientific community began reaching consensus on the link between fossil fuel emissions and climate change.
"ExxonMobil is sticking its heard in the sand just like tobacco companies that knew the harmful impacts of their product and are now paying the price," said Jon Sohn, a senior policy analyst with the U.S. section of Friends of the Earth. "ExxonMobil's greenhouse gas contribution is staggering, and shareholders can vote for resolutions that force the corporation to act now."
The report called on ExxonMobil to publicly affirm the IPCC's judgment about the link between global warming and greenhouse emissions, halt all funding of organizations that are trying to undermine that consensus; support the Kyoto Protocol and its implementation; and makes its own assessment of its emissions and the its potential liability.