Timeline

Since the signing of the Paris Agreement, and despite warnings about the implications of increased emissions resulting from fossil fuel expansion, Elsevier has helped the industry to "accelerate discoveries." Elsevier continues to enable and empower high-emitting partners and customers that have business plans antithetical to a livable future. 

“Fossil fuel industries have to be shut down as soon as possible.”
Dr. Joyashree Roy (Elsevier Climate Advisory Board member)

2004RELX/Elsevier joins the UN Global Compact. The UNGC is a voluntary corporate initiative which supports a “precautionary approach to environmental challenges” in which a lack of scientific certainty is not a reason to postpone measures to prevent environmental degradation if there are "threats of serious or irreversible damage.” UNGC also acknowledges that "businesses have minimum responsibilities to meet to respect human rights. They must act with due diligence to avoid infringing the rights of others, which includes addressing any negative human rights impacts related to their business."

2010Elsevier launches Geofacets, a workflow solution "requested by geoscientists working in resource exploration." (Webinar: Introduction to the Geofacets-SEPM Millenium Edition)

2011The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP) are adopted. Businesses are guided to "seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts…Questions of complicity may arise when a business enterprise contributes to, or is seen as contributing to, adverse human rights impacts caused by other parties." 

Scientists warn that most of the world’s fossil fuel reserves cannot be burned without causing catastrophic global heating.

2011Elsevier has "over 60 journals...used by geoscientists in the industry on a daily basis." (Elsevier oil and gas webinar, How to Make a New Venture Project More Successful, July 13, 2011). Elsevier and the Society Geological Society of London pledge to "deliver significant advantage to companies focused on upstream oil and gas exploration."

2012Ron Mobed becomes CEO of Elsevier: "A petroleum engineer by training, his early career work with the collection and analysis of data from oil rigs in the North Sea set the stage for his understanding of the role that data plays across a number of industry sectors."

2013Elsevier positions itself "as the leading book publisher for the oil and gas industry."

2014Elsevier, in "helping solve the exploration puzzle in upstream oil and gas," claims "exploration has never been more seamless." (Video)

2015 The Paris Agreement calls for limiting temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels to prevent serious and irreversible damage. Scientists declare that to keep global temperature rise below 2°C, a third of known oil reserves, half of gas, and 80% of coal have to stay in the ground; The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) states that businesses must “be accountable for their climate impacts and participate responsibly in climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts with full respect for human rights.”

2015Elsevier promotes a gold rush for Mexican oil and gas as also being a "data rush" that the company can help fuel. RELX subsidiary Lexus Nexus promotes due diligence solutions for oil and gas to remove barriers for opening operations in emerging markets.

Headline from The Guardian (2015).

Graphic from The Guardian, based on data from a paper in Nature (2015).

Shell's CEO at a 2018 Elsevier event: "Our goals should also be attainable, with enough ambition to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius." At the time Shell was already facing lawsuits for being misaligned with that goal.

Carbon Tracker diagram (2019).

2016 The Keep it in the Ground Act is introduced in the US Senate; it would prohibit the digging or drilling for fossil fuels on federal land or waters, to align federal energy policies with U.S. climate goals.

2016Elsevier states that "oil and gas companies need to invest $250 billion per year in exploration, and drill approximately 670,000 wells [by 2020]" that will require "a sustainable commitment to investing." (R&D Solutions PDF) Elsevier R&D Solutions case study says that for "helping experts dig deeper and discover more...there’s no better partner."

2017RELX signs the We Are Still In Declaration, aiming to “continue to support climate action to meet the Paris Agreement [...and] remain actively engaged with the international community as part of the global effort to hold warming to well below 2°C and to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy.”

2017"Elsevier’s R&D Solutions is a portfolio of tools that integrate data, analytics and technology capabilities to help oil & gas businesses reduce E&P costs and boost operational efficiency" (R&D Solutions for Oil and Gas PDF); Regarding negative impacts of products, investors are informed "RELX focused its efforts [on its own activities] rather than trying to measure what exactly the customers did with the products" (RELX AGM).

