Environmental journalist Jeremy Hance, a regular contributor to ALERT, tells us it's time to 'name and shame' the world's biggest polluters.
Trying to figure out if you can point the finger at anyone in particular for our current climate crisis? Maybe you can: how about 90 someones?
In 2014, a stunning paper revealed that just 90 investor-owned corporations and government-run industries are responsible for 63 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions (including carbon dioxide and methane) over the past 250-plus years.
All the more remarkable is that the research is the product of one scientist, Richard Heede, the co-director and founder of the Climate Accountability Institute, who spent eight years sifting through data on fossil fuel’s heaviest hitters.
Recently highlighted in Science, Heede has since updated his research to include more recent years (2011-2013).
Heede began whittling away at climate culprits by looking at those corporations, state-owned companies, and state actors that emitted over 8 million tonnes of carbon annually. He then estimated their emissions based on data from wherever he could find it.
In the end, Heede came up with a master list including 56 oil and natural-gas producers, 37 coal producers, and 7 cement producers.
Most –- 50 –- are investor-owned corporations, but 31 are owned by states and 9 are state actors, either currently or previously in existence.
All told, these heavy polluters emitted the equivalent of 914 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide between 1854 and 2010.
The List of Sinners
The big sinners include well-known names such as ExxonMobil, BP, and Chevron, but also lesser-known state-linked entities like Russia’s Gazprom and Iran’s National Iranian Oil Company.
Just eight of these corporations are responsible for 20 percent of global emissions. Tied for first place on this dubious list are Saudi Aramco and Chevron.
Next, in order, are ExxonMobil, BP, Gazprom, Royal Dutch Shell, National Iranian Oil Company, and Petroleos Mexicanos.
Still, Heede admits in his paper that his work is both conservative and has gaps in reporting, largely due to the difficulty of getting complete and unambiguous records from the corporations in questions. The result is likely an under-reporting, not overstating, of the responsibility of these 90 big polluters.
The list, and its updates, helps put a real face to the planet's climate culprits. Heede told The Guardian newspaper that the heads of these ‘carbon majors’ could all fit into a couple of buses.
Half of All Emissions in Last 25 Years
Not only was Heede able to set 63 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions at the feet of just 90 actors, but he also showed that half of those emissions came after 1988.
This means that as much greenhouse gases were spewed out in the last 25 years (1989-2013) as were emitted between 1751 and 1988 -- the previous 237 years.
This reveals the common lie that these corporations had no idea their actions were risking climate stability. The science of climate change was already solidified by the late 1980s, including James Hansen’s famous testimony to the U.S. Congress on the issue in 1988.
And, as we now know, thanks to a massive investigation by Inside Climate News, ExxonMobil had confirmed both the reality of climate change and its devastating impacts during extensive internal research between the 1960 and 1980s –- but hid their findings while going on to become one of the biggest climate-change deniers in subsequent years.
Time to Divest
Heede’s research has helped change the narrative around climate change -- and it's given science-based ammunition to groups working to take climate-change culprits to court.
The good news: mega-polluters are not immune. They can be protested against, publicly shamed, sued, and even regulated.
It's time to do all of the above -- and to urge universities and other responsible investors to sell off their stocks from big polluters and stop profiting from harmful climate change.