Catalytic carbon–carbon bond formation has enabled the streamlining of synthetic routes when assembling complex molecules1. It is particularly important when incorporating saturated hydrocarbons, which are common motifs in petrochemicals and biologically relevant molecules. However, cross-coupling methods that involve alkyl electrophiles result in catalytic bond formation only at specific and previously functionalized sites2. Here we describe a catalytic method that is capable of promoting carboxylation reactions at remote and unfunctionalized aliphatic sites with carbon dioxide at atmospheric pressure. The reaction occurs via selective migration of the catalyst along the hydrocarbon side-chain3 with excellent regio- and chemoselectivity, representing a remarkable reactivity relay when compared with classical cross-coupling reactions. Our results demonstrate that site-selectivity can be switched and controlled, enabling the functionalization of less-reactive positions in the presence of a priori more reactive ones. Furthermore, we show that raw materials obtained in bulk from petroleum processing, such as alkanes and unrefined mixtures of olefins, can be used as substrates. This offers an opportunity to integrate a catalytic platform en route to valuable fatty acids by transforming petroleum-derived feedstocks directly4.