Making a Killing: Who Pays the Real Costs of Big Oil, Coal and Gas?

January 23, 2016

As the death toll rises after the Philippines’ 12th typhoon this year, a new report questions the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies making billions in profits without paying for any of the climate damage their product is causing.dirty hands

“Making a Killing: Who pays the real costs of big oil, coal and gas?” released today in Bonn by the Carbon Levy Project, outlines several cases where developing countries have suffered real loss and damage from climate change impacts. Loss and damage – the worst impacts of climate change that go beyond what people can adapt to – is a crunch issue in the lead up to the Paris climate summit.

“Developed countries object to loss and damage forming part of the core Paris agreement – yet for vulnerable countries it is an existential issue and its inclusion is essential. One reason developed countries object to including Loss and Damage in the Paris Agreement is because they don’t want to pay for it. The Carbon Levy offers a new source of finance – a levy on the extraction of fossil fuels – direct from the entities who caused the problem, and may help to overcome developed country concerns. Our report raises the question: why should big oil, coal and gas continue to make outrageous profits and outsource the true cost of their product upon the poor who are paying with their lives?” – Julie Anne Richards, co-author of the report.

The Carbon Levy Project has analysed three climate-related events that have led to actual loss and damage, and compare those costs with the profits of some of the 90 “Carbon Majors” who are responsible for more than two thirds of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere today.

  • In November 2013, the deadly Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) blasted the Philippines, killing more than 7300 people and forcing four million from their homes. The damage was estimated to be around $10 billion. Chevron’s profits in 2013 were $21.4 billion.
  • In Kenya a four-year drought has decimated crops, At its peak it left 13.3 million people with food shortages and led to a large number of deaths. Government of Kenya estimated losses of $12.1 billion. Over the same period Shell made profits of $90.2 billion.
  • In Papua New Guinea, the Government has started a programme of relocating the 6000 inhabitants of the Carteret Islands to other parts of the country, as the Cartaret Islands are suffering from the effects of sea level rise and increased salinity. While the Carteret Islands needs USD $5.3 million to relocate, ExxonMobil recorded USD $32.5 billion in profits in 2014 alone.

The total cost of loss and damage for the 48 least developed countries is currently estimated to be USD$50 billion annually, while the 13 biggest fossil fuel companies made more than $100 billion in profits last year. The top two fossil fuel companies—Chevron and ExxonMobil—made more than $50 billion between them.

Heede and Oreskes (2015) Potential emissions from proved reserves of fossil fuels, online version. Read Press Release here.  Summary of the analysis:  Much of the concern expressed to date over stranded assets is focused on the investor-owned oil and gas companies, presumably due to the leverage that investors, regulators, and lenders have over the economic and regulatory environment in which these companies operate. These companies represent a substantial risk to the 2°C target not so much because of their proved reserves (most of which will be exhausted by 2030), but because of their ability and expressed intent to continue to explore for new sources of fossil fuels, and to convert existing probable and possible reserves into additional proved reserves. Given this, we suggest that investor and consumer pressure should focus on the question of phasing out exploration for new resources, especially in high-cost environments and of carbon-intensive resources.

Heede, Richard, & Naomi Oreskes (2015) Potential emissions of CO2 and methane from proved reserves of fossil fuels: An alternative analysis, Global Environmental Change, vol. 36, in press, early digital edition Nov. DOI:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2015.10.005.  Read online at:

 News Update August 2015:  The Climate Accountability Institute announces a new paper by Frumhoff, Heede, & Oreskes: The climate responsibilities of industrial carbon producers.

A “powerful, and gutsy” paper —Denis Hayes, Bullitt Foundation

“In my view, staying out of the fray is not taking the ‘high ground’; it is just passing the buck.”
—Steve Schneider Memorial Forum, Boulder, August 2011.

Half of global historic fossil fuel and cement emissions of CO2 since 1988

An analysis of global fossil fuel and cement emissions of CO2 since 1751 that calculates
the proportion emitted since 1988 ‹ when the evidence and risks of
human-caused warming first became widely known (though Exxon and a working group among the fossil fuel majors identified/confirmed in the 1970s the decisive impact of fossil fuels and estimated that the effects would start being felt in the 2000s, a mere 20-30 years from then).

Worksheet on historic CO2 emissions from 1751 to 2014, with half since 1988.

Peter Frumhoff (Union of Concerned Scientists Blog)
“Global Warming Fact: More than Half of All Industrial CO2 Pollution Has
Been Emitted Since 1988”

Press Release on Carbon Majors Update to 2013,
Lima, Peru, 8 December 2014

Summary worksheets and charts below

 Carbon Major Entities Cumulative Emissions to 2013 Ranked (PDF)

Carbon Majors cumulative emissions to 2013 Alphabetized (PDF)

Summary of all Carbon Majors by fuel, compared to global CO2 emissions 1751-2013 (PDF)

Chart of Carbon Majors and Global CO2 emissions 1810-2013

Chart of Carbon Majors and total historic emissions 1751-2013

Chart of Carbon Majors by ownership and total historic emissions 1751-2013

Chart of Top Twenty companies, in percent of global CO2 and methane from 1751 to 2013

Chart of Top Six Carbon Majors, annual attributed emissions 1910 to 2013

Chart of All Carbon Majors by emission sources

Carbon Majors emissions traced to Oil & NGL production (PDF)

Carbon Majors emissions traced to Natural Gas production (PDF)

Carbon Majors emissions traced to Coal production (PDF)

Carbon Majors emissions traced to Cement production (PDF)

Half of all global industrial CO2 emissions since 1751 emitted from 1988 through 2014

Richard Heede, Climate Accountability Institute, [email protected], 970-343-0707. Naomi Oreskes, Professor, History of Science, Harvard University, [email protected], 858-699-8906.