So you want to hold the global fossil fuel industry accountable for your community’s climate costs? Here’s how.

The first step in securing accountability from the fossil fuel industry is to actually demand it. Until now, few climate-impacted communities have actually taken the step of asking the Chevrons and Exxons of the world to take responsibility. When companies have been notified that they will be asked to take responsibility for their emissions, and especially to pay their fair share of climate costs, this becomes a risk that they arguably should be disclosing to their shareholders.

What is a fossil fuel company's fair share?

Efforts to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable received a big boost in 2013 with the launch of the Carbon Majors Project and the publication of an important study by scientist Richard Heede. The peer-reviewed study identified 90 entities (primarily fossil fuel companies) that, through their own emissions and emissions from their products, are collectively responsible for almost two thirds of human-caused greenhouse gases (see also Heede’s update to his calculations).

Heede's calculations provide a starting point for talking about individual fossil fuel companies and their fair share. For institutions, groups or individuals seeking to hold fossil fuel companies accountable, we recommend beginning with the 20 largest corporate fossil fuel producers.

We have prepared a spreadsheet providing names, contact information and respective contributions to historic greenhouse gas emissions for each of the top 20 companies, whose operations and products are collectively responsible for almost 30% of historic greenhouse gas emissions.

How to write a climate accountability letter

There’s no better way to start a conversation about climate accountability than by sending a letter to an oil, gas or coal company indicating why it should pay its fair share of the climate costs incurred by your community.

Compared to a lawsuit or other legal tools, it is straightforward and inexpensive to send a letter. The District of the Highlands led the way in July 2017, sending the first Climate Accountability Letter to 20 fossil fuel companies.

How to start:

  • Letters should, ideally, be sent by a local government or other official agency – but it can even be sent by community groups or individuals.
  • Letters can be adapted from one of our templates (see below) or can be drafted from scratch to address the specific needs and climate impacts of your community.
  • Letters can easily be addressed to an individual company, and can indicate that particular company’s contribution to historic greenhouse gas emissions. (Tip: Use a “mail merge” to print letters using our spreadsheet of company addresses.)
  • The letter may (or may not) outline specific climate costs that you would like the company to compensate your community for.
  • The letter can ask the company to take responsibility in other ways – for instance, by telling your community how it intends to transition into a clean energy company.
  • The letter can also suggest possible consequences (legal, economic or political) if the company fails to take action, or it can simply be an open invitation to take responsibility.
  • Please notify West Coast Environmental Law of your correspondence, as we would like to keep a record of accountability letters sent.

We currently have two draft templates for accountability letters which demand that a fossil fuel company pay its fair share of a local government's current and future adaptation costs, both drafted as part of our British Columbia campaign.

Also, check out letters sent by actual local governments.

If you modify a template or write your own letter, feel free to share it with us and we may (with your permission) post it here. The above letters and spreadsheet are released into the public domain.


Top photo: Staff Counsel Andrew Gage presents to Burnaby City Council about demanding accountability from fossil fuel companies.
(Photo: Anjali Appadurai)