• How just 57 companies caused the climate crisis

Industrial Emissions

How just 57 companies caused the climate crisis

Apr 17 2024

The influence of just a small number of companies on global warming is stark and disproportionate. Recent data reveals that only 57 companies, primarily in the oil, gas, coal, and cement industries, are responsible for 80% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions since the Paris Agreement in 2016. This alarming statistic underscores the significant impact that these companies have on our planet's climate. 

In 2015, nations worldwide gathered to sign the Paris Agreement, committing to limit global warming and mitigate climate change effects. However, the years following the agreement have seen continued and even increased production of fossil fuels by some of the world's largest carbon producers, contravening the spirit of Paris. The Carbon Majors Database, updated and maintained by the nonprofit think tank InfluenceMap, highlights that many of these companies ramped up their fossil fuel outputs rather than scaling back. 

Among these major contributors, state-owned enterprises such as Saudi Aramco, and Gazprom, along with large private sector companies like ExxonMobil, have been identified as the top emitters. This group of elite carbon producers not only continues to extract and burn fossil fuels at an increasing rate but also shapes the climate policies through significant lobbying and marketing efforts, claiming sustainability goals. 

The data also points to a concerning trend of state-owned companies in countries like China and Russia increasing their fossil fuel production more significantly than in the private sector. This shift has massive implications for global carbon emissions, with these state-run giants accounting for a growing share of the global total. In the Asian region, especially, coal production has seen a substantial increase, with Chinese state-run companies leading in terms of contribution to global emissions

The ethical implications of continued fossil fuel production in the face of clear scientific warnings about its consequences are significant. Researchers and activists argue that it is morally reprehensible for these corporations to expand their operations knowing well the damage they are causing to the environment and ultimately to human health and global economies.  

The ongoing research and the revelations from the Carbon Majors Database have begun to play a crucial role in legal battles and financial accountability movements. For instance, the database has been used in lawsuits where companies are held liable for environmental damage, highlighting the direct link between their activities and global warming. This has pushed for more transparency and responsibility from these major polluters.  

The response to this crisis requires a concerted effort from global leaders, policymakers, and the public. There is a growing call for an international treaty to manage and eventually phase out fossil fuel production. Additionally, initiatives like the proposal from the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, suggest that fossil fuel companies should contribute financially to a damage fund, acknowledging their role in climate change

The stark findings from InfluenceMap and other environmental watchdogs serve as a clarion call for immediate and decisive action against the few corporations responsible for a majority of the global emissions. The data not only highlights the disproportionate role of these entities in exacerbating the climate crisis but also emphasizes the need for robust, enforceable policies that align with the global targets set in the Paris Agreement. The path forward must include a mix of regulatory actions, corporate accountability, and a shift towards sustainable energy alternatives to mitigate the impact of these carbon majors on our planet. 


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