Greenpeace on December 5 asked if nine major European oil and gas companies could be “getting away with murder”. The environmental organisation posed the question as, at the COP28 climate conference in Dubai, it released a study estimating that 360,000 people could die prematurely before the end of the century because of global heating caused by the enterprises’ 2022 greenhouse gas emissions alone.
The nine assessed by the Greenpeace Netherlands study—called “Today’s emissions, tomorrow’s deaths: How Europe’s major oil and gas companies are putting lives at risk”—are Shell, TotalEnergies, BP, Equinor, Eni, Repsol, OMV, Orlen and Wintershall Dea.
Lisa Goldner from Greenpeace’s Fossil Free Revolution campaign, said: “Are fossil fuel companies getting away with murder? Just one year of emissions will create deadly ripples until the end of the century.
“So, if the fossil fuel industry continues extracting and burning fossil fuels at today’s scale, millions of people all over the world could die prematurely. Phasing out fossil fuels is a matter of life and death, so governments need to act now to ban new fossil fuel projects and force fossil fuel companies to rapidly cut their emissions.”
The study analyses the self-reported 2022 greenhouse gas emissions of the companies, who reportedly made enormous profits of a combined $163.07bn in 2022.
Using the Mortality Cost of Carbon method developed by US researcher R. Daniel Bressler, it estimates that these companies could collectively cause an estimated 360,000 temperature-related premature deaths before the end of the century with their emissions of 2.7bn tonnes of CO2 from last year.
Greenpeace Netherlands said it consulted independent legal experts in Europe and was advised that there could be a legal basis to prosecute fossil fuel companies for endangering both human life and the environment under their respective national criminal laws, but that the criminal justice systems have been historically under-used for this purpose.
The group said it was calling for laws to be further tested through strategic litigation as a way to address the existential threat of the climate crisis and advocate for impacted communities.
Greenpeace noted that, according to the report, the estimates it produced are likely extremely conservative for five reasons, namely:
• the estimates only consider excess deaths caused directly by extreme temperatures and don’t assess other climate impacts like more frequent and more extreme flooding, drought, wildfires or storms or infectious disease;
• they don’t take into account deaths caused by air pollution resulting from burning fossil fuels, or other hazards that result from the production and use of fossil fuels;
• the companies’ self-reported carbon emissions could be lower than estimates applying other carbon accounting approaches;
• the study uses a conservative future greenhouse gas emissions scenario;
• and this estimate only looks at the year 2022, meaning these excess deaths will multiply year by year if fossil fuel emissions are not drastically cut.
For these reasons, said Greenpeace, the true number of premature deaths attributable to the greenhouse gas emissions of the nine oil and gas companies could be larger.
Panellist and climate justice activist Vanessa Nakate said: “Fossil fuels are key to environmental destruction, especially for people in the global south. It’s no secret that burning more oil and gas worsens climate breakdown – and right now, they are already harming people’s lives in Uganda, where I’m from, in communities across Africa, and all over the world.
“This is a matter of climate justice. We need wealthier countries that are most responsible for the climate crisis to stop new fossil fuel projects, invest in clean energy – and help global south nations to do the same.”