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Big Oil Reality Check

By David Tong, et. al. - Oil Change International, September 2020

As oil and gas companies claim to be part of the solution of the climate crisis, the reality couldn’t be more different. Our new discussion paper analyzes the current climate commitments of eight of the largest integrated oil and fossil gas companies, and reveals that none come close to aligning their actions with the urgent 1.5°C global warming limit as outlined by the Paris Agreement.

This discussion paper measures oil and gas company climate plans against ten minimum criteria, focusing on the ambition, integrity, and ability necessary to implement a just transition and achieve a 1.5°C aligned managed decline of oil and fossil gas. Focusing on the oil majors, BP, Chevron, Eni, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Repsol, Shell, and Total, we find that only one company has committed to cutting oil and gas production over the next decade, and even that pledge (BP’s stated commitment to cut production by 40% by 2030) excludes around a third of the oil and gas it invests in extracting via its major share in oil giant Rosneft. Below is a summary table of these criteria included in the discussion paper.

Read the text (PDF).

Toxic Relationship: How refineries affect climate change and racial and economic injustice

By Jean Tepperman - East Bay Express - July 22, 2020

California should begin gradually reducing output from its oil refineries in order to avoid climate catastrophe and to make the transition to clean energy as equitable as possible. That's the conclusion of a major new report released July 6 by Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), endorsed by more than 40 environmental and social justice organizations.

While most people agree on the need to use less fossil fuel, many fear that requiring refineries to reduce production could lead to higher gasoline prices and a big economic hit for workers and communities that depend on refineries for income. Report-author Greg Karras responded, "If we start now, doing it gradually, it will give us the time to replace refinery-dependent economics." The report calls for cutting production 4 to 7 percent a year, starting in 2021.

California has set targets for cutting carbon emissions between now and 2050: the state's share of global cuts needed to keep temperature increases below catastrophic levels. Because the carbon that causes climate change builds up in the atmosphere, California has a carbon "budget"—the total amount it can emit from now until 2050. According to Decommissioning California Refineries, California will have to refine much less oil per year to avoid blowing through this carbon "budget" by about 2037.

"California is the biggest oil-refining center in Western North America," Karras said. "Oil refined here emits more carbon than all other activities in the state combined." Even if all other sources of carbon are reduced on schedule, Karras said, "we must refine much less oil if we hope to meet the state's carbon limit."

"We have to break free from our toxic relationship with oil before it takes us over a cliff," Karras said. "When you're in a car heading toward a cliff, it matters when you start putting on the brakes."

The sooner we start, the more likely we are to escape the worst impacts of climate change.

The issue is not just climate, said Andres Soto of CBE. He pointed out that refinery pollution is concentrated in communities like Richmond, centers of racial and economic injustice.

"Only 20 percent of Richmond is Euro-American," he said.

And the health consequences of having a refinery as a neighbor are severe.

Rodeo, another Contra Costa refinery town, "is in the 98th percentile for asthma," said resident Maureen Brennan, and it has high rates of skin disease, autoimmune disease and cancer—all linked to refinery-generated pollution.

Retired refinery worker Steve Garey, past president of a United Steelworkers local in Washington state, said starting now to plan for reduced refinery production could actually benefit refinery workers, since "the movement away from fossil fuels and toward renewables is going to accelerate. It's an economic reality. Renewables are cheaper than fossil fuel and getting cheaper all the time."

Recently when the pandemic cut demand for gasoline, Garey said, the Marathon refinery in Martinez shut down, leaving the workers and community stranded.

The current drop in oil use, Karras said, gives us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to turn away from the cliff and build a cleaner and more equitable recovery.

Still Digging: G20 Governments Continue to Finance the Climate Crisis

By Bronwen Tucker and Kate DeAngelis - Oil Change International and Friends of the Earth - May 2020

In 2015, governments around the world committed to hold global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (°C) and to strive to limit warming to 1.5°C by adopting the Paris Agreement. This analysis shows that since the Paris Agreement was made, G20 countries have acted directly counter to it by providing at least USD 77 billion a year in finance for oil, gas, and coal projects through their international public finance institutions. These countries provided more than three times as much support for fossil fuels as for clean energy.

