"Gas Burning" by Deepwater Horizon Response is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

A Small Group Of Carbon Majors Has Created The Most Climate Pollution, & They’re Not Slowing Down

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Which companies are most heavily linked to CO2 emissions? The ignominious winner is the most prominent group of carbon majors — the world’s largest oil, gas, coal, and cement producers. They are the primary drivers of climate pollution. A new report by InfluenceMap using the iconic Carbon Majors database quantifies cumulative historical emissions from 1854 through 2022. The new analysis of the whole Carbon Majors dataset reveals that over 70% of global fossil fuel and cement CO2 emissions since the Industrial Revolution can be traced to 78 corporate and state producing entities. Over the same period, just 19 entities contributed 50% of these CO2 emissions.

The Carbon Majors data shows that there was a gradual shift in coal supply in the period after the Paris Agreement from investor-owned companies to state-controlled entities. According to the IEA, global coal consumption increased by almost 8% from 2015 to 2022, reaching an all-time high of 8.3 billion tonnes in 2022. This research finds that from 2015 to 2022, CO2e emissions linked to investor-owned coal production decreased by 28%, while CO2e emissions linked to state-owned companies’ and nation-states’ coal production increased by 29% and 19%, respectively.

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Here are the awful results.

  • 57 fossil fuel and cement producers are linked to 80% of global fossil CO2 emissions since the Paris Agreement.
  • 88% of global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and cement from 2016 through 2022 can be linked to 117 producers.
  • Most fossil fuel companies produced more fossil fuels in the 7 years after the Paris Agreement than in the 7 years before the Agreement’s adoption.
  • Over 72% of fossil fuel and cement CO2 emissions since the Industrial Revolution can be traced to the 122 entities in the Carbon Majors database.

“It is morally reprehensible for companies to continue expanding exploration and production of carbon fuels in the face of knowledge now for decades that their products are harmful,” Richard Heede, who established the Carbon Majors dataset, told The Guardian. “Don’t blame consumers who have been forced to be reliant on oil and gas due to government capture by oil and gas companies.”

The Carbon Majors database tracks changes in corporate behavior and production across discrete and clearly defined timescales that are relevant to investors, investigators, and litigators alike. It is a vital and powerful tool in the work toward climate action and climate accountability, showing exactly who is responsible for the lethal heat, extreme weather, and air pollution that is threatening lives and wreaking havoc on our oceans and forests.

Carroll Muffett, president and CEO of the Center for International Environmental Law, emphasizes the importance of having this kind of fossil fuel data about emissions.

“The Carbon Majors database makes it dramatically easier to document, calculate, and visually demonstrate the growing chasm between the urgent demands of climate reality and the continued reckless and intentional growth of oil and gas production.”

The database categorizes entities into 3 types: investor-owned companies, state-owned companies, and nation-states. Clearly, a small group of high emitters is producing the most emissions while failing to slow production. They have no shame — it’s all about profits, power, and prestige.

What’s become evident is that nation-state producers account for 38% of emissions in the database since the Paris Agreement, while state-owned entities account for 37%, and investor-owned companies for 25%.

The increase is most pronounced in Asia, where 13 out of 15 (87%) assessed companies are connected to higher emissions in 2016–2022 than in 2009–2015, and in the Middle East, where this number is 7 out of 10 companies (70%). In Europe, 13 of 23 companies (57%), in South America, 3 of 5 (60%) companies, and in Australia, 3 out of 4 (75%) companies were linked to increased emissions, as were 3 of 6 (50%) African companies. North America is the only region where a minority of companies, 16 of 37 (43%), were linked to rising emissions.

“The Carbon Majors research shows us exactly who is responsible for the lethal heat, extreme weather, and air pollution that is threatening lives and wreaking havoc on our oceans and forests,” Tzeporah Berman, international program director at Stand.earth and chair at Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, said in a statement.

Other key findings from this analysis include:

  • The top 5 investor-owned companies, Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, and ConocoPhillips, are responsible for 11.1% of historical fossil fuel and cement CO2 emissions (196 GtCO2).
  • The top 5 state-owned companies, Saudi Aramco, Gazprom, the National Iranian Oil Company, Coal India, and Pemex, are responsible for 10.9% of historical fossil fuel and cement CO2 emissions (194 GtCO2).
  • Coal supply since 2015 has shifted from investor-owned to state-owned entities. Investor-owned coal production emissions dropped by 939 MtCO2e, a decrease of 27.9%, from 2015 to 2022. However, emissions from nation-state and state-owned producers grew by 2,208 MtCO2e and 343 MtCO2e between 2015 and 2022, increases of 19% and 29%, respectively.
  • The majority of fossil fuel companies totaled higher production in the seven years after the Paris Agreement compared to the seven-year period before. 65% of state-owned companies and 55% of investor-owned companies showed higher production in 2016–2022 than in 2009–2015.
  • The increase in production by state- and investor-owned companies after the Paris Agreement compared to before is most prevalent in Asia. All 5 Asian investor-owned companies and 8 out of the 10 Asian state-owned entities are linked to higher emissions in 2016–2022 compared to 2009–2015. This is primarily shaped by rising emissions from Asian coal production.

The report concludes that these companies have made billions of dollars in profits while denying the problem and delaying and obstructing climate policy. They are spending millions on advertising campaigns about being part of a sustainable solution, all the while continuing to invest in more fossil fuel extraction.

According to Carbon Majors, “These findings emphasize that, more than ever, we need our governments to stand up to these companies, and we need new international cooperation through a Fossil Fuel Treaty to end the expansion of fossil fuels and ensure a truly just transition.”

The Carbon Majors dataset has played a pivotal role in holding fossil fuel producers to account for their climate-related impacts in academic, regulatory, and legal contexts. Examples include quantifying the contribution these entities have made to global surface temperature, sea level, and atmospheric CO2 rise; and establishing corporate accountability for climate-related human rights violations.

Lawsuits against fossil fuel polluters often spend years in courts, with attorneys arguing for dismissal and seeking endless appeals. One human rights commission stated in response,

“We explained that all human rights are inter-related, inter-dependent, and indivisible; that one cannot consider civil and political rights separately from economic, social, and cultural rights.”

Image: “Gas Burning” by Deepwater Horizon Response, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack: https://carolynfortuna.substack.com/.

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