Union of Concerned Scientists’ Campaign on Fossil Fuel Climate Deception and Accountability: A Timeline

Published Jul 11, 2016

UCS has worked on climate change since 1988. Since those early days, we’ve set the record straight when individuals, organizations, and corporations misled the public about climate science.

Over the past decade, and ramping up significantly in 2015, we have focused on exposing climate deception by leading fossil fuel companies and worked to hold them accountable for the harm their products are causing to people and the planet.

The timeline below highlights many of the UCS activities that are helping build momentum for holding these companies accountable for their actions; a separate call-out box outlines recent efforts by Rep. Lamar Smith to chill this activity.

January 2018

UCS calls ExxonMobil’s move to countersue California locales seeking climate change-related damages another intimidation tactic to evade accountability.

UCS says New York City's climate lawsuit against five major oil and gas companies will hasten the end of fossil fuel industry impunity for climate damages, noting that emissions traced to the companies named in the suit have contributed more than eight percent of global sea level rise and nine percent of global temperature rise. UCS also praises the city’s decision to divest $5 billion in fossil fuel investments from its pension funds as a recognition of the enormous risks associated with fossil fuel investments and a strong ethical stand.

December 2017

UCS highlights that lawsuits by the City of Santa Cruz and Santa Cruz County against fossil fuel companies for climate change-related damages are the first to call out disruptions to the hydrologic cycle caused by fossil fuel pollution, including more frequent and severe wildfires, heat waves, droughts and extreme precipitation events.

UCS points out that ExxonMobil’s announcement that its board will provide shareholders details on climate change risks and impacts to its business is significant, but woefully short on details. The company's filing—in response to the May 2017 vote by a majority of its shareholders instructing the company to produce an annual report on its plans to meet 2 degrees Celsius scenarios—came just days before the deadline for shareholders to submit resolutions for consideration at ExxonMobil's 2018 annual meeting.

Barnard College announces the criteria it will use to assess a fossil fuel company’s position on climate change, working with Fossil Free Indexes and UCS toward the release of a public list in spring 2018.

November 2017

UCS's Brenda Ekwurzel gives a plenary talk, “Beware the Major Carbon Polluters! Science for a Healthy Planet and Safer World,” at the Conference on Sustainable, Responsible, Impact Investing in San Diego. She presents the findings of her climate attribution study to hundreds of investment advisors, investment managers, and institutional investors. 

Along with ClientEarth and Climate Justice Programme, UCS co-sponsors a side event at the 23rd meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) in Bonn, Germany. UCS Director of Science and Policy Peter Frumhoff provides an overview of the rapidly developing body of climate attribution science, with a focus on the findings of the recently published Climatic Change research on global average temperature and sea level rise.

October 2017

UCS co-convenes a workshop at Columbia Law School, “Can Fossil Fuel Companies Be Held Liable for Climate Change,” which examines the current state of attribution science and presents legal arguments for and against fossil fuel company liability. 

September 2017

UCS Director of Climate Science Brenda Ekwurzel, Director of Science and Policy Peter Frumhoff, and coauthors publish a study in the scientific journal Climatic Change linking global climate changes to the product-related emissions of specific fossil fuel producers, including ExxonMobil and Chevron. Focusing on the largest oil and coal producers and cement manufacturers, this first-of-its-kind study calculates the amount of sea level rise and global temperature increase that has resulted from the carbon dioxide and methane emissions from the products and extraction and production process. Climatic Change simultaneously publishes a commentary by Henry Shue, professor of politics and international relations at the University of Oxford, on the ethical implications of the Ekwurzel et al. Paper.

UCS co-sponsors a panel titled "Climate Denial, Impacts, and Liability" at Climate Week in New York City featuring Brenda Ekwurzel and her newly published Climatic Change study.

UCS calls lawsuits by Oakland and San Francisco against fossil fuel companies seeking compensation for current and future costs of adapting to climate-related sea level rise "a bold and necessary step to protect their communities."

July 2017

After three California municipalities (Marin and San Mateo Counties and the City of Imperial Beach) file lawsuits against 37 oil, gas, and coal companies for past, present, and future sea level rise damages related to heat-trapping emissions from the burning of their products, UCS notes that advances in the field of climate attribution science can inform approaches by judges and juries to calculate damages.

May 2017

UCS President Ken Kimmell speaks in plenary at US SIF, a leading sustainable and responsible investment conference. He highlights UCS's Climate Accountability Scorecardin his remarks about how the international community, state and regional lawmakers, and shareholders and businesses can make progress on climate change in the current policy environment.

In advance of ExxonMobil’s and Chevron’s annual shareholder meetings, UCS teams up with concerned faculty at Rice University to organize a high-level panel discussion in Houston on “Climate Change and Climate Risk: Critical Challenges for Fossil Fuel Companies and Their Investors.”