With the health and livelihoods of billions at immediate risk from COVID-19, governments around the world are preparing public spending packages of a magnitude they previously deemed unthinkable. In normal times, development finance institutions (DFIs), export credit agencies (ECAs), and multilateral development banks (MDBs) already had an outsized impact on the overall energy landscape and more capacity than their private sector peers to act on the climate crisis. In the current moment, their potential influence has multiplied, and it is imperative that they change course. The fossil fuel sector was showing long-term signs of systemic decline before COVID-19 and has been quick to seize on this crisis with requests for massive subsidies and bailouts.1 We cannot afford for the wave of public finance that is being prepared for relief and recovery efforts to prop up the fossil fuel industry as it has in the past. Business as usual would exacerbate the next crisis— the climate crisis—that is already on our doorstep.

Read the report (PDF).

Resilient Societies or Fossil Fuel Bailouts?

By staff - Oil Change International - April 22, 2020

The COVID-19 crisis poses a threat to people’s health, their jobs and their lives, and like all crises, exacerbates already existing inequalities. Trillions in public finance will be needed to get through the current pandemic. This briefing outlines why continuing to rely on fossil fuels, in particular oil and gas, is not compatible with long-term recovery. It does not make sense to use the COVID-19 stimulus packages to try to revive a sunsetting industry which will not deliver on economic recovery, only to shut it down a few years later to meet climate goals.

Governments now face a choice: fund a just transition away from fossil fuels that protects workers, communities, and the climate — or continue funding business-as-usual toward climate disaster. Governments should invest in a green recovery that protects and creates long lasting jobs, resilient economies and accelerates climate action. This briefing details why this is the most effective route for recovery and lays out the dos and don’ts for governments in their response to the current crisis.

Key Recommendations (DO’s):

  • Ensure national and international equity and a just transition is at the heart of any government response to the current crisis.
  • Protect workers and communities affected by the crisis, including those in the oil and gas sector, and create long-lasting green jobs by investing in resilient infrastructure and emerging low carbon industries that will continue to create jobs for decades.
  • Ensure Green New Deal frameworks provide the basis for stimulus packages to help rewrite the social contract in a people-centered response to the current crisis. 
  • End fossil fuel subsidies and finance and ensure any carbon price reflects climate and equity imperatives in order to ensure renewables remain competitive and incentivize efficient energy use in light of low oil prices while supporting a just transition.
  • Introduce oil and gas production caps as a first step to limiting emissions. The world is running out of storage capacity and production limits are needed to ensure a managed decline of the industry.
  • Make decision-making processes and response measures transparent in order to allow public scrutiny.
  • Bring the oil and gas industry into public ownership in the right circumstances, as it may be the most straightforward path to ensure a just transition for workers and communities and a managed phase-out.
  • Link any support provided to the industry to a requirement to align with climate goals and plan for a managed decline.
  • Ensure the polluter pays principle is upheld. Broadly speaking, over the past few decades, the financial rewards of the industry have been privatized, while the risks have been socialized.

Key Pitfalls to Avoid (DON’Ts):

  • DON’T bail out oil and gas companies or increase fossil fuel subsidies.
  • DON’T bail out other polluting industries, such as the aviation and shipping industries.
  • DON’T continue the construction or operation of fossil fuel infrastructure at the expense of the health of workers and communities.
  • DON’T roll back existing policies or regulations, or extend licensing agreements.
  • DON’T delay responses to the climate crisis amid the flurry of immediate priorities. If anything, the current pandemic has shown that a crisis demands a timely response to prevent it from escalating further.

While the fossil fuel sector may struggle to return to business as usual, without policies aimed at emerging from the crisis with a cleaner energy system, surviving companies may be in a position to capitalize on rising oil prices as the cycle turns. There are currently no safeguards against a future price spike and subsequent return to the volatile boom-bust cycle. This briefing advises governments to adopt recovery measures that will ensure a just transition off oil and gas, accelerate climate goals and build resilient societies, and center people instead of corporate executives and shareholders — all while tackling today’s parallel health, economic, and climate crises at once.

