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ExxonMobil Ignores IPCC Warning, Vows to Burn All Oil Reserves

Yesterday the world’s leading climate scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published their final report in their recent trilogy of warnings about climate change.

The latest authoritative document, produced by 1,250 international scientists and approved by nearly 200 governments, argued that climate change can be avoided if we move fast to decarbonise the global economy, without having to sacrifice living standards energy.

Graphic credit: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

“It does not cost the world to save the planet,” said economist Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, the co-chair of the report.

And the sooner we act the cheaper and better it will be. The report concluded that averting a two degree Celsius increase in temperature would only limit growth by the relatively tiny amount of 0.06 percent. But we have to act now if fighting climate change is to remain affordable. “The report is clear: the more you wait, the more it will cost [and] the more difficult it will become,” argued EU Climate Change Commissioner, Connie Hedegaard.

business-as-usual scenario would lead to a catastrophic temperature rise of 3.7 Celsius to 4.8 Celsius rise in temperature before 2100. A temperature rise of that nature would wreak havoc on the climate and would vehemently alter life as we know it, causing significant sea level rise and extreme weather.

But it is this business-as-usual scenario that Exxon is betting on. Big time.

Two weeks ago, on the same day as the IPCC’s second report on climate change, Exxon published a deeply cynical rebuke in a report to investors. The oil company argued that, because it was “highly unlikely” that governments would address climate change, it was going to carry on drilling for oil and gas regardless.

ExxonMobil’s carbon asset risk report, which was published in response to investor demand, was a brazen, arrogant and deeply flawed vision of the future.

The oil company argued that “we are confident that none of our hydrocarbon reserves are now or will become ‘stranded’.”

This statement blindly flies in the face of the indisputable scientific evidence that a vast majority of fossil fuels will need to stay in the ground, if dangerous, runaway climate change will be avoided.

For the past decade a growing number of institutional investors, scientists and activists have argued that we cannot afford to burn all the fossil fuel reserves, if we want to keep climate change to below two degrees warming.

The respected specialists in this area, Carbon Tracker issued a report last year which concluded that at least two-thirds of fossil fuel reserves would have to remain underground if the world was to meet existing internationally agreed targets to avoid the threshold for “dangerous” climate change.

Exxon’s statement is a two-fingered response to this analysis and the latest IPCC report. Natasha Lamb, director of equity research at Arjuna Capital, a sustainable wealth management group responded by saying that “now investors know that Exxon is not addressing the low carbon scenario and (is) placing investor capital at risk.”

In response to Exxon’s statement Oil Change International issued a press release, Exxon to World: Drop Dead, which sums up the oil company’s attitude.

At the time, Executive Director Steve Kretzmann said: “Of course they don’t believe governments are going to address climate change adequately—they are in fact betting billions on the failure of climate and clean energy policy. And they’re shoring up their bet by buying politicians and spending millions to sow doubt and promote inaction.”

As Steve pointed out, what Exxon is doing is the next part of its long running campaign to delay action on climate change. For decades the oil giant has led the denial campaign against climate change, spending tens of millions in doing so.

So we have cobbled together a quick snapshot of the company’s 25 year “Drop Dead” denial campaign, where the oil company has deliberately obfuscated the debate, exaggerating the scientific uncertainties. Although the company is no longer ignoring or denying climate science, its denial campaign has entered into a new phase.

As Steve Kretzmann said last week: “Now it is denying that the American people and people around the world have the will and the power to change our futures and save our children.”

But this latest excuse for inaction is just part of Exxon’s twenty five years of saying to the world: “Drop Dead”

Late 1980's: Exxon hires a Harvard astrophysicist named Brian Flannery to examine the mathematical models behind global warming. In the late eighties, Flannery and Exxon give grants to several prestigious American universities, starting with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Flannery was blunt with his message for MIT researchers: “Embrace the uncertainty in all of this,” he told them.

