The 20 fossil fuel companies whose relentless exploitation of the world's oil, gas and coal reserves can be directly linked to over one third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the modern era.
New data from world-renowned researchers reveal how this collaboration of state and multinational corporations are driving the climate emergency that threatens humanity's future and details how they continued to expand their operations despite being aware of the devastating impact of the industry on the environment. . planet.
Analysis by Richard Heede of the US Climate Accountability Institute, the world's leading authority on the role of large oil in the growing climate emergency, assesses what global companies have extracted from the soil and the subsequent emissions from which these fossil fuels are produced. responsible. since 1965 - the point where experts say the environmental impact of fossil fuels was known to industry leaders and politicians.
The top 20 companies on the list have contributed 35% of all energy-related carbon dioxide and methane worldwide, totaling 480 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) since 1965.
Identified companies range from investor companies - household names like Chevron, Exxon, BP and Shell - to state-owned companies like Saudi Aramco and Gazprom.
Chevron topped the list of eight investor companies, closely followed by Exxon, BP and Shell. Together, these four global companies are behind more than 10% of the world's carbon emissions since 1965.
Twelve of the major 20 companies belong to the state and together their extractions account for 20% of total emissions over the same period. The main state polluter is Saudi Aramco, which produced 4,38% of the global total on its own.
Michael Mann, one of the world's leading climate scientists, said the findings illuminated the role of fossil fuel companies and urged politicians at upcoming climate talks in Chile in December to take urgent action to control their activities.
Billions of tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. The chart below shows emissions from major 20 companies, state-owned (in black) and private (in yellow):
“The great tragedy of the climate crisis is that seven and a half billion people must pay the price - in the form of a degraded planet - so that a few dozen polluting interests can continue to make record profits. It is a major moral flaw in our political system that we allowed this to happen. ”
The global list of polluters uses the company's reported annual production of oil, natural gas and coal and then calculates how much carbon and methane in the fuels produced is emitted to the atmosphere throughout the supply chain, from extraction to end use.
He found that 90% of the emissions attributed to the main climate-guilty 20 came from the use of its products, such as gasoline, jet fuel, natural gas and thermal coal. One tenth came from the extraction, refining and delivery of finished fuels.
The 20 companies mentioned in the polluters list were contacted. Seven of them answered. Some argued that they were not directly responsible for how the extracted oil, gas or coal was used by consumers. Several contested claims that the environmental impact of fossil fuels was known in the late 1950 or that the industry worked collectively to delay action.
Most explicitly said they accepted climate science and some said they supported the targets set in the Paris agreement to reduce emissions and keep the global temperature rise to 1,5 ° C above pre-industrial levels.
They all highlighted their efforts to invest in renewable or low-carbon energy sources and said that fossil fuel companies had an important role to play in addressing the climate crisis.
PetroChina said it was a company separate from its predecessor, China National Petroleum, and therefore had no influence or responsibility for its historic emissions. Company responses can be read in full here.
Top 20 companies contribute 35% of all carbon dioxide and methane since 1965. Chart shows global emissions (yellow) and 20 listed companies in billions of tons of carbon dioxide:
The latest study builds on previous work by Heede and his team, which analyzed the historic role of fossil fuel companies in escalating the climate crisis.
The impact of coal, oil and gas emissions produced by fossil fuel companies has been enormous. According to research published in 2017 by Peter Frumhoff in the Union of Concerned Scientists in the US and colleagues, emissions of CO2 and methane from the largest industrial carbon producers 90 accounted for nearly half of the global temperature rise and close to a third. Sea level increase between 1880 and 2010. Scientists said this work promoted "consideration of [corporate] historical responsibilities for climate change."
Heede said: “These companies and their products are substantially responsible for the climate emergency, have collectively delayed national and global action for decades and can no longer hide behind the smokescreen that consumers are responsible for.
"Oil, gas and coal executives derail progress and offer banalities when their vast capital, technical knowledge and moral obligation should allow, rather than prevent, the shift to a low carbon future."
Heede said 1965 was chosen as the starting point for this new data, because recent research has revealed that at this stage the environmental impact of fossil fuels was known to industry leaders and policy makers, particularly in the US.
In November of 1965, President Lyndon Johnson released a report by the President's Science Advisory Committee Environmental Pollution Panel, which defined the likely impact of continued fossil fuel production on global warming.
In the same year, the president of the American Petroleum Institute said at his annual meeting: “One of the most important predictions of [the president's report] is that carbon dioxide is being added to the earth's atmosphere by burning coal, oil and oil. Natural. gas at this rate by the year 2000, the thermal balance will be so modified that it will possibly cause marked changes in climate beyond local or national efforts. ”
The main state polluter, Saudi Aramco, is responsible for 4,38% of all carbon dioxide and methane since 1965. Graph shows emissions per company in billions of tons of carbon:
Heede added: "Major companies and industry associations were aware or deliberately ignored the threat of climate change due to the continued use of their products since the late 50 years."
The research aims to take into account the companies most responsible for carbon emissions and move public and political debate away from focusing solely on individual responsibility.
It follows a UN warning in 2018 that the world is only 12 years old to avoid the worst consequences of uncontrolled global warming and to restrict temperature rise to 1,5 ° C above pre-industrial levels.
The study shows that many of the worst offenders are family-owned investor companies around the world and spend billions of pounds on lobbying governments and presenting themselves as environmentally responsible.
A study earlier this year found that the five largest listed oil and gas companies spend nearly $ 200 a year lobbying to delay, control or block policies to combat climate change.
Heede said companies have "a significant moral, financial and legal responsibility for the climate crisis and a proportionate burden to help solve the problem."
He added: “While global consumers, from individuals to companies, are the main emitters of carbon dioxide, the Climate Accountability Institute focuses its work on fossil fuel companies that, in our opinion, have their collective hand in the accelerator that determines carbon emissions and the shift to non-carbon fuels. ”