REVEALED: Big Oil owes $8 trillion in climate damages
Silhouette of oil refinery factory during sunset

REVEALED: Big Oil owes $8 trillion in climate damages

By: Daniel Willis
Date: 9 November 2022
Campaigns: Climate

As loss and damage is keenly discussed at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, today we have published research showing that the Big 5 oil companies owe the global south over $8 trillion for climate damage.

We examined the historic greenhouse gas emissions of the Big 5 oil companies – Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Shell and TotalEnergies – the same five companies which have reported over $170 billion in profits in the last 12 months.

These companies are also responsible for 11% of historic emissions. If we apply that share to the estimated costs of climate chaos to the global south, that means they could be responsible for an $8 trillion climate bill that is instead being footed by the global south.

Britain’s BP and Shell are each responsible for roughly $1.5 trillion, US-based Chevron and ExxonMobil over $2 trillion each, and France’s TotalEnergies another $600 billion.

Undeniably, these are large numbers. But they indicate the scale of the responsibility the companies have for the devastating costs of the climate crisis in the global south. And it is essential that we make these big polluters pay for the damage they have caused.

Signs of progress

There have been some signs of positive progress at COP27 so far.

Following the example of Scotland and Denmark, Austria and New Zealand have committed finance to loss and damage during the talks. And the Scottish government, building on its £2 million commitment last year, is providing another £5 million for loss and damage this year.

While not all of this is new money, and the scale is still far less than what is needed, they are important symbolic contributions that will help to build support for an agreement on a loss and damage finance facility.

The reaction from parts of the British press has been predictably outraged at the mention of climate reparations, denying that the UK could have any historic responsibility for climate chaos – despite the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ being long-established in the UN climate talks – and scaremongering about who will have to pick up the cost.

Our task is to stress both that countries like Britain are responsible, and that governments need to make polluters pay. As the prime minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, said on Monday:

“How do these companies make billions in profits in the last three months and not expect to contribute at least 10 cents in every dollar of profit to a loss and damage fund? This is what our people expect.”

The battle at COP27

The key thing we are looking out for this week is for countries to agree to set up a loss and damage compensation fund, to be managed by the UN. There is still a long way to go, but with the Chinese delegation now indicating that they might be willing to contribute to loss and damage, there is hope.

If such a fund is agreed, we will have a fight on our hands to push the government here to make a big contribution to it, based on the UK’s share of historic emissions, and to raise that money through taxation on fossil fuel firms.

It will be a difficult battle but, as our latest research shows, the responsibility of these companies for climate chaos in the global south is undeniable.

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Photo: Kittisak Chysree/Shutterstock