It’s Companies, Not Countries That Are Contributing Most to Climate Change

(3BL Media/Justmeans) — If you’ve ever flown across an ocean and looked out the window from 39,000 feet, it’s easy to think about how incredibly vast this planet is, and wonder how one species among thousands could possibly change the meteorological course of something this big. Then, you think about how there is almost no place remotely close to civilization that you can’t get to in two days or less, thanks almost entirely to fossil fuels. Then you think of the hundreds, if not thousands of other airplanes in the air at this same moment, and the millions of cars and trucks on the roads every single moment as they have been for a century or more.

We’re taking this flight of fancy to prepare you for another fact that’s going to be difficult to believe. If you think the intensity of six or seven billion humans generating enough air pollution to irreversibly change the climate is a bit hard to swallow, you’ll need a glass of water to go with this one.

According to the Carbon Disclosure Project’s Carbon Majors Report, the world’s top 100 fossil fuel companies are responsible for 71% of all the emissions produced by humans on Planet Earth.

The numbers come from the Carbon Disclosure Project’s database, which began collecting data, primarily at the country level in 1988, when the UN IPCC was first created in recognition of the potential severity of the problem.

The Carbon Majors database was established in 2013, as it became clear that corporations, rather than countries, might provide additional insight into the major emission sources. Among their findings lies the fact that the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the fossil fuel industry in the 28 years since the IPCC was formed, is equal to all of the emissions produced in the years leading up to that date, going back to the industrial revolution. If that’s not enough of a surprise, then consider the fact that more than half of those emissions can be traced to just 25 companies, some of which are corporate while others are state-owned.

It’s important to recognize where the emissions are coming from and who the decision-makers are, since those are the people that those concerned about the problem need to be talking to and taking action towards, to persuade them to take a different course. This does present a different view of the problem, departing, for example ,from the UN IPCC approach which looked at individual countries as the responsible parties. This shifts at least some substantial amount of change-making power away from policymakers and into the hands of investors and consumers. Of course, national contributions are still extremely important, and, as we shall see, often one and the same with the nationalized companies that are responsible for a large percentage of emissions. In fact, the four highest emitting companies, from a cumulative perspective, going back to 1988, were all state-owned. These include, in descending order of emission level: China’s state-owned coal operation, Saudi Arabia Oil Company (Aramco), Gazprom OAO (Russia), and National Iranian Oil Company. These four companies combined to produce a full 25% of global industrial emissions in that time frame. Number five was Exxon-Mobil, responsible for 2% of the total. Other American household names include Shell, BP and Chevron.

The Carbon Majors database consists of 100 companies, which include: 41 public investor-owned companies; 16 private investor-owned companies; and 43 state-owned or “state represented” companies. These contributors produced 923 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent from “direct operational and product-related carbon dioxide and methane emissions,” over the period from 1854-2015, which represents over half of global industrial GHG emissions going back to the dawn of the industrial revolution (1751). The full dataset includes 224 companies that represent 72% of all emissions produced in 2015.

This information will certainly help to focus efforts on solving the problem, which is, simply stated, if fossil fuels continue to be extracted at the same rate over the next 28 years as they were between 1988 and 2017, global average temperatures would be on course to rise by 4˚C by the end of the century. The consequences of this would be “catastrophic,” including significant regions becoming uninhabitable, along with sea level rise of several meters, which would put a good many coastal cities under water, and possibly a future as bleak as this.