Revealing how fossil fuel majors contribute to the climate crisis

Recently, The Guardian has had a series of articles on the need to rein in the oil majors.  The lead article on the series was by Rick Heede, who leads the Climate Accountability Institute’s Carbon Majors project, which traces carbon dioxide emissions to oil, gas, and coal producers. Rick is a long-time friend of EiD. In this article the institute has released a new dataset quantifying how much each of the largest oil, natural gas, and coal companies has contributed to the climate crisis since 1965


Carbon Majors: Update of Top Twenty Companies 1965-2017

Climate Accountability Institute is releasing a new dataset quantifying how much each of the largest oil, natural gas, and coal companies has contributed to the climate crisis since 1965. We find that the Top Twenty companies have collectively contributed 480 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide and methane, chiefly from the combustion of their products, equivalent to 35% of all fossil fuel and cement emissions worldwide since 1965 (global total of 1.35 trillion tCO2e).

The table sums emissions for the period 1965 to 2017. Global emissions are also shown, and company emissions are shown as percent of global emissions over the same period.

On the theory that fossil fuel producers bear substantial responsibility for the adverse impacts of their products, we set out to determine how much each company’s carbon fuels contributed to rising carbon dioxide emissions. We also estimate their direct operational emissions (~12% of their total), which include CO2 from flaring and venting and own fuel use, and fugitive methane. The arrow illustrates the arc of CAI’s work from quantifying and attributing emissions to carbon producers, modeling their impact on global climate, and contributing to efforts to hold companies accountable for climate damages.

Key findings:

  • Global fossil fuel and cement emissions from 1965 to 2018 totaled 1,354 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide and energy-related methane (GtCO2e);
  • The twenty largest investor-owned and state-owned fossil fuel companies produced carbon fuels that emitted 35% of the global total (480 GtCO2e);
  • If we look over the entire historical data we find the current database of 103 fossil fuel and cement entities emitted 1,221 GtCO2e, or 69.8% of global since 1751 (1.75 TtCO2e); of which the Top Twenty companies are responsible for 526 GtCO2e, or 30% of all fossil fuel and cement emission since 1751;
  • These companies have significant moral, financial, and legal responsibility for the climate crisis, and a commensurate burden to help address the problem;
  • Half of all global fossil fuel and cement CO2 emissions since 1751 have been emitted since 1990;
  • The climate crisis is worsening, global emissions are still rising, and they must peak immediately in order to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030 and net zero by 2050.

It is incumbent on companies that value their social license to operate to respect climate science, manage corporate risks accordingly, commit to reducing future production of carbon fuels and their emissions in alignment with the Paris Agreement pathway under 1.5 °C (net zero by 2050), support the decarbonization of the global economy, and shift their capital investments toward renewables, carbon sequestration, and low-carbon fuels in line with science-based targets. Companies leading this transition will prosper, and laggards will perish. We will be watching.

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