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Carbon Risk and the Fossil Fuel Industry Actuelles de l'Ifri, April 2015

As calls for ambitious climate action intensify, questions arise concerning the resilience of the fossil fuel industry in a world ever more inclined to favour climate protection. This article will attempt to assess the extent of present risks and show how the strength of debate can affect practices and strategy employed by companies in this sector.


By refusing to play the role of “swing producer” in a context of falling oil prices, Saudi Arabia shows that it is determined to defend its market shares, even at the cost of seeing its oil revenues drop. Amongst many theories offered in explanation of such defensive action, there is one which can appear rather surprising. Such behaviour by Saudi Arabia might be in anticipation of a turning point in the battle against global warming, heralding the end of oil age. Driven by the logic of "a barrel sold at a reduced price is still worth more than the one not sold at all", Saudi Arabia is trying to sell off its goods before the climate constraints put an end to this source of income.

Whilst it is indeed unlikely that “climate risk” can be the only cause of the change in Saudi policies or that the end of the oil age is coming soon, one could not deny that such hypotheses are further justified by the glowing expectations from the next climate conference in Paris. In the first draft agreement, which is under discussion, the target of maintaining the warming curve of +2°C is reasserted, even referring to a possibility of a zero net emission target for the early 2050. This, of course, is only one of many possibilities proposed and there is nothing to guarantee it will figure in the final version of the agreement.


Carbon Risk and the Fossil Fuel Industry
Carbon risk fossil fuels