Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Comparing extraction rates of fossil fuel producers against global climate goals


Meeting global and national climate goals requires action and cooperation from a multitude of actors1,2. Current methods to define greenhouse gas emission targets for companies fail to acknowledge the unique influence of fossil fuel producers: combustion of reported fossil fuel reserves has the potential to push global warming above 2 °C by 2050, regardless of other efforts to mitigate climate change3. Here, we introduce a method to compare the extraction rates of individual fossil fuel producers against global climate targets, using two different approaches to quantify a burnable fossil fuel allowance (BFFA). BFFAs are calculated and compared with cumulative extraction since 2010 for the world’s ten largest investor-owned companies and ten largest state-owned entities (SOEs), for oil and for gas, which together account for the majority of global oil and gas reserves and production. The results are strongly influenced by how BFFAs are quantified; allocating based on reserves favours SOEs over investor-owned companies, while allocating based on production would require most reduction to come from SOEs. Future research could refine the BFFA to account for equity, cost-effectiveness and emissions intensity.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Cumulative extraction since 2010 compared with the CET of an anonymous fossil fuel producer.
Fig. 2: Proportion of the 2011–2050 BFFA extracted by 2015 for the world’s ten largest IOCs and ten largest SOEs, for oil and gas.
Fig. 3: EYF for IOCs and SOEs, versus 2010 reserves and 2010 production rates.


  1. 1.

    Sullivan, R. & Gouldson, A. Ten years of corporate action on climate change: what do we have to show for it? Energy Policy 60, 733–740 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Gouldson, A. & Sullivan, R. Long-term corporate climate change targets: what could they deliver? Environ. Sci. Policy 27, 1–10 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    McGlade, C. & Ekins, P. The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2 °C. Nature 517, 187–190 (2015).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Steffen, W. et al. Planetary boundaries: guiding human development on a changing planet. Science 347, 1259855 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    IPCC Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change (eds Edenhofer, O. R. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2015).

  6. 6.

    Heede, R. & Oreskes, N. Potential emissions of CO2 and methane from proved reserves of fossil fuels: an alternative analysis. Glob. Environ. Change 36, 12–20 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Meinshausen, M. et al. Greenhouse-gas emission targets for limiting global warming to 2 °C. Nature 458, 1158–1162 (2009).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Raupach, M. R. et al. Sharing a quota on cumulative carbon emissions. Nat. Clim. Change 4, 873–879 (2014).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Meinshausen, M. et al. National post-2020 greenhouse gas targets and diversity-aware leadership. Nat. Clim. Change 5, 1098–1106 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Grasso, M. & Roberts, J. T. A compromise to break the climate impasse. Nat. Clim. Change 4, 543–549 (2014).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Hohne, N., Den Elzen, M. & Escalante, D. Regional GHG reduction targets based on effort sharing: a comparison of studies. Clim. Policy 14, 122–147 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Peters, G. P. et al. Key indicators to track current progress and future ambition of the Paris Agreement. Nat. Clim. Change 7, 118–122 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Blok, K. et al. Bridging the greenhouse-gas emissions gap. Nat. Clim. Change 2, 471–474 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Persson, A. & Rockstrom, J. Business leaders. Nat. Clim. Change 1, 426–427 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Climate Commitments of Subnational Actors and Business: A Quantitative Assessment of Their Emission Reduction Impact (United Nations Environment Programme, 2015).

  16. 16.

    Krabbe, O. et al. Aligning corporate greenhouse-gas emissions targets with climate goals. Nat. Clim. Change 5, 1057–1060 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Randers, J. Greenhouse gas emissions per unit of value added (“GEVA”))—a corporate guide to voluntary climate action. Energy Policy 48, 46–55 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Heede, R. Tracing anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane emissions to fossil fuel and cement producers, 1854–2010. Climatic Change 122, 229–241 (2014).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Friedlingstein, P. et al. Persistent growth of CO2 emissions and implications for reaching climate targets. Nat. Geosci. 7, 709–715 (2014).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    IEA World Energy Outlook 2012 (OECD, 2012).

  21. 21.

    Ellerman, A. D. & Buchner, B. K. The European Union Emissions Trading Scheme: origins, allocation, and early results. Rev. Environ. Econ. Policy 1, 66–87 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Perdan, S. & Azapagic, A. Carbon trading: current schemes and future developments. Energy Policy 39, 6040–6054 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Tippee, B. OPEC’s reserves reflect politics—and a lot of oil. Oil Gas J. 108, 136 (2010).

    Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Simmons, M. R. Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy (Wiley, New York, 2015).

  25. 25.

    New York AG investigating Exxon’s accounting practices: source. Reuters (16 September 2016);

  26. 26.

    Energy Technology Perspectives 2017 (OECD/IEA, 2017);

Download references


We thank P. Burns, P. Dargusch and D. Lee for helpful feedback on the original manuscript, and J. Escobar, Q. Fu, S. Iacovella, M. Navarro and R. Rekker for research assistance.

Author information




S.A.C.R., J.E.H. and K.R.O. designed the study, J.E.H. and K.R.O. supervised the project. S.A.C.R. collected, verified, processed and analysed the data, and wrote the paper. A.C.P. and K.R.O. contributed to the data analysis. J.E.H., K.R.O. and A.C.P. reviewed and edited the manuscript. All authors contributed to the methods and interpretation of the results.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Saphira A. C. Rekker.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information Description: Supplementary methods, Supplementary tables 1–4, Supplementary references

Supplementary methods, Supplementary tables 1–4, Supplementary references

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Rekker, S.A.C., O’Brien, K.R., Humphrey, J.E. et al. Comparing extraction rates of fossil fuel producers against global climate goals. Nature Clim Change 8, 489–492 (2018).

Download citation

Further reading


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing