100 companies to blame for 71% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions

New research from the Climate Disclosure Project (CDP) has revealed 71% of the world’s industrial greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) can be traced to just 100 fossil fuel producers.

The CDP, working in collaboration with the Climate Accountability Institute, identified companies including ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Saudi Aramco and Gazprom as belonging to a group of companies that are the source of 635 billion tonnes of GHGs emitted since 1988, the year human-induced climate change was officially recognised.

“This ground-breaking report pinpoints how a relatively small set of just 100 fossil fuel producers may hold the key to systemic change on carbon emissions,” said Pedro Faria, Technical Director at CDP.

“We are seeing critical shifts in policy, innovation and financial capital that put the tipping point for a low carbon transition in reach, and this historic data shows how important the role of the carbon majors, and the investors who own them, will be.”

If the trend in fossil fuel extraction continues over the next 28 years as it has over the last 28, global average temperatures would be on course to rise by 4ºC by the end of the century, which would likely result in substantial species extinction and large food scarcity risks worldwide.

“From carbon capture to clean energy, to methane mitigation to operational efficiencies, fossil fuel majors will have to demonstrate leadership by contributing to the low carbon transition at the scale and pace required,” said Richard Heede of The Climate Accountability Institute.

“Fossil fuel extraction companies will need to plan their future in the context of a radical transformation of the global energy system. They owe it to the millions of clients they serve who are already feeling the effects of climate change, to consumers and investors, and to the many millions more that require energy for the comfort of their daily lives but are looking for alternatives to their products.”

Of the 100 companies highlighted, 59% are state owned, with companies from Russia, China and Iran coming in for particular criticism, which highlights just how important the Paris Agreement could be for curbing greenhouse emissions.

Outside of the state-owned companies, almost a third of the others, 32%, are publicly listed investor-owned companies.

Faria said investors in these companies need to take a much more active role in reducing emissions.

“In particular, the report shows that investors in fossil fuel companies own a great legacy of almost a third of all industrial GHG emissions, and carry influence over one fifth of the world’s industrial GHG emissions today,” said Faria.

“That puts a significant responsibility on those investors to engage with carbon majors and urge them to disclose climate risk, and set ambitious emission reduction targets through the Science Based Targets initiative to ensure they are aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

Carbon capture and storage may never be financially viable: leading economist

Leading economist Professor Gordon Hughes, professor of economics at the University of Edinburgh and a former adviser to the World Bank, has warned that claims of carbon capture and storage’s (CCS) potential are ignoring key considerations to its viability and that it will likely be too expensive to use.

The technology, which captures carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions to prevent it entering the atmosphere, has been touted not only as an environmental victory, but a cost-saver for industries not prepared to switch to renewables.

The essence of carbon capture is in the scrubbing of the carbon dioxide from the flue gas at fossil fuel plants, particularly coal, via absorption (currently the dominant method), adsorption or membrane gas separation. Once the carbon dioxide has been captured, it can be transported and stored where it cannot enter the atmosphere.

While the initial costs of carbon capture are high and raise the energy needs of plants, it has been believed that investment in the technology will eventually lead those plants making use of it to save money.

In a new report published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, however, Professor Hughes says that, in practice, the claims of quickly falling costs are unlikely and even if true, are probably going to be undermined by the total investment.

“We have spent countless millions trying to get carbon capture to work for coal-fired power stations,” said Hughes. “But in the future coal will mostly be used in the developing world, where CCS is going to be too expensive. Everyone else is moving to gas, for which CSS isn’t yet an option.”

The report even goes so far as to say that making carbon capture technology work for natural gas, which already produces at least 5% less CO2 than is found in coal flue gas, “would make renewables and nuclear look cheap”. In no small part, this is due to a lack of connected policy when it comes to the technology and its place alongside other energy ventures. With the majority of attention being on expanding renewables, there’s simply not the focus to make CCS work.

“Successive governments haven’t thought their policies through,” Hughes elaborated. “The focus on renewables is making CCS – already a marginal technology – even less viable. A coherent strategy could reduce carbon emissions at a fraction of the current cost by switching to gas with the option to install CCS if/when it makes economic sense.”

The report highlights the fact that while the International Energy Agency and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have noted carbon capture technologies as crucial to meeting the emission pledges of the Paris Agreement, the lack of investment in the technology in favour of renewables has drastically slowed development. While the claims as to CCS’ potential are not completely outlandish, they appear to be reliant on an investment that simply does not exist.