1990: As the IPCC prepares their first summary document on climate change, Flannery asks the meeting how could the scientists justify 60-80 percent cuts in carbon dioxide, given all the uncertainties?

1992: Exxon is a prominent member of the Global Climate Coalition (GCC), the most active fossil fuel front group questioning the science of climate change. In 1992 the GCC begins using well-known climate skeptics like Patrick Michaels, Robert Balling and Fred Singer (all partly funded by Exxon) as “experts.”

April 1992: Flannery is quoted by the World Coal Institute in a briefing for climate negotiators: “because model-based projections are controversial, uncertain and without confirmation, scientists are divided in their opinion about the likelihood and consequences of climate change.”

October 1997Lee Raymond devotes 33 paragraphs of a 78 paragraph speech at the 15th World Petroleum Congress in Beijing, arguing that climate change was an “illusion” and that there was no need for cuts in CO2.

He said: “Only four percent of the carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere is due to human activities—96 per cent comes from nature. Leaping to radically cut this tiny silver of the greenhouse pie on the premise that it will affect climate defies common sense and lacks foundation in our current understanding of the climate system … It is highly unlikely that the temperature in the middle of the next century will be affected whether policies are enacted now or 20 years from now.”

He also warns delegates that “it would be tragic indeed if the people of this region were deprived of the opportunity for continued prosperity by misguided restrictions and regulations.”

One Exxon executive, who had access to Raymond, concedes: “They had come to the conclusion that the whole debate around global warming was kind of a hoax. Nobody inside Exxon dared question that.”

June 1997: ExxonMobil takes out an advert in the U.S. press advocating that “Instead of rigid targets and timetables, governments should consider alternatives … encourage voluntary initiatives.”

1997: Lee Raymond makes a speech: “In the debate over global climate change, one of the most critical facts has become one of the most ignored—the undeniable link between economic vitality and energy use.”

“Achieving economic growth remains one of the world’s critical needs, and with good reason. It creates more and better jobs, improves our quality of life and enables us to safeguard the environment. When economies grow, their energy consumption rises. It’s no accident that nations with the highest standard of living have the highest per-capita use of energy, about 85 percent of which comes from fossil fuels.”

1998: Exxon sets up the “Global Climate Science Team.” A memo written that year for GSCT said: “victory will be achieved when average citizens understand (recognize) uncertainties in climate science” and when public “recognition of uncertainty becomes part of ‘convention wisdom’”.

The memo proposes that Exxon and its PR firms “develop and implement a national media relations program to inform the media about the uncertainties in climate science.”

Between 1998 and 2005, Exxon donates $16 million to numerous right-wing and libertarian think tanks to manufacture uncertainty about climate change.

May 31, 2000: Lee Raymond backs a petition signed by anti-IPCC scientists saying that “There is no convincing scientific that any release of carbon dioxide, methane or other greenhouse gases is causing or will in the foreseeable future cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.”

Raymond said: “What I am saying is there is a substantial difference of view in the scientific community as to what exactly is going on … We’re not going to follow what is politically correct”.

He also shows shareholders a chart of temperature data from satellites and stated that “if you just eyeball that, you could make a case statistically that, in fact, the temperature is going down.”

Exxon’s position remains “science is not now able to confirm that fossil fuel use has led to any significant global warming.”

2000: Brian Flannery said: “ExxonMobil is firmly against the Kyoto Protocol … it achieves very little and costs too much.” He also claimed that emissions reductions were unfeasible: “You are going to need to expand the supply to meet the pressing future needs for energy, for things like the modern internet, the ‘e’ economy.”

May 2001: Lee Raymond said: “We see the Kyoto Protocol as unworkable, unfair, ineffective and potentially damaging to other vital economic and national interests. The debate over Kyoto has distracted policymakers for too long. I am encouraged to see more constructive discussions focusing on more realistic approaches … We think the best path forward is through attention to longer-range technological approaches and economically justified voluntary actions, as well as a strong program of climate science.”