2018 Scientists call for a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty to keep warming below 1.5°C.

2018As Shell faces multiple climate lawsuits pertaining to misalignment with the Paris Agreement, Elsevier invites its CEO to the first annual Elsevier Economics Lecture, where he promotes Shell as being “in step with society's drive to align with the Paris Agreement” and claims that “in Canada, Shell has shown that CCS [carbon capture and storage] works.” Like other CCS projects, that project would be found to emit far more CO2 than it captures.

2019 RELX states that “we believe the Paris Climate Agreement is our best hope for avoiding dangerous climate change…We support global efforts to mitigate climate change through the rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.” (RELX Climate Change Statement)

2019 Elsevier explains that it "enables entire exploration and development teams to gain a deeper understanding of petroleum systems and reservoir properties." (Elsevier Oil and Gas PDF) "Elsevier’s solutions...help oil & gas businesses increase productivity" (Oil and gas going green white paper)

2020 A RELX voluntary initiative indicates it will “implement science-based targets on climate and drive actions that are consistent with a 1.5-degree pathway to achieve net-zero.” (Climate Pact)

2020 Elsevier explains that "to help find things that weren’t found before" is what the company is good at, in this exploration and production webinar and that "Oil & Gas customers are gaining increasing value from ScienceDirect, with unlimited access to an ever-expanding library of interdisciplinary content across a wide range of subject areas." (ScienceDirect Corporate Edition PDF)

2021 The IPCC and IEA conclude new fossil fuel developments are incompatible with global net zero and Paris 1.5°C warming goals.

The UN Human Rights Council adopts resolution 48/13, recognizing “the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.”

The UN states that the "climate change directly and indirectly interferes with the enjoyment of all human rights," and that it's the duty of businesses, under the UNGP, to discontinue "activities with potentially adverse climate change-related human rights impacts."

As "one of the most sustainable businesses in the world," a RELX policy says it's “committed to the protection of the environment, through the prevention of pollution [and to] minimising its contribution to climate change, in line with the scale of action deemed necessary by science.” (RELX Global Environment Policy) RELX signs a letter indicating support for the idea that "corporate responsibility for human rights and the environment is a duty and not a voluntary matter."

2021 Employees report to the company that it appears to be acting contrary to its environmental and human rights commitments. This follows an ethics complaint that observes, despite its ethical policies, the company is engaged in facilitating an increase in fossil fuels, sometimes in collaboration with companies "accused of various environmental and human rights crimes." The company is informed that avoiding the harms associated with 1.5°C overshoot requires "ceasing investments in new fields, stopping production of new reserves, and starting the phase-out of some existing production," but that Elsevier promotes itself as a driver for accelerating discoveries.  Employees, including editors at premium journals, note the company can't serve the interests of fossil fuel majors while also claiming to be responding to the climate emergency at the scale deemed necessary by science. They also highlight the UNGP guidelines, which include the need to discontinue “activities with potentially adverse climate change-related human rights impacts."

Despite reporting “lethal ramifications for hundreds of millions of people just this century,” the company does not find there to be any violations of company policies. Company promotion of the oil industry as 'going green' and 'transitioning' is not flagged as violating its code of ethics. Leaders are asked to provide evidence as to how global fossil fuel expansion could still be compatible with the language of its climate and human rights commitments or a 1.5°C warming target; to substantiate the claim made to employees by an Elsevier Sustainability leader that the industry Elsevier serves is "heavily motivated" to make a transition; to indicate which publics were consulted regarding engagement in the business activities in question; to share what the company considers to be prohibited under its climate and human rights commitments; and to share how large the projected loss of life would need to be for the company to consider the business activities in question antithetical to its commitments.

The company introduces a previously unenforced communications restriction that has the effect of limiting the internal sharing of Elsevier's fossil fuel industry marketing materials and paywalled climate science. The marketing materials are subsequently taken down and websites altered.

Employees ask Cell Press leaders for answers to 10 business, climate, and human rights questions; the questions—including one seeking clarity on Elsevier's commitment to the OECD's non-retaliation guidelines—are never answered, nor is the request to be provided with a timeline for when the company will end its dangerous support for fossil fuel expansion.

