Exxon Mobil agrees to report on climate change's effect on business model
Oil giant bows to pressure from activists who want companies to acknowledge the changes wrought by government action
The oil giant Exxon Mobil has agreed for the first time to report on how climate change could affect its business model, campaign groups say.
The groups said on Thursday that Exxon had agreed to prepare a public report on “carbon asset risk” – the prospect that the company might be forced to leave some of its oil and gas in the ground as a result of climate regulations.
The campaigners said the move by Exxon was an important step forward in getting companies to recognise that oil, gas and coal holdings could potentially drop in value under climate regulations.
“Who better than Exxon Mobil to start answering the tough questions about the inevitable transition to a low-carbon global economy?” Mindy Lubber, president of the green investor network Ceres, said. “Market forces such as carbon-reducing regulations, weakening demand for oil and coal in many parts of the world and rapid growth of renewables clearly show that energy leaders of tomorrow will be those that address carbon asset risks today.”
Exxon declined to comment on Thursday.
Under the agreement between Exxon and Arjuna Capital, the oil company will report on the risks to its business model posed by stranded assets, how the company is preparing for potential regulations and how it will be affected by climate risks, the campaigners said.
Environmental groups have been lobbying oil companies to acknowledge the risk that their fossil fuel holdings could drop in value as governments adopt climate regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
Exxon’s agreement to look at its carbon risks was the first big victory for the campaigners, and offers them hope of gaining traction on the issue.
The campaign, built on research by the British group Carbon Tracker, aims to put pressure on companies to get out of coal, oil and gas holdings on the grounds that potential regulations could reduce the value of fossil fuel reserves.
BP rejected the call to look at its carbon risks. The company in its latest sustainability report said the campaigners were being simplistic.
“We agree that burning all known reserves would probably cause global temperatures to rise by more than 2C – and that addressing this issue will require the efforts of governments, industry and individuals,” the report said. “However, we believe that the unburnable carbon approach to assessing the impact of potential climate regulation on a company’s value oversimplifies the complexity of the issue and overstates the potential financial impact.”
A report by Carbon Tracker found that oil companies spent about $674bn to find and develop new fossil fuel reserves in 2012 – reserves that can not be developed without risking catastrophic climate change.
“More and more unconventional ‘frontier’ assets are being booked on the balance sheet, such as deep-water and tar sands,” said Natasha Lamb of Arjuna Capital. “ These reserves are not only the most carbon intensive, risky, and expensive to extract, but the most vulnerable to devaluation .”
The United Nations concluded in its blockbuster climate report last September that much of the world’s remaining fossil fuels would have to stay in the ground if there was to be any hope of keeping warming to 2C and avoiding extremes of sea-level rise, heat waves, droughts and other effects of climate change.
The International Energy Agency was even clearer on that threshold, finding: “No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2C goal, unless carbon capture and storage technology is widely deployed.”