Read the report (PDF).

Sea Change: Climate Emergency, Jobs and Managing the Phase-Out of UK Oil and Gas Extraction

By Greg Muttitt, Anna Markova, and Matthew Crighton - Oil Change International, Platform, and Friends of the Earth Scotland, May 2019

This new report released by Oil Change International, Platform and Friends of the Earth Scotland shows that a well-managed energy transformation based on Just Transition principles can meet UK climate commitments while protecting livelihoods and economic well-being, provided that the right policies are adopted, and that the affected workers, trade unions and communities are able to effectively guide these policies.

This report examines the future of UK offshore oil and gas extraction in relation to climate change and employment. It finds that:

  • The UK’s 5.7 billion barrels of oil and gas in already-operating oil and gas fields will exceed the UK’s share in relation to Paris climate goals – whereas industry and government aim to extract 20 billion barrels;
  • Recent subsidies for oil and gas extraction will add twice as much carbon to the atmosphere as the phase-out of coal power saves;
  • Given the right policies, job creation in clean energy industries will exceed affected oil and gas jobs more than threefold.

In light of these findings, the UK and Scottish Governments face a choice between two pathways that stay within the Paris climate limits:

  1. Deferred collapse: continue to pursue maximum extraction by subsidising companies and encouraging them to shed workers, until worsening climate impacts force rapid action to cut emissions globally; the UK oil industry collapses, pushing many workers out of work in a short space of time. Or:
  2. Managed transition: stop approving and licensing new oil and gas projects, begin a phase-out of extraction and a Just Transition for workers and communities, negotiated with trade unions and local leaders, and in line with climate change goals, while building quality jobs in a clean energy economy.

The report recommends that the UK and Scottish Governments:

  • Stop issuing licenses and permits for new oil and gas exploration and development, and revoke undeveloped licenses;
  • Rapidly phase out all subsidies for oil and gas extraction, including tax breaks, and redirect them to fund a Just Transition;
  • Enable rapid building of the clean energy industry through fiscal and policy support to at least the extent they have provided to the oil industry, including inward investment in affected regions and communities;
  • Open formal consultations with trade unions to develop and implement a Just Transition strategy for oil-dependent regions and communities.

Read the text (PDF).

Canada, the World Bank and International Confederation of Trade Unions announce a partnership to promote Just Transition in the phase-out of coal-fired electricity

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, December 13, 2017

Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister is back on the  international stage at the One Planet Summit in Paris, which is focusing on climate change financing – notably phasing out  fossil fuel subsidies, and aid to developing countries.  In a press release on December 12,  Canada announced a partnership with the World Bank Group to accelerate the transition from coal-fired electricity to clean sources in developing countries, stating: “This work also includes sharing best practices on how to ensure a just transition for displaced workers and their communities to minimize hardships and help workers and communities benefit from new clean growth opportunities. The transition to a low-carbon economy should be inclusive, progressive and good for business. We will work together with the International Trade Union Confederation in this regard.”   The World Bank Group announcement was briefer : “Canada and the World Bank will work together to accelerate the energy transition in developing countries and, together with the International Trade Union Confederation, will provide analysis to support efforts towards a just transition away from coal.”  The ITUC Just Transition Centre hadn’t posted any announcement as of December 13.

Other Canadian partnerships announced in a general press release: a Canada-France Climate Partnership to promote the implementation of the Paris Agreement through  carbon pricing, coal phase-out, sustainable development and emission reductions in the marine and aviation sectors; Canada was selected as one of five countries for a new partnership with the Breakthrough Energy Coalition led by Bill Gates; and Canada , along with five Canadian provinces, two U.S. states, and Mexico, Costa Rica and Chile, signed on to the Declaration on Carbon Markets in the Americas, to strengthen  international and regional cooperation on carbon pricing.

