Lawsuits for Climate Disasters?

Lawsuits against private firms for climate disaster compensation may not be winnable yet, but important groundwork is being laid. In groundbreaking peer-reviewed research, researcher Richard Heede of the Climate Accountability Institute offers the most complete picture to date of which institutions have extracted the fossil fuels that have been the root cause of global warming since the Industrial Revolution. Rather than just attribute emissions to nations, the study aggregates historical emissions according to carbon producing entities themselves. Heede concludes that nearly two-thirds of carbon dioxide emitted since the 1750s can be traced to the 90 largest fossil fuel and cement producers, most of which still operate today.

For example, the top twenty emitters among oil and natural gas liquids companies are:

1. Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia years 1938- 2010 108,050 million barrels 40,133 Mt CO2.
2. Chevron, USA 1912- 2010 98,492 36,583
3. ExxonMobil, USA 1884- 2010 79,658 29,587
4. BP, UK 1913- 2010 69,684 25,883
5. National Iranian 1928- 2010 63,130 23,448
6. Royal Dutch Shell, The Netherlands 1892- 2010 56,962 21,157
7. Pemex, Mexico 1938- 2010 39,797 14,782
8. Petroleos de Venezuela 1960- 2010 34,118 12,673
9. Kuwait Petroleum 1946- 2010 25,095 9,321
10. ConocoPhillips, USA 1924- 2010 24,961 9,271
11. Total, France 1934- 2010 23,683 8,796
12. PetroChina 1988- 2010 22,527 8,367
13. Abu Dhabi National Oil 1962- 2010 20,352 7,559
14. Iraq National Oil 1960- 2010 17,680 6,567
15. Libya National Oil 1961- 2010 15,561 5,780
16. Nigerian National 1959- 2010 15,023 5,580
17. Pertamina, Indonesia 1958- 2010 13,241 4,918
18. Petrobras, Brazil 1960- 2010 12,879 4,784
19. Sonatrach, Algeria 1959- 2010 12,026 4,467
20. Lukoil, Russian Federation 1996- 2010 9,023 3,352

Richard Heede’s 7Nov13) full report is available at Carbon Majors: Methods & Results Report.

This kind of research can lay the groundwater for successful lawsuits for climate disasters, somewhere in the world. As the Chevron Ecuador case has shown, a court judgement anywhere can lead to a search for assets around the world to satisfy it. I wonder how many of these firms deal with climate liability risks on their balance sheets?

    By Dianne Saxe, Ontario Environmental Lawyer

Reprinted with permission from the Environmental Law and Litigation Blog.

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