Tracing Fossil Fuel Companies’ Contribution to Climate Change and Ocean Acidification

Rachel Licker, Brenda Ekwurzel, Peter Frumhoff

Published Dec 10, 2019


The ocean is absorbing a large portion of the carbon pollution that is released when we burn gas, oil, and coal. That extra carbon is making our ocean more acidic.

This Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)-led peer-reviewed study examines the impact of carbon emissions from major carbon producers and found that, between 1880-2015, more than half of the increase in ocean acidity is tied to emissions from just 88 fossil fuel producers and cement manufacturers, led by Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and ConocoPhillips.

The study, which builds on previous UCS work linking emissions from fossil fuel companies to global average temperature increase and sea level rise, also looks at the time period 1965-2015. Internal company documents show that the fossil fuel industry knew about the climate-related risks of their products as early as the mid-1960’s.

During those 50 years, the companies could have taken steps to prevent the crises the world now faces. Instead, fossil fuel companies have poured money into disinformation campaigns to sow doubt about climate science. Marine life, and all who depend on it for their livelihoods, are paying the price, and fossil fuel companies should be held accountable.


Licker Rachel (1) , Brenda Ekwurzel (1) , Scott C. Doney (2), (3), Sarah R. Cooley (4), Ivan D. Lima (3), Rick Heede (5), and Peter C. Frumhoff (6). 2019. (1) Washington, DC: Union of Concerned Scientists. (2) University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA (3) Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA (4) Ocean Conservancy, Washington, DC (5) Climate Accountability Institute, Snowmass, CO (6) Union of Concerned Scientists, Cambridge, MA