The World Bank, one of the organizers of the One Planet Summit, made numerous other announcements – including that it will no longer finance upstream oil and gas developments after 2019, and as of 2018, it  will report greenhouse gas emissions from the investment projects it finances in key emissions-producing sectors, such as energy. Such moves may be seen as a response to the demands of the Big Shift Global campaign of Oil Change International, which  released a new briefing called “The Dirty Dozen: How Public Finance Drives the Climate Crisis through Oil, Gas, and Coal Expansion  on the eve of the One Planet Summit.  Over 200 civil society groups also issued an Open Letter   calling on G20 governments and multilateral development banks to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and public finance for fossil fuels as soon as possible, and no later than 2020.  Signatories include Oil Change International, Les Amis de la Terre – Friends of the Earth France, Christian Aid, Greenpeace, Reseau Action Climat – Climate Action Network France, WWF International, BankTrack, Climate Action Network International, Global Witness, 350.org, Germanwatch, Natural Resources Defense Council, CIDSE, and the Asian Peoples Movement on Debt and Development.

In Canada, Environmental Defence is collecting signatures in a campaign to stop fossil fuel subsidies , stating  “ Together, federal and provincial governments hand out $3.3 billion in subsidies every year for oil and gas exploration and development. In 2016, Export Development Canada, a crown corporation, spent an additional $12 billion in public money to finance fossil fuel projects.”

The Sky's Limit: Why Denmark Must Phase Out North Sea Oil and Gas Extraction

By Bronwen Tucker, et. al. - Oil Change International, September 2019

Over the past thirty years, Denmark has positioned itself as a global climate leader through its policies to support wind power, district heating, and energy efficiency, amongst other actions.5Building on this, in June 2019, the newly elected Danish government committed to a new climate target of reducing emissions 70 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, surpassing its previous goal of 40 percent by 2020.

However, Denmark’s plans to expand North Sea oil and fossil gas extraction undermine this record of climate action. This is because the potential carbon emissions from the oil, gas, and coal in the world’s currently operatingfields and mines would already fully exhaust and exceed carbon budgets consistent with the Paris goals. Simply put, we cannot afford to bring new extraction online — in Denmark or anywhere else.

This report applies these stark global carbon budget limits to the outlook for oil and gas production in Denmark. We find that Denmark’s plans to allow new North Sea oil and gas projects in the 2020s and 2030s would undermine its aspirations of climate leadership. The carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning Danish-produced oil and gas would be substantial, overtaking Denmark’s total expected domestic CO2 emissions from energy by mid-2025 (see Figure 1, with details on the domestic reduction curves in Section 1). In other words, if current plans to expand North Sea extraction are left unaddressed, Denmark will either (a) meet its domestic emissions targetsbut export oil and gas with associated emissions that overshadow this domestic progress, or (b) fail to meet its emissions targets and continue to consume more oil and gas domestically than is Paris-aligned.

Source: Oil Change International analysis based on data from Rystad UCube, Danish Energy Agency, and 92 Group.8There is a cumulative 665 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2 associated with Danish oil and gas between 2019 and 2050. Of these potential CO2 emissions, 401 Mt of CO2 would come from new projects yet to be developed that would peak between the mid-2020s and mid-2030s. This means over 60 percent of anticipated emissions related to Denmark’s oil and gas extraction in the coming decades are not yet committed — the projects they are associated with will either require new licenses from the Danish government or final investment decisions (and final government approval) to be developed.

Read the report (PDF).

Banking on Climate Change: Fossil Fuel Finance Report 2020

By Alison Kirsch, et. al. - Rainforest Action Network, et. al., January 2019

Financial companies are increasingly being recognized — by their clients, shareholders, regulators, and the general public — as climate actors, with a responsibility to mitigate their climate impact. For the banks highlighted in this report, the last year has brought a groundswell of activism demanding banks cut their fossil fuel financing, at the same time that increasingly extreme weather events have further underscored the urgency of the climate crisis.

