Extreme heat, permanent drought, historic flooding, massive crop failures and raging fires. Bigger and more frequent hurricanes. Millions of people fleeing from their uninhabitable countries. The horrors of climate change. And yet, fossil fuel companies have, since 2018, spent $50 billion on major projects that undermine climate targets, further fueling the climate crisis.
The fossil industry is a large driver of the climate crisis, so much so that fossil fuels are included in the definition of climate change - "a change in global or regional climate patterns, in particular, a change apparent from the mid to late 20th century onward attributed largely to the increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels".
Fossil fuels - coal, oil, and gas - produce carbon dioxide when burned. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas; it traps the sun's heat, stopping it from escaping back into space, much like how a greenhouse works. If the heat doesn't escape, it warms up the planet, causing global warming. Carbon dioxide is responsible for 64% of man-made global warming. Its concentration in the atmosphere is currently at 40% higher than it was when industrialisation began.
You would be tempted to think that this is recent information, yet it's not. In 1856, a woman by the name of Eunice Foote became the first person to notice that carbon dioxide and water vapour, gases found in the atmosphere, have the ability to absorb heat. In her paper titled 'Circumstances affecting the heat of the sun's rays', Eunice went ahead to suggest that changing the proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would change its temperature.
Eunice would have presented her paper herself but the American Association for the Advancement of Science did not yet allow women to present papers, so a man had to present her work on her behalf. Sexism aside, in 1856, Eunice traced the root cause of the greenhouse effect.
Research into the area has come a long way, and science has since gotten a greater understanding of climate change and global warming.
And fossil fuel companies have known too.
In 2015, news emerged that Exxon's own research confirmed the role of fossil fuels in global warming in 1982. Not only that, it emerged that the company predicted the catastrophic consequences of climate change and spent millions to promote misinformation.
According to Carbon Tracker, no major oil company is investing to support the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global warming "well below" 2˚C and to "pursue efforts" to limit it to a maximum of 1.5˚C. Highlighted projects not compliant with the Paris Agreement include the $13 billion LNG project in Canada by Shell, the $3.6 billion Gorgon/Jansz project in Australia by Shell, Chevron, and ExxonMobil; the Aspen project in Canada by ExxonMobil, the $1.4 billion Amoca FFD project in Mexico by Eni, and the $1.3 billion Zinia 2 project in Angola by BP, ExxonMobil, Total, and Equinor.
Carbon Tracker states that fossil fuel demand will have to fall to meet international climate targets. The organisation holds that the lowest cost projects will deliver an economic return under these goals.
Interestingly, though major world players keep talking about dealing with the climate crisis, they keep giving breaks to fossil fuel companies. A new study found that the EU has provided billions to the fossil fuel industry even though it plans to limit tax cuts and investments to the industry by 2020. An IMF study showed that global fossil fuel subsidies remain large, with China ($1.4 trillion), United States ($649 billion), Russia ($551 billion), European Union ($289 billion), and India ($209 billion) being the largest subsidizers.
The only way that fossil fuel companies can be “Paris-aligned” is to commit to not sanctioning projects that fall outside the remaining carbon budget constraint. In the context of the energy transition towards a decarbonised economy, these potential fossil fuel developments risk destroying investor value as well as the climate. - CarbonTracker.Org
Header Image Credit: The Independent