ExxonMobil executives privately sought to undermine climate science even after the oil and gas giant publicly acknowledged the link between fossil fuel emissions and climate change, according to previously undisclosed documents revealed by the Wall Street Journal.
The new revelations are based on previously unreported documents subpoenaed by New York’s attorney general as part of an investigation into the company announced in 2015. They add to a series of documents chronicling a decades-long disinformation campaign waged by Exxon. that are cited in a growing number of state and municipal lawsuits against Big Oil.
Many of the newly released documents date back to the 2006 to 2016 tenure of former CEO Rex Tillerson, who oversaw a major shift in the company’s climate messaging. In 2006, Exxon publicly accepted that the climate crisis posed risks and came to support the Paris agreement. Behind closed doors, however, the company behaved differently, the documents show.
In 2008, Exxon pledged to stop funding climate denier groups. But that same year, the company’s management said it would support it in having a scientist help the country’s main oil and gas lobby group write a paper on the “uncertainty” of measuring greenhouse gas emissions.
The company’s concern about climate uncertainty continued. Before a meeting with company scientists in 2012, one researcher expressed interest in finding “‘skeptical’ arguments that we consider not yet refuted.” During a board meeting on climate science and policy that same year, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, an Exxon board member and former Nestlé CEO, said that “there was still uncertainty in predicting future climate changes and impacts.” ” and also said that “ The money and effort spent on climate change is misplaced.”
The documents also show Exxon’s displeasure with scientific warnings from top authorities. After the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations’ top climate body, sounded the alarm about the urgent need to curb greenhouse gas emissions in 2011, Tillerson told a top Exxon researcher that the IPCC warning “was not credible” and he said he was “dissatisfied” with the media coverage of the warning about the worst climate scenarios.
Tillerson also wanted to collaborate with scientists “to influence [the group]in addition to collecting information,” the Exxon researcher told colleagues in a 2012 email about the findings.
Years later, Tillerson expressed doubts about the United Nations’ Paris agreement months before it was signed. The international agreement aims to keep global warming “well below” 2°C compared to pre-industrial temperatures.
After a presentation on climate science to Exxon’s board of directors in April 2015, Tillerson called the 2°C target “a magical thing,” according to a summary of the meeting.
“Who’s to say 2.5 isn’t enough?” He said, noting that achieving those goals would be “very costly.”
That December, Exxon publicly endorsed the Paris agreement; During his Senate confirmation hearing to become secretary of state in 2017 under President Trump, Tillerson maintained his support.
When asked by the Journal about the new documents, Exxon CEO Darren Woods said, “When taken out of context, it looks bad.”
“But having worked with some of these colleagues earlier in my career, I have the advantage of knowing that they are well-intentioned people,” he said. “However, none of these old emails and notes matter. All that does is we are building an entire business dedicated to reducing emissions (both our own and others) and spending billions of dollars on solutions that have real, sustainable impact.”
Tillerson declined to comment, the Wall Street Journal said.
The documents could bolster legal efforts to hold oil companies accountable for their alleged attempts to sow doubt about climate science. More than two dozen U.S. cities and states are suing Big Oil, alleging that the industry knew for decades about the dangers of burning coal, oil and gas but hid that information.
In July, progressive senators led by Bernie Sanders of Vermont also urged the Justice Department to sue Big Oil for allegedly violating U.S. consumer protection laws, anti-racketeering laws and other legal standards.