Unveiling the titans of carbon: How 57 companies drive the global climate crisis

The quest to curb emissions becomes not just a matter of individual or national effort but a pressing need for accountability at the corporate level.

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A new report from Carbon Majors has cast a glaring spotlight on 57 entities, pinpointing them as the architects behind a staggering 80% of the global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel and cement production over the span from 2016 to 2022. Among the most notable on this list are industry behemoths such as Saudi Aramco, Gazprom, and Coal India, who, alongside a mix of state and investor-owned corporations, have been identified as key players in the ongoing climate crisis.

The findings of the Carbon Majors report are a reminder of the formidable challenge that lies ahead in the global fight against climate change. With these companies at the forefront, the quest to curb emissions becomes not just a matter of individual or national effort but a pressing need for accountability at the corporate level.

The report presents a disconcerting narrative: a mere 57 companies, through their relentless extraction and production of fossil fuels and cement, have significantly contributed to the environmental upheaval witnessed in recent years. This cohort of state-controlled and private sector giants has not only dominated the industrial landscape but has also been instrumental in shaping the trajectory of global emissions.

At the heart of the report’s findings is the revelation that nation-state producers are responsible for 38% of the emissions tallied in the Carbon Majors database. This is the largest share attributed to any single group, underscoring the substantial role that state-backed entities play in the fossil fuel sector. In the arena of investor-owned corporations, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and BP emerge as the top contributors, with ExxonMobil alone accounting for 3.6 gigatons of CO2 emissions over a seven-year period.

The implications of these findings are far-reaching, touching on the very essence of the global climate dialogue. Tzeporah Berman, International Program Director at Stand.earth and chair at Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, articulated the direct consequences of these corporate actions, stating, “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.” Her statement echoes a growing consensus that the accountability for climate change extends beyond nations to include the corporate giants reaping profits at the environment’s expense.

Richard Heede, who laid the groundwork for the Carbon Majors dataset, condemned the moral bankruptcy of these corporations in no uncertain terms. “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,” Heede remarked, pointing to the systemic reliance on oil and gas engineered by these companies’ influence over governmental policies.

The Carbon Majors report does not merely catalog emissions; it paints a comprehensive picture of the systemic issues at play. It highlights the alarming trend of increased production and emissions post-Paris Agreement, a period during which the world ostensibly committed to reducing its carbon footprint. This increase is particularly pronounced among state-owned entities, especially in the Asian coal sector, signaling a worrying divergence from the global consensus on climate action.

The database’s historical scope, stretching back to 1854, offers a broader perspective on the issue, revealing the long-term impact of these entities on global emissions. Chinese state coal production, for instance, is identified as the single largest contributor historically, underscoring the significant shift in emission sources from Western corporations to Asian state entities in the modern era.

As the global community grapples with the realities of climate change, the findings of the Carbon Majors report serve as a critical touchstone in the discourse on corporate accountability and environmental stewardship. Daan Van Acker, Program Manager at InfluenceMap, emphasized the need for a drastic change in direction, stating, “This research provides a crucial link in holding these energy giants to account on the consequences of their activities.”

The moral imperative for these corporations to rectify the damages wrought by their operations has never been clearer. Proposals like that of Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, which calls for a significant contribution from oil and gas companies to a loss and damage fund, represent a tangible step towards redress and accountability.

The journey towards a sustainable future is fraught with challenges, but the clarity provided by reports like Carbon Majors’ is an essential compass guiding the way.

“If business as usual continues, we won’t have a livable planet for our children and grandchildren,” said Richard Heede.

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Ruth Milka started as an intern for NationofChange in 2015. Known for her thoughtful and thorough approach, Ruth is committed to shedding light on the intersection of environmental issues and their impact on human communities. Her reporting consistently highlights the urgency of environmental challenges while emphasizing the human stories at the heart of these issues. Ruth’s work is driven by a passion for truth and a dedication to informing the public about critical global matters concerning the environment and human rights.

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