ExxonMobil's Dirty Century

LONDON - Just one oil company has thrown three times as much carbon dioxide into the air as the current annual emissions from fossil fuels, a new study by Friends of the Earth claims.

The study by the leading global environment watchdog says ExxonMobil has produced 20.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions in its 120 years of existence. This it says is about three times the annual global emissions now and 13 times the annual emissions from the United States.

The Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) report says that the oil giant and its predecessors since the foundation of the Standard Oil Trust in 1882 have caused between 4.7 and 5.3 percent of all man-made carbon dioxide emissions across the globe.

ExxonMobil has strongly denied the charge made in the report. The company trades as Esso, Mobil, Imperial Oil, Tonen General and Exxon in different countries.

The report 'Exxon's Climate Footprint' is based on two studies commissioned by FoEI. The group says the studies were carried out by independent experts in the United States and New Zealand.

"The research involved adding up data on fuel used and sold, calculating the emissions generated and feeding the results into an internationally recognized computer model," FoEI said in a statement Thursday.

"The research, based on data Exxon published in its annual reports, and on other sources, also shows the impact Exxon-related emissions have had on global temperatures and the rise in sea level."

FoEI says this is the first time a company's contribution to global climate change has ever been calculated "and could prove vital in paving the way for compensation claims against companies by victims of global warming caused by man-made pollution."

The FoEI report shows that about 70 percent of the company's emissions have come after 1967 "when scientists produced the first reasonably solid evidence that global warming could really happen."

Climate change as a result of global warming produced largely by carbon dioxide emissions means that hundreds of millions of people could lose their livelihoods because of changing rainfall patterns and severe storms, the report says.

A million species face extinction as a result of global warming, FoEI says, citing scientists.

The report says that United Nations scientists had warned in 1996 that man-made pollution was having a discernible effect on the global climate. "Seven out of the ten worst years for ExxonMobil's emissions have occurred since this warning," the report says.

This is the "best estimate so far of ExxonMobil's contribution to climate change," says Peter Roderick, director of the FoEI climate justice program." 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."

The report points out that 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 more than 9 trillion dollars 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.

Challenging the report, a spokeswoman for ExxonMobil told IPS that "it seems to us that Friends of the Earth is suggesting that it is illegal to be in the business of supplying energy for the world's needs."

She said the company needs to examine the "basis, methodology and therefore the accuracy of the data" but said that in the past the environment group's reports about the company have been "high on sensation and low on substance."

The statement that ExxonMobil is not taking a constructive approach to the issue of climate change is "completely unfounded," she said. The company has taken to conserving energy in refineries and chemical plants, resulting in 37 percent more efficiency than 25 years ago, she said. "This equates to a decrease in carbon emissions of over 200 million metric tons."

The company is also "researching new energy systems with much lower carbon emissions and increased fuel efficiency," she said. The company is the "world's leader" in expanding the use of natural gas which is "an attractive way to meet the world's growing demand for energy while emitting less carbon than other fossil fuels." The company claims to be investing "significant amounts in research of climate issues."

The spokeswoman said it is "ridiculous" to suggest that ExxonMobil's approach to climate change could affect shareholder value.

FoEI vice-chair Tony Juniper told IPS that ExxonMobil is indeed doing a lot on climate change "but it is doing so by funding lobbyists who are pushing the Bush administration against signing the Kyoto Protocol to limit emissions."

Most of the scientific studies being promoted by ExxonMobil "are not giving the correct picture" on climate change, he said, "and so the company is active at many levels in many ways."

Juniper said it is important that shareholders are given the correct picture now. "If the company is held responsible by courts over emissions, it is bound to have consequences for share value."

ExxonMobil was meanwhile ordered to pay nearly seven billion dollars Wednesday to thousands of Alaskans affected by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. A district court judge ordered the company to pay 4.5 billion dollars in punitive damages and around 2.25 billion dollars in interest.

The judge ordered distribution of the money among the 32,000 Alaskans affected by the 37,000-ton spillage in the Prince William Sound area. Exxon Mobil says it will appeal against the ruling.

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