Stranded assets and reduced profits: Analyzing the economic underpinnings of the fossil fuel industry's resistance to climate stabilization

T.A. Hansen*

*Corresponding author for this work

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    Governments have failed to act at the scale and pace necessary to avert the climate crisis. This paper explores one key constraint on global action to combat climate change: resistance mounted by the fossil fuel industry. The economic losses that the fossil fuel industry is likely to incur as a result of climate stabilization include stranded assets and reduced profits. Using a methodology that emulates the expectations and valuation procedures used by fossil fuel firms, I estimate the magnitude and distribution of wealth losses from stranded assets for the upstream fossil fuel industry (i.e., firms and governments involved in fossil fuel extraction) under 1.8 °C and 1.5 °C climate stabilization scenarios. I also explore the timing of expected future profit losses and compare historical profit margins between fossil fuel and renewable energy firms. Results show that fossil fuel reserves will suffer a devaluation of 37%–50%, amounting to $13-$17 trillion. This implies a strong incentive for fossil fuel producers to continue resisting climate stabilization. Over half (51%–63%) of the reserve devaluation stems not from fuels left in the ground but from price decreases for fuels that will still be extracted and sold during climate stabilization, indicating that even low-cost producers stand to bear large losses. Three-quarters of stranded assets belong to governments, implying formidable political obstacles in nations with nationalized fossil fuel ownership. The profitability analysis reinforces these findings. My results point to strategic demand reduction of fossil fuels as a key strategy for overcoming industry resistance.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number112144
    JournalRenewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews
    Number of pages14
    Publication statusPublished - 2022


    • Fossil fuel industry
    • Stranded assets
    • Profitability
    • Climate change
    • Climate strategy


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