Issues and Concerns

Elsevier is facilitating fossil fuel expansion, activity associated with climate-related human rights harms. The company has been unwilling to signal an end to this for years, while also communicating misleading claims about its industry customers.

“This research enhances reservoir characterization, which is vital for successful hydrocarbon exploration, development, and production efforts in the area.”
Elsevier paper (2024)
“New fossil fuel projects, anywhere in the world, are a dangerous threat to human rights."
Dr. Yung En Chee, Senior Research Fellow, The University of Melbourne
CRC Science Advisory Board Member

Fossil fuel expansion

Since at least 2011, scientists have warned that the world had discovered more fossil fuels than can safely be burned. By 2021, new fossil fuel projects were declared to be incompatible with the Paris warming target—and that most known reserves must stay in the ground to ensure a safe transition and avoid human rights harms. Yet Elsevier still informs the fossil fuel industry's development of new resources, avoiding its UNGP human rights obligations.

Elsevier publications—some staffed by employees of Exxon, Chevron, and other oil majors that are a threat to human rights—provide data and technical resources that enable customers to analyze resource potential, inform exploration, and develop new reservoirs in the remaining frontiers for oil and gas exploration. Elsevier is failing to consider the fact that research institutions and policy makers are heavily compromised by its fossil fuel industry customers, which are funding extensive research to suit their business aims while blocking climate policy that would restrict it. Elsevier also remains willing to publish content that undermines established science by declaring “rapid decarbonization” is “unnecessary” to keep warming under 2°C.

Well into 2023, Elsevier R&D was still openly promoting that it acts in service of most Fortune 500 oil and gas companies, with resources to scale up operations, respond to new opportunities, and increase exploration successes. While service Geofacets has been described as being "sunsetted," its resources are still being promoted for use by entities serving fossil fuel expansion. Elsevier was recently listed as an OSDU Forum member, providing geophysical information on the Amazon OSDU platform, where data is provided to oil majors that have business plans antithetical to net zero pathways, warming targets, and a global, science-based, and just transition.

RELX exhibitions provide valuable resources for coal companies that are still expanding development of unburnable coal, refusing to decarbonize, and severely misaligned with the Paris Agreement.

RELX's PAC provides financial support for political leaders in the United States, some of whom act to block effective climate action and deny climate change. Said one past recipient: "There isn't any real science to say we are altering the climate path of the earth."

"A spokesperson for the company said they are not prepared to draw a line between the transition away from fossil fuels and the expansion of oil and gas extraction."

—The Guardian, February 2022

"Fossil fuel industries need to be shut down as soon as possible."

—Joyashree Roy,
Elsevier External Climate Board member

Elsevier is a former member of the OSDU Forum, started by O&G majors so exploration and production companies could have data in one centralized cloud solution, making new projects more efficient and profitable.


Industry misinformation

As it maintains customers whose business plans are a deep threat to human well-being, Elsevier is assisting an industry committed to hydrocarbon expansion through messaging that misleads the public about the misalignment of these plans with what's required to maintain a livable planet—such as an immediate reduction in greenhouse gas emissions this decade and no new fossil fuel projects. Rather than sounding the alarm about this industry, Elsevier has generated misconceptions about it.

"It is an industry that has already contributed to the suffering of many millions of people across the planet [and] has repeatedly stood in the way of technical progress towards a cleaner, better world. This is the industry Elsevier decided to work with while talking about the importance of sustainability."

—Paul Behrens, Associate Professor of Energy and Environmental Change, Leiden University, and Speaker at Elsevier's 2021 SUSTAIN Festival

"The longer these companies hold on to their social license to operate the longer they can maximise their production.”

 —Elsevier paper: White Knights, or Horsemen of the Apocalypse?, 2021

"[Fossil fuel] enablers are still racing to expand production, knowing full well that their business model is inconsistent with human survival.”

 —UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, January 2023


The Union of Concerned Scientists has previously concluded that "Elsevier is engaged in greenwashing," and has labeled RELX's stance that it's focused on a transition as being "demonstrably false." The company has oil and gas customers with no science-based, just transition plans, but plans that are fundamentally altering the planet's capacity to sustain life. RELX has made a variety of statements and pledges that collectively give the impression that it would not be involved in aiding such businesses. After a 2021 employee ethics complaint, Elsevier/RELX has shifted some of its marketing materials, but has fallen short of ending support for new projects and customers still engaged in fossil fuel expansion—activity carrying negative human rights risks.

Former content

Altered content

(September 2023)
R&D—Oil and Gas:
"Solutions for Oil and Gas"
R&D—Sustainability and climate change: "Solutions for a Sustainable World"
R&D Solutions: "Oil and gas going green"
R&D: Oil and Gas: "Do More With Less"
R&D—Knovel Oil and Gas: "Accelerated discoveries"
R&D—Knovel Oil and Gas: "Enhanced Oil Recovery"
R&D—Deepwater Exploration: Locate “hydrocarbon accumulations that we couldn’t find before”
"Knovel helps oil and gas companies achieve operational excellence and reduce risk in an unpredictable environment
The Best Path to Operational Excellence May Require Being More Innovative.

"We need to make sure that we are definitely focused on data for good. Our colleagues are doing just that."

—Dr. Márcia Balisciano, Global Head of Corporate Responsibility, RELX
'Unique Contributions' podcast, 2021

"Fossil fuels are the greatest contributor to climate change. Allowing the continued expansion of this industry is unconscionable."

—Muhammad Yunus
Keynote speaker at RELX SDG Inspiration Day, 2021

"I don't think you understand what 'transition' means."

—Dr. Caroline Vincent, speaking to RELX leaders at the 2023 Annual General Meeting

Declaring journals as having 'transitioned' has not resulted in a prohibition on content that serves new oil and gas, activity the IEA has declared needs to already have stopped to realistically ensure a just and timely transition. Some Elsevier journals remain staffed by fossil fuel industry professionals whose employers are working to develop extensive new resources. Despite this, the company maintains that it “wouldn’t want to tell journal editors what they can and can’t publish.” (Márcia Balisciano, Global Head of Corporate Responsibility)

Previous scope

Altered scope

Recent paper examples

Unconventional Resources:
Covering “geologic, geophysical, and engineering aspects of all unconventional resource opportunities.”
Unconventional Resources:
Focusing "on energy transition and achieving net-zero emission targets."
Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering:
To "bridge the gap between the engineering, the geology and the science of petroleum and natural gas."
Rebranded: Geoenergy Science and Engineering:
Focusing "on energy transition and achieving net-zero emission targets."
Marine and Petroleum Geology: "The exchange of multidisciplinary concepts, interpretations and techniques for all concerned with marine and petroleum geology."
Marine and Petroleum Geology:
The journal aims to advance the environmentally sustainable exploration and utilization of natural resources of petroleum and gas hydrate."