Sept. 2001: The IPCC meets in London to reach agreement on its Third Assessment Report on climate change. The IPCC’s draft final report contains the following line: “The Earth’s climate system has demonstrably changed on both global and regional scales since the pre-industrial era, with some of these changes attributable to human activities.”

ExxonMobil suggests an amendment deleting the text: “with some of these changes attributable to human activities.”

2002: ExxonMobil has “become increasingly convinced that the only sensible approach is to take a longer term perspective,” adding that “if warming turns out to be a real problem, will we be willing to shut down the economies of the industrialized world … ?”

March 11, 2002: Lee Raymond, says that the corporation intends to “stay the course” with its skepticism regarding climate change “until someone comes along with new information.”

March 2002: Bob B. Peterson, Chairman and CEO of Imperial Oil (the ExxonMobil subsidiary in Canada) tells the Canadian Press: “Kyoto is an economic entity. It has nothing to do with the environment. It has to do with world trade. This is a wealth-transfer scheme between developed and developing nations. And it’s been couched and clothed in some kind of environmental movement. That’s the dumbest-assed thing I’ve heard in a long time.”

Jan. 2004: Exxon places an advert in the New York Times: “Scientific uncertainties continue to limit our ability to make objective, quantitative determinations regarding the human role in recent climate change or the degree and consequences of future change.”

2005: ExxonMobil said on its website: “While assessments such as those of the IPCC have expressed growing confidence that recent warming can be attributed to increases in greenhouse gases, these conclusions rely on expert judgment rather than objective, reproducible statistical methods. Taken together, gaps in the scientific basis for theoretical climate models and the interplay of significant natural variability make it very difficult to determine objectively the extent to which recent climate changes might be the result of human actions.”

2005-2010ExxonMobil funds one of the world’s leading climate skeptics Dr. Willie Soon in at least four grants totaling $335,000.

2006: The British Royal Society writes to Exxon asking the company to stop funding organizations which feature information “on their websites that misrepresented the science of climate change, by outright denial of the evidence that greenhouse gases are driving climate change, or by overstating the amount and significance of uncertainty in knowledge or by conveying a misleading impression of the potential impacts of anthropogenic climate change”.

Jan. 2007: Exxon states that, on climate change, “We know enough now—or society knows enough now—that the risk is serious and action should be taken”.

Feb. 2007: Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil’s CEO highlights the uncertainties in the science on climate change at a speech at the Cambridge Energy Research Associates’ annual conference in Houston. “While our understanding of the science continues to evolve and improve, there is still much that we do not know and cannot fully recognize in efforts to model and predict future climate behavior,” he said.

2008: Exxon faces a shareholder revolt due to its stance on climate change. One of those calling for change, F&C Asset Management’s director of governance and sustainable investment, Kevin Litvack, said, “Despite top-notch individual directors, the company’s record over the last decade, particularly regarding climate change, demonstrates that debate has been lacking.”

May 2008: Exxon publishes the following statement: “In 2008, we will discontinue contributions to several public policy groups, whose position on climate change could divert attention from the important discussion on how the world will secure energy required for economic growth in a responsible manner”.

2009: Despite promising to end funding climate denial, Exxon gives approximately $1.3 million to climate denial organizations during 2009.

June 2012: In a major speech at the Council On Foreign Relations, ExxonMobil chief executive, Rex Tillerson, argues that fears about climate change are overblown. Although he acknowledged that burning of fossil fuels are causing climate change, he argued that society would be able to adapt. The risks of oil and gas drilling can be mitigated, he told the audience. “We have spent our entire existence adapting. We’ll adapt. It’s an engineering problem and there will be an engineering solution,” he said.

May 2013: At the company AGM, Rex Tillerson tells the audience that an economy that runs on oil is here to stay and cutting carbon emissions would do no good. He asked, “What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?”

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