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ExxonMobil, the world's biggest oil company, has caused some five per cent of global, man-made, climate changing carbon dioxide emissions over the last 120 years, new research by Friends of the Earth reveals today [1]. The study could prove vital in paving the way for compensation claims against companies by victims of climate change resulting from man-made pollution [2].

This is the first time that the historic contribution of one company to global climate change has been calculated, and has significant implications for ExxonMobil's legal exposure and its shareholders. The company is due to announce its fourth quarter and full year 2003 financial and operating results in the USA later today.

Climate change is widely acknowledged to be the biggest environmental threat faced by the world. Leading scientists warn that a million species face extinction because of global warming, and the UK Government's Chief Scientific Officer, Sir David King, describes climate change as a bigger threat than global terrorism.

Friends of the Earth commissioned two studies of ExxonMobil,- which trades as Esso in the UK. The studies showed the company and its predecessors, caused 4.7 to 5.3 percent of the world's man-made carbon dioxide emissions between 1882 and 2002 - through its operations and the burning of its products. The company's lifetime carbon dioxide emissions have been around 20.3 billion tonnes, about three times current annual global emissions from fossil fuels (and about 13 times annual US emissions).

UN scientists warned in 1996, that man-made pollution was having a discernible influence on the global climate. Seven out of the 10 worst years for ExxonMobil's emissions have occurred since this warning.

Friends of the Earth's director, Tony Juniper, said:

"This global warming report should send shivers through the boardrooms of oil companies across the world. For the first time, the long-term impact of one company on climate change has been identified and assessed. This brings closer the day when the victims of climate change can take legal action against ExxonMobil for the damage its activities have caused and will cause in the future. ExxonMobil and other oil companies should not stick their heads in the sand like the tobacco companies that knew the harmful impacts of their product and ultimately paid the price."

Peter Roderick, lawyer and Director of the Climate Justice Programme [3] said:

"This assessment is the best estimate so far of ExxonMobil's contribution to climate change. It shows how the company's emissions have significantly increased over the years as climate science strengthened. This is essential reading for those current and future victims of climate change who wish to seek compensation from the company."

Institutional shareholders have already expressed concern about business risks associated with climate change. The Carbon Disclosure Project, which represents 87 institutional investors with assets of over $9 trillion under management, has written to the 500 largest quoted companies in the world asking for the disclosure of investment-relevant information concerning their greenhouse gas emissions (

Paul Dickinson, the project coordinator of the Carbon Disclosure Project said:

"There are potential business risks and opportunities related to actions stemming from climate change that have implications for the value of shareholdings in corporations worldwide. Precedents set by asbestos and tobacco litigation could lead to a spate of law suits against significant emitters. Shareholders must continue to improve their understanding of climate change risks."

Friends of the Earth chose ExxonMobil for an assessment because it has repeatedly attempted to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change and actively resisted attempts to limit carbon dioxide emissions through law.

Friends of the Earth is also part of the StopEsso coalition (, which urges motorists to avoid filling up at Esso petrol stations.

Independent experts in the United States and New Zealand carried out the research. It involved adding up data from company annual reports and other sources on fossil fuels used and sold, calculating the emissions generated and feeding the results into an internationally recognized computer model. The research also shows the impact ExxonMobil-related emissions have had on global temperatures and the rise in sea level [4].

Report details:

Friends of the Earth commissioned independent experts to produce the two groundbreaking studies that establish the contribution ExxonMobil has made to climate change since its early days as the Standard Oil Trust in 1882. These are:

  • Heede R. "ExxonMobil Corporation emissions inventory 1882-2002: methods and results, plus associated spreadsheets", Climate Mitigation Services, Snowmass, Colorado. Dec 2003. This study estimated the carbon dioxide and methane emissions from ExxonMobil's operations and the burning of its products.
  • Salinger J. and Bodeker G. "Assessing the effects of CO2, CH4 and N2O emissions on atmospheric concentrations, changes in radiative forcing, changes in global mean surface temperature, and changes in sea level: a case study", National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research Ltd. Dec 2003. This study uses the results of the previous study to run a well-known climate model that calculated the contribution these emissions have made, and will make, to atmospheric concentrations of these gases, to increases in global average surface temperature and to sea-level rise.

The findings of these two studies and their potential implications are summarized in "Exxon's climate footprint: the contribution of ExxonMobil to climate change since 1882," also published by Friends of the Earth today.

The following briefings are also available from Friends of the Earth:

  • the impact of climate change on the UK
  • the impact of climate change on UK regions
  • timeline showing how Exxon's emissions have grown as climate science has become stronger


[1] - or call Friends of the Earth press office to pre-view

[2] Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and affected individuals have been joined by the cities of Boulder, Oakland and Arcata in suing the US export credit agencies for funding fossil fuel projects under the National Environment Policy Act. Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), announced in December 2003 that the ICC is considering filing a claim with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights against the United States for the harm global warming is causing to the Inuit. The claim, if filed, will aver that, by failing to curtail its greenhouse gas emissions, the United States has violated the Inuit's human rights, including their rights to property, culture, and subsistence.

[3] Dozens of organisations and lawyers have joined together to form the international and collaborative Climate Justice Programme (CJP), including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and WWF. It supports enforcement of the law around the world in a campaigning context to combat climate change and associated human rights abuses, in the run-up to the start in 2005 of official negotiations to make further cuts in greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol.

[4] ExxonMobil's estimated contribution to :

  • increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration in 2002 (above pre-industrial levels): 4.8-5.5%
  • total attributable temperature change since 1882:- 3.4-3.7%
  • sea level rise: 2%.
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Published by Friends of the Earth Trust