The emissions produced from the fossil fuels extracted by Australia’s major gas, coal and oil producing companies or ‘carbon majors’ are now larger than all of Australia’s domestic emissions. Yet, the responsibility for the mitigation of these emissions or addressing the harms they cause, does not primarily fall on the carbon majors themselves.

Why aren’t Australian carbon majors considered to be responsible for addressing their product’s emissions and their consequences? One reason is that when we think about reducing emissions, we typically focus on the role of nation states. After all, it is states that negotiate climate agreements and their policies on climate change and who are also substantially responsible for the contribution that their citizens make to the problem of climate change. Nation states also have substantial capacity to compel agents such as corporations or individuals to reduce their level of emissions.

But the impact of carbon majors is now so large and their influence so great that the case for holding them responsible for the consequences of their emissions must now be made. This report sets out a framework for determining the degree to which carbon majors ought to be responsible for the emissions and the cost of the harms that they cause. What we will do here is assess carbon majors in terms of whether they have harmed or risked harming others. This is not say that there aren’t other relevant factors, but just that violating something so important as the duty not to harm others ought to be a key consideration when we evaluate the actions of carbon majors.

Key findings:

  • Australia is the world’s sixteenth biggest GHG emitting country. But within Australia’s borders there is a larger contributor to climate change: the companies that extract coal, gas and oil and sell them worldwide. These huge companies are the carbon majors.
  • In 2018 emissions produced from the coal extracted by Australia’s top six coal producers (551Mt CO2-e), were greater than the whole of Australia’s projected domestic emissions (534Mt CO2-e) for 2018.
  • The ten largest Australian carbon majors produced the equivalent of 669.71 Mt CO2-e in 2018, which is around 75% of the emissions from global air traffic or around 28 million flights (895Mt CO2-e 38 million flights).
  • Together, the top ten Australian carbon majors produce more GHG emissions than Canada. If they were a country, they would sit eighth in the world on the list of highest emitters.

Key recommendations:

  • Fossil fuel mines be retired, not on sold to other companies.
  • Carbon majors set aside appropriate funds for site rehabilitation.
  • Rehabilitation costs take precedence over shareholder returns, with profit-sharing to occur from ‘clean’ parts of the business.
  • Carbon majors prioritise compensation for harms caused by past emissions, at least those emitted since 1990.
  • No new mines be built.
  • Carbon majors cease political lobbying and not fund third party campaigns which are in favour of fossil fuels.
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