UCS experts and staff attend ExxonMobil and Chevron shareholder meetings to challenge the companies to disclose their strategies to transition to a low-carbon economy, climate-related risks to their businesses, and their direct and indirect lobbying on climate-related issues. In a stunning and decisive rebuke to ExxonMobil’s leadership, 62% of shareholders vote in favor of the “2C” proposal calling for the company to report annually on how it will ensure that its business remains resilient in the face of climate change policies and technological advances designed to limit global temperature increase to well below 2°C. It the first time a climate-related resolution receives support from a majority of ExxonMobil’s shareholders.

March 2017

UCS’s Climate Accountability Scorecard(October 2016) informs the decision of the Barnard College Board of Trustees to divest from fossil fuel companies that deny climate science or otherwise seek to thwart efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change. Barnard, which has about $18 million of investments in fossil fuel companies, is the first college to take this innovative approach to divesting from climate change deniers. 

February 2017

UCS applauds the resignation of Sarah Labowitz from ExxonMobil's External Citizenship Advisory Panel over ethical concerns about the company’s aggressive intimidation tactics to silence civil society organizations that track the company’s historic and ongoing climate disinformation.

October 2016

UCS releases The Climate Accountability Scorecard, an in-depth analysis of eight leading fossil fuel companies. The report ranks them on their climate change actions and urges specific, immediate steps they can take to improve.

June 2016

UCS Climate Accountability Campaign Manager Kathy Mulvey participates in Congressional Progressive Caucus forum, "Oil is the New Tobacco," highlighting UCS work on exposing the climate denial campaigns funded by leading fossil fuel companies. 

May 2016

UCS staff attend ExxonMobil and Chevron shareholder meetings, accompanied by climate scientists, to challenge the companies on their affiliations with groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a US-based lobbying group that spreads misinformation about climate science and tries to roll back clean energy policies. See Dr. Mike McCracken's commentary on speaking at ExxonMobil meeting, and Dr. B.D. Santer's commentary on speaking at Chevron meeting.

Congressman Lamar Smith Attempts to Derail Attorneys General Investigations of ExxonMobil

May 2016

Representative Lamar Smith of Texas and 12 members of the US House Science Committee send request letters to UCS and other non-profits demanding that they hand over all email correspondence with 17 attorneys general offices and other nonprofit organizations. UCS rejects the request.

UCS lead analyst Gretchen Goldman puts the letters in context: they are an abuse of power and part of a coordinated effort to derail the attorneys general investigations into ExxonMobil’s actions.

June 2016

Chairman Smith sends UCS, other non-profits, and attorneys general a second letter repeating the intrusive demand first made in May, and citing case law related to the McCarthy/House Un-American Activities Committee as justification. UCS rejects the second letter.

July 2016

A third letter is sent by Chairman Smith, threatening to subpoena the recipients. UCS rejects the third letter.

On July 13 Chairman Smith issues a subpoena to UCS, other non-profits, and attorneys general. UCS denounces the subpoena and formally responds on July 26. 

October 2016

A letter is sent by Chairman Smith on October 13 stating the committee's intent to enforce the subpoena. UCS formally responds on October 27.

April 2016

UCS co-convenes a workshop at Harvard Law School on “Potential State Causes of Action Against Major Carbon Producers: Scientific, Legal and Historical Perspectives” along with colleagues at Harvard Law School’s Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic. The meeting provided senior staff from state attorneys general offices in more than a dozen states with an opportunity to hear from leading climate scientists, legal scholars, historians, and other experts.

March 2016 

UCS Director of Science and Policy Peter Frumhoff briefs several state attorneys general and their staff on climate science and fossil fuel company responsibility at a meeting hosted by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

UCS publicly supports Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey's announced investigation into ExxonMobil’s actions related to climate change.

 UCS advocates for California Climate Science Truth and Accountability Act, which would help law enforcement hold fossil fuel companies accountable for deception about the scientific evidence of climate change. Specifically, it would allow state and local law enforcement officials an additional period of time to bring suits under an existing California law.

February 2016

Peter Frumhoff gives an invited talk on the climate responsibilities of fossil fuel companies at the New York Attorney General’s office in New York City.

UCS President Ken Kimmell participates as a panelist in "Cigarettes & Tailpipes: Tales of Two Industries," broadcast by Climate One, which focuses on the similarities between the efforts by cigarette companies and fossil fuel companies to sow doubt about prevailing science.

January 2016 

UCS publicly supports California Attorney General Kamala Harris after the Los Angeles Times reports that she has begun an investigation into ExxonMobil’s actions related to climate change.

December 2015

Based in part on UCS findings, 45 members of the US House of Representatives send a letter to CEOs of BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, and Royal Dutch Shell asking them to clarify exactly what they knew about the climate risks of their products and when they knew it. The letter notes that, “UCS uncovered many internal company documents which appear to confirm a coordinated campaign of deception conducted by the industry to deceive the public of climate science that even their own scientists confirmed.”

In side-events during the international climate negotiations at the Paris Climate Conference of the Parties, Peter Frumhoff briefs members of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines on climate science and responsibility, and Ken Kimmell speaks at a forum on "What Exxon Knew and Did Anyway."

