Just 20 Companies Are Responsible for 35% of All Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The Climate Accountability Institute recently released a new report into the role of the oil and gas industry in our climate crisis. The report looks at companies within this industry since 1965*, evaluating the fossil fuels which they are responsible for extracting from the earth and the emissions that these fossil fuels are responsible for.
The key finding of this report? That just twenty fossil fuel companies are responsible for 35% of the global total greenhouse gas emissions since 1965.
These companies are a mixture of investor-owned, private companies, and state-owned companies. Top of the list comes Saudi Aramco, a state-owned company in Saudi Arabia which is responsible for 4.38% of the global total emissions since 1965. In terms of private companies, Chevron, an American energy company active in 180 countries, is the worst offender, responsible for 3.2% of global total emissions since 1965. You probably recognise Exxon, BP, and Shell who are also up there in the list.
Beyond that, the report also looked further into historical data and concluded that 103 fossil fuel and cement companies were responsible for 69.8% of global total greenhouse emissions since 1751.
Evidently, the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions can be traced back to a fairly small number of businesses operating within the oil and gas industry, and making profit from the extraction of fossil fuels. Most of those emissions have been released in the 54 years since 1965, when the dangerous impacts of increased carbon dioxide in our atmosphere was already known.
*They choose 1965 as the start date because they argue that this is the point at which the negative environmental impact of fossil fuels was well known by scientists, politicians, and business leaders.
Why does this matter?
These companies knew that by continuing to extract fossil fuels, and burn them to generate fuel, they were releasing gases into our atmosphere which would have detrimental consequences for the planet, for humans, and for the species which we share the earth with.
And yet, they continued to extract more and more fossil fuels from the earth.
This matters because it means that these oil and gas companies undeniably have a significant moral responsibility for the climate crisis that we now find ourselves within. Therefore, they should also carry the burden now of helping to address the problem and find solutions.
And yet, they continue to extract more and more fossil fuels from the earth.
Investment in renewable energy may be increasing year on year, but the amount of total energy which we use is also increasing, meaning that our global reliance on fossil fuels for energy is unlikely to go away anytime soon.
In the meantime, we’re still blaming individual people for the climate crisis. Whilst the oil and gas companies continue to drive increasing emissions, we are told to ensure that we recycle, buy electric cars, switch off lights when we leave the room… Individuals must reduce their energy consumption to solve climate change, we are told, whilst we are also surrounded by company adverts telling us to buy more and use more to be more.
“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 the responsible parties.”
— Richard Heede, Climate Accountability Institute
Indeed, the Guardian newspaper actually reached out to the 20 companies on the list for their responses. Most, tellingly, did not respond at all. Of those that did, there were two clear themes: denial and excuses.
ExxonMobil, for instance, immediately tried to take themselves out of the equation of being part of the problem:
“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global issue and requires global participation and actions. We have laid out in detail how these claims have been manufactured here, and some examples of how our research has been misrepresented is also here.”
And then come the excuses, the biggest of which is the claim that these companies are already doing their part, investing in renewables and technologies which will ensure they don’t contribute to further emissions. This would be great if it was true. In reality this can only be called greenwashing, claiming that they’re doing their part whilst continuing to extract more and more fossil fuels from the ground in the name of profit.
Shell is one of the companies who made this excuse:
“We have already invested billions of dollars in a range of low-carbon technologies, from biofuels, hydrogen and wind power, to electric vehicle charging and smart energy storage solutions.”
And Chevron is another:
“Chevron is taking action to address climate change by investing in technology and low-carbon business opportunities that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions while continuing to produce affordable, reliable, and ever-cleaner energy to support social and economic progress.”
Time is ticking, and the likelihood of us keeping to the Paris Agreement and limiting global warming to 2 degrees is getting slimmer and slimmer. It’s time for the oil and gas industry to accept responsibility, and it’s time for our governments to stop funding these companies in the name of GDP growth.