This report maps out case studies where bank financing for fossil fuels has real impact on communities — from a planned coal mine expansion in Poland, to fracking in Argentina, to LNG terminals proposed for South Texas. Short essays throughout highlight additional key topics, such as the need for banks to measure and phase out their climate impact (not just risk) and what Paris alignment means for banks. Traditional Indigenous knowledge is presented as an alternative paradigm for a world increasingly beset with climate chaos. November’s U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, on the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the landmark Paris climate agreement, will be a crucial deadline for banks to align their policies and practices with a 1.5° Celsius world in which human rights are fully respected. The urgency of that task is underlined by this report’s findings that major global banks’ fossil financing has increased each year since Paris, and that even the best future-facing policies leave huge gaps.

Read the report (PDF).

Drilling Towards Disaster: Why US Oil and Gas Expansion is Incompatible With Climate Limits

By Kelly Trout and Lorne Stockman - Oil Change International, et. al., January 2019

World governments, including the United States, committed in 2015 in the Paris Agreement to pursue efforts to limit global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and, at a maximum, to keep warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (°C). This report is part of The Sky’s Limit series by Oil Change International examining why governments must stop the expansion of fossil fuel production and manage its decline – in tandem with addressing fossil fuel consumption – to fulfill this commitment.

The global Sky’s Limit report, released in 2016, found that the world’s existing oil and gas fields and coal mines contain more than enough carbon to push the world beyond the Paris Agreement’s temperature limits. This finding indicates that exploring for and developing new fossil fuel reserves is incompatible with the Paris goals. In fact, some already-operating fields and mines will need to be phased out ahead of schedule.

Since the global Sky’s Limit report in 2016, new scientific evidence has added urgency to this call for a managed decline of fossil fuel production. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that reaching 2°C of warming would significantly increase the odds of severe, potentially irreversible impacts to human and natural systems, compared to limiting warming to 1.5°C. The difference could be the wipeout or resilience of whole communities and ecosystems. The report underscores that a 1.5°C path is possible but will require “rapid and far- reaching” transitions and “deep emissions reductions in all sectors” so that carbon pollution nears zero by 2050.

Unfortunately, existing climate measures aren’t cutting it – literally. Current national policy pledges under the Paris Agreement would put the world on course for 2.4 to 3.8°C of warming, a catastrophic outcome.

This glaring gap in ambition has been driven in part by a systemic policy omission. Over the past three decades, climate policies have primarily focused on addressing emissions where they exit the smokestack or tailpipe. Meanwhile, they have largely left the source of those emissions – the oil, gas, and coal extracted by fossil fuel companies – to the vagaries of the market.

Basic economics tells us that the consumption of any product is shaped by both supply and demand. It follows that reducing supply and demand together, or ‘cutting with both arms of the scissors,’ais the most efficient and effective way to reduce a harmful output. Putting limits on fossil fuel extraction – or ‘keeping it in the ground’ – is a core yet underutilized lever for accelerating climate action.

Curbing the supply of fossil fuels does not mean turning off the taps overnight. Rather, it means stopping new projects that would lock in new pollution for the coming decades. It means managing an orderly and equitable wind-down of existing fossil fuel infrastructure and extraction projects within climate limits. It makes it possible to plan for a just transition for workers and communities.

If the world is to succeed in meeting the Paris goals, this type of comprehensive and clear-eyed approach is urgently needed everywhere, and particularly in the United States – one of the world’s top producers and users of fossil fuels.

Read the report (PDF).

Radical Realism for Climate Justice

By Lili Fuhr and Linda Schneider - P2P Foundation, October 4, 2018

Limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial is feasible, and it is our best hope of achieving environmental and social justice, of containing the impacts of a global crisis that was born out of historical injustice and highly unequal responsibility.

To do so will require a radical shift away from resource-intensive and wasteful production and consumption patterns and a deep transformation towards ecological sustainability and social justice. Demanding this transformation is not ‘naïve’ or ‘politically unfeasible’, it is radically realistic.

This publication is a civil society response to the challenge of limiting global warming to 1.5°C while also paving the way for climate justice. It brings together the knowledge and experience of a range of international groups, networks and organisations the Heinrich Böll Foundation has worked with over the past years, who in their political work, research and practice have developed the radical, social and environmental justice-based agendas political change we need across various sectors.

Download a complete PDF of this collection of documents.

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