Contribution of the historical period, 1880–2010 CO2 emissions traced to top 20 investor-owned and majority state-owned industrial carbon producers to atmospheric CO2, GMST, and GSL rise from 1880 to 2010. Bar values are the median best estimate full historical forcing model simulations with the error bars showing the first and 90th removal order of each carbon producer. Graphic: Ekwurzel, et al, 2017 / Climatic Change

By Peter C Frumhoff and Myles Allen
7 September 2017

(The Guardian) – 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.

On 29 October 2012, when Hurricane Sandy slammed into America’s east coast, a storm surge of more than nine feet caused extensive flooding damage throughout the affected region. Researchers have since determined that the damage from that storm surge was greatly worsened by climate change.

Sea level along the East Coast has risen by about eight inches since 1900, as oceans have warmed and expanded in response to rising concentrations of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, with subsiding land adding insult to injury. According to one study, sea level rise increased Sandy’s flood damages to property in New York City alone by $2bn – more than $230 per New Yorker.

Such costs from storm damage attributable to climate change are just one piece of the story. New York City estimates that it will spend an estimated $19.5bn to prepare for climate change impacts through 2030. And researchers say developing countries most vulnerable to rising seas and increasing extreme weather will need between $140bn and $300bn annually by 2030 to help them cope.

Who should pay these costs? In the United States, the default assumption is that costs of climate damages and adaptation should be borne by taxpayers, through flood insurance programs, federal disaster relief funds and the like, as well as by affected individuals, families and private businesses.

This assumption is now being challenged in the courts. Lawsuits filed in July by three coastal California communities against ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and other large fossil fuel companies argue that the companies, not taxpayers and residents, should bear the cost of damages from rising seas.

They draw on extensive evidence that fossil fuel companies, knowing that their products contributed substantially to climate change, engaged for decades in a coordinated campaign to publicly disparage climate science to avoid limits on emissions.

These lawsuits build on a vigorous and growing debate in the court of public opinion and among company shareholders about the responsibilities of fossil fuel giants for their contributions to climate change.

This is a debate fueled by high-profile evidence of some companies’ deception, the growing and devastating human and economic costs of climate change, and the recognition that even today fossil fuel companies maintain business models that assume the continued global reliance on their products that would drive heat-trapping emissions and temperatures well above the Paris agreement limits that some of the same companies profess to support.

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. [more]

Big Oil must pay for climate change. Now we can calculate how much


ABSTRACT: 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.

The rise in global atmospheric CO2, surface temperature, and sea level from emissions traced to major carbon producers

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