Guest essay by Eric Worrall
A new study claims that the contribution of big oil companies to hurricane intensity can be calculated with sufficient precision to determine how much fossil fuel companies should pay as compensation for storm damage.
Big Oil must pay for climate change. Now we can calculate how much
It is possible for scientific evidence to help apportion responsibility for climate damages among fossil fuel producers. Our paper shows how.
Peter C Frumhoff and Myles Allen
Friday 8 September 2017 00.00 AEST
As communities in coastal Texas and Louisiana confront the damage wrought by Hurricane Harvey, another hurricane, Irma, fueled by abnormally warm waters, is barreling into the Caribbean and threatening Puerto Rico and Florida.
We know that the costs of both hurricanes will be enormous and that climate change will have made them far larger than they would have been otherwise. How much larger? Careful studies will take time but the evidence that climate change is warming ocean waters, increasing both sea level and the risk of extreme precipitation in these regions is well established.
Today, we and several colleagues are publishing a peer-reviewed paper in the journal Climatic Change that shows it is possible for scientific evidence to help apportion responsibility for climate damages among fossil fuel producers.
Using a simple, well-established climate model, our study for the first time quantifies the amount of sea level rise and increase in global surface temperatures that can be traced to the emissions from specific fossil fuel companies.
Strikingly, nearly 30% of the rise in global sea level between 1880 and 2010 resulted from emissions traced to the 90 largest carbon producers. Emissions traced to the 20 companies named in California communities’ lawsuits contributed 10% of global sea level rise over the same period. More than 6% of the rise in global sea level resulted from emissions traced to ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP, the three largest contributors.
We have the data needed to link the emissions traced to products sold by a fossil fuel company to a specific share of changes in temperature and sea level rise. Determining who should pay what for climate damages is a social and political question. But this kind of scientific work can help inform public and policy debate over the issue and potentially offers an approach that can help juries and judges to monetize damages in cases like the California communities’ lawsuits.
It may take tens to hundreds of billions of dollars to support disaster relief and recovery among Gulf coast communities affected by Hurricane Harvey. ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP have collectively pledged only $2.75m.
As scientists further identify the role that climate change has made to exacerbating this tragedy, courts of law and public opinion should judge whether they are paying their fair share.
Peter C Frumhoff is the Director of Science and Policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Myles R Allen is Professor of Geosystem Science in the School of Geoography and the Environment, University of Oxford
The abstract of the study;
The rise in global atmospheric CO2, surface temperature, and sea level from emissions traced to major carbon producers
B. Ekwurzel, J. Boneham, M. W. Dalton, R. Heede, R. J. Mera, M. R. Allen, P. C. Frumhoff
Researchers have quantified the contributions of industrialized and developing nations’ historical emissions to global surface temperature rise. Recent findings that nearly two-thirds of total industrial CO2 and CH4 emissions can be traced to 90 major industrial carbon producers have drawn attention to their potential climate responsibilities. Here, we use a simple climate model to quantify the contribution of historical (1880–2010) and recent (1980–2010) emissions traced to these producers to the historical rise in global atmospheric CO2, surface temperature, and sea level. Emissions traced to these 90 carbon producers contributed ∼57% of the observed rise in atmospheric CO2, ∼42–50% of the rise in global mean surface temperature (GMST), and ∼26–32% of global sea level (GSL) rise over the historical period and ∼43% (atmospheric CO2), ∼29–35% (GMST), and ∼11–14% (GSL) since 1980 (based on best-estimate parameters and accounting for uncertainty arising from the lack of data on aerosol forcings traced to producers). Emissions traced to seven investor-owned and seven majority state-owned carbon producers were consistently among the top 20 largest individual company contributors to each global impact across both time periods. This study lays the groundwork for tracing emissions sourced from industrial carbon producers to specific climate impacts and furthers scientific and policy consideration of their historical responsibilities for climate change.
Back in the real world, even NOAA doesn’t think the alleged impact of anthropogenic CO2 on storm intensity is detectable. (h/t Benny Peiser)
… It is premature to conclude that human activities–and particularly greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming–have already had a detectable impact on Atlantic hurricane or global tropical cyclone activity. That said, human activities may have already caused changes that are not yet detectable due to the small magnitude of the changes or observational limitations, or are not yet confidently modeled (e.g., aerosol effects on regional climate). …
The Myles Allen study admits a joke size climate sensitivity range of 1.5C / doubling to 4.5C per doubling of atmospheric CO2, unknown impacts from a variety of factors such as aerosols, and a need for further study; an interesting set of admissions for scientists who provided the initial impression that they have a precise means of modelling anthropogenic damage to the climate on a per company basis.
How should oil companies and other fossil fuel businesses respond? What should be obvious to oil executives and shareholders is more needs to be done to publicly challenge scientifically suspect climate claims which threaten their businesses. If you try to appease your opponents, if you let their wild claims stand, it just encourages them.