POLITICS

Fossil Fuel Execs Made Twice As Much As U.S. Pledged To Help Fight Climate Change Overseas

"If we don't reverse these perverse incentives, we all remain at risk."

WASHINGTON -- The top executives at the largest publicly held fossil fuel companies in the United States have made nearly $6 billion in the last five years -- enough to double the U.S. commitment to addressing climate change abroad.

A new report from the Institute for Policy Studies, released Wednesday, analyzes the compensation for the top five executives at the 30 largest oil, gas and coal companies in the country as reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which totaled $5.97 billion between 2010 and 2014.

By comparison, the United States has committed $3 billion over four years to an international fund meant to help developing countries address climate change, and might have trouble coughing even that up if Republicans in Congress have their way in budget disputes.

The CEOs analyzed in the report averaged $14.7 million in total compensation last year. ConocoPhillips head Ryan Lance and ExxonMobil head Rex Tillerson topped the list at $27.6 million and $33.1 million, respectively.

Tillerson has suggested both that climate change is not as big a deal as it's been made out to be, and that adapting to whatever change there is should be easy. 

The institute's report on executive pay, which it releases annually but is focusing on climate change for the first time, argues that the incentives and overall pay structure for executives is hindering climate action. Many are compensated through stock options, which creates an incentive to focus on raising share prices in the short term. And while all of the companies surveyed reward executives for expanding fossil fuel reserves, none of them had such incentives for expanding investments in renewable energy, the paper argues.

"I think our numbers show that CEO pay encourages executives to behave in a way that is deepening the climate crisis," said Sarah Anderson, global economy project director at the Institute for Policy Studies, in an interview with The Huffington Post. "If we don't reverse these perverse incentives, we all remain at risk."

Previous studies have found that the world cannot burn all the fossil fuels currently in reserves without far exceeding the 2 degree Celsius limit on global temperature rise that world leaders have agreed to in international negotiations.

"Executives are still clinging to this business model that is locking us into a destructive climate path," Anderson said.

The total compensation also puts into perspective the amount currently pledged to help developing nations address climate change. World leaders have committed just over $10 billion in total to get that fund off the ground -- so the pay of the top fossil fuel executives in the U.S. is more than half that. 

"Climate change can seem so overwhelming, the costs associated with addressing it seem so massive," Anderson said. "But when we boiled down and compared it to the compensation being pocketed by so few executives, it really puts things into perspective."