The climate responsibilities of industrial carbon producers: starting places

Peter C. Frumhoff Richard Heede, and Naomi Oreskes. Climatic Change, , Volume 132, Issue 2, pp 157–171, The climate responsibilities of industrial carbon producers  First Online: 23 July 2015 DOI: 10.1007/s10584-015-1472-5

Cite this article as: Frumhoff, P.C., Heede, R. & Oreskes, N. Climatic Change (2015) 132: 157. doi:10.1007/s10584-015-1472-5

Responsibility for climate change lies at the heart of societal debate over actions to address it. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change established the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” among nations, suggesting that industrialized nations that had produced the greatest share of historic emissions bore particular responsibility for preventing dangerous interference with the climate system. But climate responsibilities can be attributed in other ways as well. Here, we explore the conceptual territory of responsibility. We consider the distinctive responsibilities of the major investor-owned producers of fossil fuels, assessing the actions these companies took and could have taken to act upon the scientific evidence of climate change. We conclude that major investor-owned fossil energy companies carry significant responsibility for climate change. It is still possible for these companies to effectively contribute to a solution.

Significant progress in reducing emissions and limiting climate change could be achieved if companies

  1. Unequivocally communicate to the public, shareholders, and policymakers the climate risks resulting from continued use of their products, and therefore the need for restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the 2 °C global temperature target;
  2. Firmly reject contrary claims by industry trade associations and lobbying groups; and,
  3. Accelerate their transition to the production of low-carbon energy.

Evidence from history strongly suggests that a heightened societal focus on their climate responsibilities will be needed to hasten such a transition.

The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s10584-015-1472-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users