In total, their potential CO2 emissions are estimated at 2,910 gigatonnes or nearly three trillion metric tons. To put that number in context, a sole gigatonne is twice the mass of the global human population and enough to stretch 200 million elephants from the earth to the moon.
It’s estimated that more than half these assets would be stranded if the 2C global warming target set by the 2015 Paris Agreement were met. Fully 80% of these assets would be rendered worthless if the rise in temperature was more drastically curtailed to 1.5C, inflicting losses of nearly a trillion dollars on shareholders, about one-third of the current valuation of the world’s major oil and gas companies.
Those with the highest carbon intensity in their oil and gas reserves, notably Canadian tar sands producers, would be hit hardest.
The massive scale of the potential losses explains the refusal or foot-dragging by governments beholden to the industry to implement the Paris Agreement, already regarded by climate scientists as inadequate to meet the climate emergency.
Still, the threat of tougher regulation leading to some stranded assets has been enough to spook major investors, especially as the pressure to curtail emissions rises with each flood, hurricane, firestorm, and other extreme weather event associated with climate change.
According to the FT, the coal sector, the largest emitter, has experienced the most capital flight, but oil and gas are not far behind.
"As the first target for asset owners keen to decarbonise their portfolios, coal miners have performed disastrously over the past decade. Bloomberg’s index of global coal miners, the largest of which are in China, has plunged 74 per cent from its peak in early 2011…Collectively, world oil and gas company market values have fallen about half as much as coal miners since their own decade peak in 2011.”
If the present trend continues, the shift in energy investment from fossil fuels to renewables “would be one of the biggest ever shifts in the allocation of capital”, according to the FT, but whether it will be sufficient to prevent catastrophic climate change is debatable.