Open Letter on Carbon Clean-up: From Responsibility to Accountability

The burning of fossil fuels has dramatically increased carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Earth’s atmosphere, driving climate change that will lead to absolute disaster unless drastic action is taken now. This means reducing carbon emissions to zero as quickly as possible. The first priority is to replace fossil energy with clean energy. But something must also be done about the CO2 already in our atmosphere, as well as the CO2 from fossil fuel use that cannot be immediately eliminated.

We call on governments at all levels, as well as the private sector, to take action immediately by developing carbon clean-up programs to complement ongoing efforts to address climate change. Specifically, the production and use of fossil fuels are the primary driver of climate change through carbon pollution. Producers of fossil fuels are responsible for this pollution, but they have not been held accountable for it.

Governments should therefore hold fossil fuel producers accountable for mandatory carbon clean-up. The fossil fuel industry has the financial, technological, and innovative resources needed to develop a massive carbon clean-up infrastructure––but it will not do so unless compelled through regulation.

Fossil fuel producers should be required to address all emissions from the production and use of their products by capturing CO2 (both directly from industrial fossil fuel sources and from the atmosphere) and safely, permanently disposing of it. This is the only way to prevent further harm from any remaining fossil fuel use as it is phased out, and is especially important for addressing emissions from industries that will be slower to transition away from fossil fuels.

Since fossil fuel producers profit immensely from the products that cause carbon pollution, they must also take responsibility for solutions to the resulting problems. Mandating that fossil fuel producers innovate and pay the costs of these measures will incentivize them to put their resources into deploying technologies to permanently (geologically) store carbon deep underground. These new costs will in turn encourage a shift away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy sources.

We propose rapid adoption of policies that involve fossil fuel producers in carbon clean-up, like the Carbon Takeback Obligation. This would require each fossil fuel producer to account for every ton of carbon produced, capture (at least) the same amount of carbon, and permanently dispose of this carbon.

A Carbon Takeback Obligation has yet to be adopted as policy. The time to hold fossil fuel producers accountable is long overdue. Our only option is to take action now.


Myles Allen, Oxford Net Zero

Mirte Boot, Carbon Balance Initiative

Stephen Gibbons, BlackGreen

Hugh Helferty, Producer Accountability for Carbon Emissions

Stuart Jenkins, Oxford University

Margriet Kuijper, Independent Consultant

Jessica Nacheman, Producer Accountability for Carbon Emissions

Jane Savage, Producer Accountability for Carbon Emissions

Ingrid Sundvor, Carbon Balance Initiative

Institutions are listed for identification purposes only.

To learn more or to inquire about adding your signature to the letter, please email

Leave a Reply