November 2015

UCS co-convenes a symposium at Columbia Law School on “Who is Responsible for Climate Change: Implications for UN Talks, Shareholders and Liability” at which Peter Frumhoff speaks on the climate responsibilities of leading fossil fuel companies.

UCS supports the investigation announced by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman into whether ExxonMobil may have engaged in fraudulent activity in its statements about climate change.

October 2015

Peter Frumhoff speaks at a Dartmouth College symposium on “Who is Responsible for Climate Change” hosted by UCS Board Chair Anne Kapuscinski.

August 2015

Shell announces that it will allow its association with ALEC to lapse because ALEC’s stance on climate change “is clearly inconsistent with our own.” UCS had urged the company to sever its relationship with ALEC  for more than a year through meetings with Shell executives and petitions from more than 130,000 scientists and citizens.

UCS sheds light on the Western States Petroleum Association funded campaign to undermine oil use reduction legislation by spreading outright lies about the impact of climate policy in California.

July 2015

Peter Frumhoff authors a paper in the journal Climatic Change entitled, “The Climate Responsibilities of Industrial Carbon Producers,” along with Richard Heede and Naomi Oreskes. The article argues that leading fossil fuel companies bear significant responsibility for climate change both because of their large contribution to the problem and because, despite, knowing the serious risks of their products, they engaged in a campaign of climate disinformation to avoid policies and investments that might have stabilized or reduced emissions. UCS publishes a summary of this article. 

UCS publishes The Climate Deception Dossiers: Internal Fossil Fuel Industry Memos Reveal Decades of Corporate Disinformation, detailing the decades of climate disinformation promulgated by leading fossil fuel companies, trade associations, and industry-funded lobbying groups such as ALEC. The report’s online appendix contains 85 previously released internal memos from fossil fuel companies and their surrogates totaling more than 330 pages.

March 2015

UCS releases Climate Science vs. Fossil Fuel Fiction, which highlights key statements of misinformation disseminated by major fossil fuel companies.

BP confirms that it has stopped supporting the ALEC. UCS met with BP the previous fall urging the company to leave ALEC and then followed that request with growing calls from our supporters and allies.

February 2015 

UCS releases Stormy Seas, Rising Risks: What Investors Should Know about Climate Change Impacts at Oil Refineries, which focuses on facilities run by the top five US refining companies and assesses both the extent of their climate risk as well as the companies’ failure to address that risk and publicly disclose it to their investors.

September 2014

UCS calls out oil industry attacks on effective climate policy in California.

January 2014

UCS partners with CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) on a questionnaire to shed light on the relationship between companies and their trade associations. The resulting report, Tricks of the Trade, showed that many companies indicated that they do not agree with the climate policy positions of their trade associations, and that many companies are not yet willing to be transparent about their political activity through trade associations.

December 2013

UCS helps promote ground-breaking research by Richard Heede of the Climate Accountability Institute (CAI) tracing nearly two-thirds of all industrial carbon dioxide and methane released into the atmosphere since 1854 to fossil fuel and cement production by just 90 entities.

August 2013

UCS releases an interactive slideshow, Exposing the Disinformation Playbook, outlining some of the tactics used by leading  fossil fuel companies to spread disinformation and delay action on climate change and showing how similar they are to tactics used by the tobacco industry to mislead the public about the dangers of smoking.

May 2013

UCS investigation reviewing more than 1,000 articles and opinion pieces in nine major media outlets between 2001 and 2011 shows that the US news media routinely fail to inform the public about the fossil fuel industry funders behind climate change contrarian think tanks.

January 2013

UCS releases Assessing Trade and Business Groups' Positions on Climate Change examining the climate change positions taken by 14 trade and business associations that have been most active on climate policy.

June 2012

UCS partners with CAI to hold a two-day workshop in La Jolla, California that brings together two dozen leading scholars and practitioners to discuss how lessons from tobacco control might inform public and policy maker understanding of fossil fuel company responsibilities for climate change. Publishes Establishing Accountability for Climate Change Damages: Lessons from Tobacco Control on the proceedings.

May 2012

UCS releases A Climate of Corporate Control that looks at statements and actions on climate science and policy by 28 US companies, including ExxonMobil; shows how these contributions can be problematic; and suggests steps that Congress, the public, the media, and companies themselves can take to address the problem.

February 2012

UCS releases Heads They Win, Tails We Lose: How Corporations Corrupt Science at the Public’s Expense. Included in the report are descriptions of how ExxonMobil downplayed scientific evidence on climate change, promoted experts to undermine the scientific consensus, and funded groups that worked to confuse the public. It also puts a spotlight on Phil Cooney, a former American Petroleum Institute executive who took a top position at ExxonMobil after he was caught rewriting climate change reports in the George W. Bush White House.

February 2007

ExxonMobil pledges to stop funding certain of the climate denial groups in response to Smoke, Mirrors, and Hot Air report, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

January 2007

UCS publishes Smoke, Mirrors and Hot Air: How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco's Tactics to Manufacture Uncertainty on Climate Science. The report reveals that, between 1998 and 2005, ExxonMobil funneled nearly $16 million to a network of some 40 front groups to disseminate misinformation about climate science.

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