Session 5: Connecting the dots between climate goals and fossil fuel producers
Moderator: Ivetta Gerasimchuk
Panellists: Andrew Grant, Richard Heede, Greg Muttitt, Yonatan Strauch
2 Degrees of separation: Company-level transition risk
Carbon Tracker’s 2017 “2 Degrees of Separation” report laid out a framework for estimating relative transition risk to a universe of major oil & gas producers, looking through the lens of capital expenditure that might in future be committed to high cost projects that would be outside a 2°C pathway for their products – a 2°C “budget” in aggregate.
This report updates the 2017 analysis using new new data and adjusted methodology in response to user feedback. In particular, a higher ambition 1.75°C scenario has also been incorporated, as has the IEA’s central New Policies Scenario as a proxy for industry expectations.
The paper finds that while some companies have substantially all of their potential capex within even a 1.75°C budget, at the other end of the scale others have a majority of their potential capex outside a 1.75°C or 2°C budget. There have also been some material moves in the positioning of certain companies in the interim, for example reflecting corporate activity and industry trends.
Read the paper here.
The Sky’s Limit: How Achieving the Paris Goals Leaves no Room for New Fossil Fuels
There is an emerging understanding that addressing fossil fuel supply is an essential component of climate change mitigation. But by how much do we need to restrict supply? This paper aims to address this question by focusing on the emissions that are committed by existing supply infrastructure.
A number of studies (Unruh 2002, 2006; Erickson et al 2015; Seto et al 2016) have warned of the problem of “lock-in”, where capital intensive investments tend to put a brake on future emissions reductions, during an operating lifetime that can last decades. However, quantifications have tended to focus more on demand-side (primarily power stations) than supply.
This paper builds on and updates the author's 2016 report “The Sky’s Limit”, to examine the potential lock-in by supply-side investment, in a range of scenarios: for example, what happens if coal is phased out more quickly? How does the oil price affect the outcome? It then compares the committed emissions that with carbon budgets associated with the Paris goals.
The paper finds (initial results – TBC) that in any scenario, the committed emissions significantly exceed the 1.5˚C carbon budget, and even in the most optimistic scenarios exhaust the majority of the 2˚C budget. The conclusion is that to avoid further lock-in, governments must stop licensing and permitting new fossil fuel developments, and to “pursue efforts” to keep warming to 1.5˚C must consider which existing extractive operations should be closed early.
An update of operational and product emissions traced to major carbon producers in the context of climate litigation.
The original "Carbon Majors" paper (Heede 2014) traced direct scope 1 operational emissions and scope 3 product-related emissions to the ninety largest fossil fuels and cement producers from 1854 to 2010 totaling 63 percent of global industrial emissions of carbon dioxide since 1751 (914 GtCO2 of 1,450 GtCO2). Global industrial CO2 emissions have risen 10 percent since 2010 (from 33.4 GtCO2 to 36.8 GtCO2, Jackson et al. 2017). This paper updates activity data (production of oil, natural gas, coal, and cement) to 2016 and quantifies emissions of CO2 and methane attributable to the same ninety Carbon Majors entities (accounting for mergers & acquisitions). The Carbon Majors database has identified the major contributors to atmospheric CO2 increase, quantified their contributions, and is the quantitative basis for modeling the CO2 concentration, temperature, and sea level rise (Ekwurzel et al. 2017) attributable to each major carbon producer. The dataset and the attribution modeling provides the quantitative foundation of climate accountability lawsuits in the United States and a Philippine investigation of human rights violations by fossil fuel producers.
Over 1,100 climate-related lawsuits are tracked by Columbia University's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, three-fourths of which have been filed in the United States. Some of the most important cases have been filed in New York and California alleging public nuisance by major fossil fuel producers (five oil and gas majors in cases filed by San Francisco, Oakland, and New York, and twenty-five oil, gas, and coal companies in cases filed by the Cities of Redmond, Santa Cruz, Imperial Beach, and several counties [the complaints also argue product defect and failure to warn]). We update the emissions traced to all of these companies in the context of the ongoing litigation in the U.S., Germany, and the Philippines.
Operationalizing decarbonization paradigms in political and financial spheres: the role of 2°C carbon budgets
This paper analyzes how the notion of 2°C-based carbon budgets developed in two very separate realms—in social movements contesting fossil fuel development and in the energy finance sector—exerting pressure on fossil fuel supplies and helping establish a new paradigm of energy decarbonization. We begin with a brief overview of the emergence of the 2°C limit and carbon budgets as an alternative to the demand-side emissions reductions frame, then describe how the carbon budget frame became a versatile coordination point across both climate activism and the financial sector. Next, we highlight commonalities in how this frame moved from the fringe to the mainstream in both spheres by applying Ansar et al.’s (2013) three-wave taxonomy, from early promoters, to a set of legitimizing backers, to uptake by mainstream actors. We note how lead actors in each realm adopted the frame to underscore the contradiction between a safe climate and fossil fuel interests. Finally, we examine synergies between these disparate areas and conclude by suggesting how the 2°C carbon budget, leveraged through a self-reinforcing process, might contribute to a tipping point towards a climate safer future more aligned with 2°C warming limits. Download a PDF of the full paper