Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have pledged to crack down on fossil fuel companies in light of the Guardian’s investigation revealing that the world’s leading fossil fuel giants are linked to more than a third of carbon emissions in the modern era.
Bernie Sanders, leading contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, and the UK Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said they would take measures to rein in big oil corporations to protect the public and prevent the worst impacts of climate breakdown.
The Guardian has collaborated with leading scientists and NGOs to expose, with exclusive data, investigations and analysis, the fossil fuel companies that are perpetuating the climate crisis – some of which have accelerated their extraction of coal, oil and gas even as the devastating impact on the planet and humanity was becoming clear.
The investigation has involved more than 20 Guardian journalists working across the world for the past six months.
The project focuses on what the companies have extracted from the ground, and the subsequent emissions they are responsible for, since 1965. The analysis, undertaken by Richard Heede at the Climate Accountability Institute, calculates how much carbon is emitted throughout the supply chain, from extraction to use by consumers. Heede said: "The fact that consumers combust the fuels to carbon dioxide, water, heat and pollutants does not absolve the fossil fuel companies from responsibility for knowingly perpetuating the carbon era and accelerating the climate crisis toward the existential threat it has now become."
One aim of the project is to move the focus of debate from individual responsibilities to power structures – so our reporters also examined the financial and lobbying structures that let fossil fuel firms keep growing, and discovered which elected politicians were voting for change.
Another aim of the project is to press governments and corporations to close the gap between ambitious long-term promises and lacklustre short-term action. The UN says the coming decade is crucial if the world is to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of global heating. Reining in our dependence on fossil fuels and dramatically accelerating the transition to renewable energy has never been more urgent.
Sanders said the fossil fuel industry knew “climate change was real” but instead of acting it had “built phoney thinktanks, put stooges on TV and lied over and over to the American people about the facts”.
He added: “What do you do with the executives who destroyed the planet to fill their own pockets? When I’m president, you better believe we’re going to bring criminal charges against them.”
Corbyn, who on Wednesday visited a new windfarm to highlight Labour’s plans to transform the economy away from fossil fuels, said: “Billions of people are suffering the worst effects of climate change because of a few companies which are profiting from selling fossil fuels.”
And he underlined the party’s determination to take on the companies – and their financial backers – who are driving the climate crisis.
“Labour will delist companies that fail to meet environmental criteria from the [London Stock Exchange], and reform the finance sector to make it part of the solution to climate change instead of lending to companies that are part of the problem.”
The Green party in the UK praised the Guardian’s “incredibly important journalistic work” and said: “It’s time for governments and businesses to divest from these corporations. We must stop funding climate chaos.”
Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP for Brighton Pavilion, also welcomed the Guardian’s investigation.
Congratulations @guardian for speaking the truth.— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) October 10, 2019
🧪 have known the science for decades
🔥 profited from causing the climate emergency
💰 spent millions lobbying against climate inaction
Remember this when they tell you they're part of the solution https://t.co/5QUDDNK2gp
The Conservative government in the UK did not respond to request for comment.
Environmental campaign groups and lawyers also called for action after the polluters investigation.
Charlie Kronick, a senior climate campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “As our planet has been speeding towards climate catastrophe it’s been big oil with their foot on the pedal. Oil companies have known for decades the harm they are doing.
“Yet the oil industry has not only ploughed on as usual but has actively sought to undermine the very changes we need to secure a sustainable world, while continuing to spend billions looking for oil and gas we cannot afford to burn. As we seek to build that sustainable world there are only two real options for these companies: switch to 100% renewables or shut up shop.”
Thousands of people have taken to the streets of London this week as part of the Extinction Rebellion’s civil disobedience to demand urgent political action on the ecological emergency.
On Thursday, as activists occupied London City airport in the capital, the group said the actions of the fossil fuel industry, revealed by the Guardian’s investigation, underlined the need for them to be on the streets.
The corporations that are stealing our futures know what they are doing. They are being aided and abetted by our governments. This is why we are in the streets. We need #EverybodyNow:https://t.co/TTeW7PdVrS#InternationalRebellion#RebelForLifehttps://t.co/JZBy4SC9NM— Extinction Rebellion ⌛️ (@ExtinctionR) October 10, 2019
Peter Barnett, a lawyer at ClientEarth, an international NGO that seeks to protect the environment through legal action, said: “Carbon majors are facing an ever-growing number of lawsuits seeking to hold them accountable for the climate crisis. But litigation risk is not limited to past emissions.
“Companies’ ongoing investment in fossil fuel assets, set to become stranded in the clean energy transition, will expose both companies and their directors to potential liability.”
He added: “We expect to see much greater shareholder scrutiny, and litigation, over large-scale investment in fossil fuel assets that will not be profitable in a net-zero world.”
On Wednesday, the Guardian revealed 20 fossil fuel companies whose relentless exploitation of the world’s oil, gas and coal reserves can be directly linked to more than one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the modern era.
New data, from world-renowned researchers, details how a cohort of state-owned and multinational firms are driving the climate emergency that threatens the future of humanity, and are continuing to expand their operations despite being aware of the industry’s devastating impact on the planet.