Resources for climate accountability

The first step in demanding accountability from the fossil fuel industry is to actually demand it. Until now, few climate-impacted communities have actually taken the step of asking the Chevrons and Exxons of the world to take responsibility. When companies have been notified that they will be asked to take responsibility for their emissions, and especially to pay their fair share of climate costs, this becomes a risk that they arguably should be disclosing to their shareholders.

 

 
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What is a fossil fuel company's fair share?

Efforts to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable received a big boost in 2013 with the launch of the carbon majors project and the publication of an important study by scientist Richard Heede. The peer-reviewed study identified 90 entities (primarily fossil fuel companies) that, through their own emissions and emissions from their products, are collectively responsible for almost 2/3 of man-made greenhouse gases (see also Heede’s update to his calculations).

In our view, Heede's calculations provide a starting point for talking about the fair share of particular fossil fuel companies.  We recommend that institutions, groups or individuals seeking to hold fossil fuel companies accountable begin with the 20 largest corporate fossil fuel producers.

We have prepared a spreadsheet providing names, contact information and respective contributions to historic greenhouse gas emissions for each of the top 20 companies, whose operations and products are collectively responsible for almost 30% of historic greenhouse gas emissions.

 
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How to write a climate accountability letter

There’s no better way to start a conversation about the accountability of the fossil fuel industry than by a community sending individual oil, gas and coal companies a letter indicating why the companies should pay their fair share of climate costs.

Compared to a lawsuit or other legal tools, it is straightforward and inexpensive to send a letter telling the world’s fossil fuel companies that they will be expected take responsibility for their fair share of the climate costs that your community incurs.

We've prepared a brief that answers some initial questions local governments may have about why each community should send these letters. Download and read it here. 

How to start:

  • Letters should, ideally, be sent by a local government or other official agency – but it can even be sent by community groups or individuals. 
  • Letters can be adapted from one of our templates (below) or can be drafted from scratch to address the specific needs and climate impacts of your community. 
  • Letters can easily be addressed to an individual company, and can indicate that particular company’s contribution to historic greenhouse gas emissions. (Tip: Use a “mail merge” to print letters using our spreadsheet of company addresses)
  • The letter may (or may not) outline specific climate costs that you would like the company to pay compensation for.
  • The letter can ask the company to take responsibility in other ways – for instance, by telling your community how it intends to transition into a clean energy company.
  • The letter can also suggest possible consequences (legal, economic or political) if the company fails to take action, or it can simply be an open invitation to take responsibility.
  • Please notify West Coast Environmental Law of your correspondence, as we would like to keep a record of accountability letters sent.

We currently have two draft templates for accountability letters which demand that a fossil fuel company pay its fair share of a local government's current and future adaptation costs, both drafted as part of our British Columbia campaign.

 
 

Check back as we plan to post further sample letters and resources on writing such letters. If you modify a template, or write your own letter, feel free to share it with us and we may (with your permission) post it here. The above letters and spreadsheet are released into the public domain.