World’s fossil fuel giants could cause millions of heat deaths by century’s end

According to a study by the NGO Global Witness, emissions linked to major oil and gas companies could cause millions of heat-related deaths by 2100

A groundbreaking study by the NGO Global Witness has unveiled a stark warning: the carbon emissions from the world’s leading oil and gas companies could lead to millions of heat-related deaths before the century’s close.

Shell, BP, TotalEnergies, ExxonMobil, and Chevron—the five largest integrated oil and gas firms in the private sector according to 2023 revenue data from Thompson Reuters via Statista—are at the heart of this dire prediction, with their combined fossil fuel emissions potentially resulting in 11.5 million excess heat deaths by 2100.

“Every 0.1°C of warming will be lethal. Unless the supermajors rapidly change course, the death toll will be comparable to some of the most brutal wars in history. We cannot leave it to them to decide. Governments must step in, mitigate the impact of extreme heat, and urgently accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels,” states Sarah Biermann Becker, a senior researcher at Global Witness.

The report

The analysis employed the Columbia University-acclaimed carbon mortality cost model to estimate that high-emission scenarios—absent concerted action to swiftly reduce warming—could see 226 excess heat deaths globally per million ton of carbon released.

Rystad Energy’s data was analyzed to forecast fossil fuel emissions, predicting an addition of 56 billion ton of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by 2050. This translates to an estimated 11.5 million excess heat deaths by the century’s end.

report mortality cost of carbon emissions

However, the study also found that if the world manages to shift to a low-emission scenario, achieving global net-zero by 2050, the excess deaths tied to these companies’ output could be halved to approximately 5.5 million people.

Moreover, experts highlight that heat-related deaths are just one of the outcomes of failing to swiftly transition from fossil fuels, with other disasters like food shortages, flooding, and political and economic turmoil also predicted.

Industry responses

In light of Wednesday’s analysis, TotalEnergies told The Guardian it would continue investing in new oil projects but, alongside Shell (which questioned parts of the study’s methodology) and BP, claimed to also be investing in renewable and low-carbon energy sources. BP added that since it had not set oil and gas production targets beyond 2030, projections based on its plans up to 2050 were not applicable.

BP and Shell acknowledged their progress in reducing emissions from their operations. A Shell spokesperson commented, “The pace of the transition depends on action across many areas, including government policy, shifts in customer demand, and investments in low-carbon energy. Our aim is to play our part in a balanced energy transition where the world achieves net-zero emissions without compromising secure and affordable energy supply, which has improved so many lives and will continue to be needed today and for many years to come.”

Exxon and Chevron did not respond to requests for comment.

Read the full report here.

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