A request to disclose Elsevier's fossil fuel activity in a job post is denied, partially under the premise that there isn't consensus that new fossil fuel projects are objectionable. A sustainability journal editor is "not surprised" but finds the reasons "very poor."

"We, the people of Africa, are committed to raising awareness about the detrimental impact of fossil fuel expansion and holding those involved accountable...We urge Elsevier to reconsider its involvement in activities that perpetuate the climate emergency and to prioritize the well-being of communities and the planet."

Healthy Climate Action NGO, CRC Partner Organization

February 24, 2022

October 12, 2022

2022 The company publicly declares it is "not prepared to draw a line between the transition away from fossil fuels and the expansion of oil and gas," activity that "drags us towards disaster." Addressing Cell Press employees, a leader dismisses this by saying the world can't do without fossil fuels and that there aren't alternatives right now. Leaders are subsequently asked to provide employees with evidence to indicate the fossil fuel expansion in question is consistent with realistic pathways to limit warming to 1.5-2°C.

An Elsevier sustainability leader is asked to provide employees with evidence to show the company isn't generating "potentially adverse climate change-related human rights impacts." In response, employees, including many editors from Cell Press and The Lancet, are assured that Elsevier is "ensuring the content, products and data insights we generate help the energy transition."

The same month Richard Horton of The Lancet reports he's been told “by the highest authorities in Elsevier that the company is progressively divesting itself from the oil and gas industries,” Elsevier joins the OSDU Forum, founded by oil and gas majors seeking an open data platform to "enable them all to be more efficient and effective in finding oil deposits." OSDU is called a “game changer” built “to resolve the problems of accessing complex E&P data." OSDU Forum oil majors have business plans antithetical to net zero pathways, warming targets, and a global, science-based, just transition. Fellow members such as Aramco, BP, Chevron, Equinor, Exxon, Petrobras, and Shell are fighting an energy transition, remain severely misaligned with the Paris Agreement, and have CCS (carbon capture and storage) projects that increase oil production. One partner is lobbying to extend one of its coal mines for over 90 years. But Elsevier continues to claim these partners are undertaking an "energy transition."

OSDU FORUM INFO (PDF)

Leaders are again asked about negligence of UNGP commitments to discontinue "activity with adverse climate change-related human rights impacts which may be directly linked to our operations, products or services [and] obtain free, prior, and informed consent from potentially impacted people prior to taking actions likely to have climate-related human rights impacts.”

An Elsevier leader forbids the sharing of an employee report containing scientist testimonials related to Elsevier's stated unwillingness to end support of fossil fuel expansion.

A manager's use of intimidation tactics targeting employee advocates and her use of false claims, including that the company does not even promote fossil fuel extraction, are brought to the attention of RELX Compliance and Ethics; this generates no engagement. Another complaint is brought to a Cell Press Senior Manager regarding management's use of false claims, gaslighting, and pressuring to accept greenwashing practices and disengage from advocacy that's independent of management.

2022 The Union of Concerned Scientists and Scientists for Global Responsibility launch a petition requesting the company address observed inconsistency with its sustainability claims, UN Race to Zero, and the UNGP.

Elsevier flagship journal The Lancet publishes a commentary article that declares Elsevier's continued support for coal, oil, and gas exploration to be "morally and materially insupportable." The Lancet Planetary Health publishes a call to “end expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure and production […due to the] need to save lives from pollution and climate change-related harm.”

2023At the Annual General Meeting, RELX leadership emphasizes to investors that "the world still needs fossil fuels" and that the company continues to provide the industry with "data, and analytics, and information." Products and services the company says have been 'repurposed' and 'transitioned,' are in fact still informing the industry's drive for new projects, and are thus incompatible with realistic just transition scenarios.

Elsevier provides data and information on AWS's OSDU platform. Amazon continues to facilitate the industry's exploration for more hydrocarbons around the world, neglecting the human rights harms of increasing oil and gas production. Amazon justifies oil industry contracts by claiming it's "helping the oil industry move to a greener future" but does not address irreversible impacts caused by increased oil and gas production from its biggest clients.

An Elsevier sustainability leader assures employees that energy journals have been 'transitioned,' even as they and other publications continue to inform global fossil fuel expansion, and claims there is still need for a "scientific dialogue around fossil fuel." Evidence is requested to demonstrate there's room in the carbon budget for all the new projects the company is informing but none is provided.

Multiple HR reps are asked about UNGP commitments pertaining to due diligence that include adverse climate change-related human rights impacts but no answers are provided.

UCS/SGR petition organizers observe that Elsevier is negligent of its UNGP obligations. They conclude its claims "are demonstrably false" and is "turning a blind eye to its activities that enable other entities to remain high emitters." Petition organizers request the company pledge to end support for fossil fuel expansion and industry misinformation by the end of 2023.

2023 Referencing UNGP human rights guidelines, UN investigators send a letter to companies still facilitating "continued exploration for more oil and gas," indicating they are at risk of generating "significantly worsened climate change-related human rights impacts."

With no pledge from RELX to stop empowering companies failing global climate targets, the Union of Concerned Scientists and Scientists for Global Responsibility announce the launch a UNGP-based grievance mechanism process to be spearheaded by Climate Rights Coalition, its partner organizations, and other stakeholders.

2024 Elsevier "sunsets" Geofacets, but it still appears to still be offered for used by third parties promoting fossil fuel expansion.

The company promotes itself as a member of Amazon's Climate Pledge, an initiative that allows companies to remain engaged in facilitating fossil fuel expansion. In asking the pledge's Lead "how the Pledge considers fossil fuel expansion to still be compatible with net zero and the goals of the Paris Agreement," no such evidence is provided in response.

The UN's Race to Zero Policy & Engagement Leader indicates that RELX is not in UN Race to Zero and "thus should not be presenting themselves as such." The Race to Zero interpretation guide indicates members must restrict facilitating new fossil fuel assets in line with the IEA and IPCC's pathways, something not covered in Elsevier journal scopes.

2023 is declared the hottest year on record. In February: Canada's fire season starts, the Atlantic Ocean is 'on fire' with the currents system shows signals of collapse, Antarctica's 'Doomsday Glacier' is rapidly melting, the world has for the first time spent a year over 1.5°C, there's extreme heat across the globe, and the planet is warming at an unprecedented and accelerating rate. Richard Horton observes in The Lancet that, due to global heating, "every dimension of health tracked by the Lancet Countdown is getting worse, not better."

Fossil fuel supply increases are projected to produce the highest-ever level of global oil supply in 2024, as Elsevier continues to offer content to the industry that's "vital for successful hydrocarbon exploration, development, and production efforts." An Elsevier paper declares "there is no compelling evidence of an impending global disaster caused by manmade greenhouse gas emissions" and "net-zero emission policies are not necessary" for keeping heating below 2°C this century. Another concludes that  “the officially presented impact of anthropogenic CO2 increase on Earth's climate is merely a hypothesis rather than a substantiated fact." 

5 OSDU Forum members are sued for climate harms and discrediting science, as Shell waters down its climate pledges, ExxonMobil's CEO blames the public for the crisis, and Saudi Aramco's CEO says it's time to abandon the fantasy of phasing out fossil fuels.

2024 With over 150 partner organizations, CRC's initial communication is delivered to RELX, including a complaint submitted to The Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council. As employees did in 2021, RELX is asked to provide a timeline for when it will stop supporting activities carrying credible risk for generating substantial human rights harms.

An Amnesty International human rights event calls on the UN to reform its voluntary corporate initiatives that are enabling companies to greenwash and hide their negative climate and human rights impacts. An associated petition, calling attention to oil majors, Elsevier, and other enablers of expansion, is delivered to the UN.

The OSDU Forum removes Elsevier from its list of members.

Union of Concerned Scientists blog post (2023).

5 of Elsevier's OSDU Forum partners are sued for discrediting science in February 2024. Elsevier is subsequently removed from the Forum's list of partners.

"The oil and gas industries continue to profit from the suffering of Africans, selling the fairy tale of easy wealth to exploitative elites while taking no responsibility for the long-term costs of these industries. Fossil fuels are no longer essential to ending poverty in Africa – they are now one of its leading causes."

David Le Page, Director of Fossil Free South Africa (CRC Partner Organization)