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Report Says 100 Firms Cause Most Emissions

July 21, 2017
These fossil-fuel producers may hold key to curbing climate change

Last month, I predicted companies in the American chemical industry would continue their initiatives to curtail greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions despite the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord (“Look Beyond the Paris Accord Pullout.”) I mentioned then one important driver for sustaining, if not increasing, corporate efforts is shareholder pressure.


Of course, shareholders can try to motivate any publicly owned company. So, fossil fuel producers should expect ramped-up demands from investors following the July 10th release of a report from the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), London. Indeed, the “CDP Carbon Majors Report 2017,” produced in partnership with the Climate Accountability Institute (CAI), Snowmass, Colo., is aimed specifically at shareholders wanting to understand and influence the emissions from fossil fuel companies in which they have invested.

The report contains new research developed from analysis of the so-called Carbon Majors Database. That database was established in 2013 by CAI and is said to be the most comprehensive compilation of GHG emissions by individual companies. CDP now collaborates on maintaining the database.

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The research reveals that 71% of all global GHG emissions by industry since 1988 — 635 billion metric tons — stem from just 100 fossil fuel producers. More than half of these producers (59%) are state-owned entities (e.g., in China, Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia), while almost one-third (32%) are publicly listed, investor-owned companies (e.g., BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell and Total) and the remainder are privately held firms.

The report includes an appendix listing cumulative emissions from 1988 to 2015 by producers. It clearly indicates that state-owned groups in China, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Iran released the largest amount of GHG. According to the data presented, these four sources accounted for 25% of all industrial GHG emissions during the period — with Chinese coal operations accounting for over 14%.

A second appendix details a wider “2015 sample” of 224 producers that represented 72% of industrial GHG emissions that year. State-entities in Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, India and China top that list, generating almost 18% of all industrial GHG emissions — with Saudi Arabia responsible for almost 5%, by far the highest of any source, according to the report.

The report contains a section called “A Future Vision.” This calls for companies to set an emissions target. It specifically notes the Science Based Targets Initiative (http://sciencebasedtargets.org), established in 2015 by CDP, the World Resources Institute and the World Wildlife Fund, to guide companies in setting a target and provides more details on science-based targets.

“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. 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 historical data shows how important the role of the carbon majors, and the investors who own them, will be,” stresses Pedro Faria, CDP’s technical director.

“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,” adds Richard Heede, director of CAI.

The report — which is downloadable here — is the first of what is planned to be an ongoing series of publications that will use the Carbon Majors Database.

It will be interesting to see how this report actually influences large shareholders and what proposals they then raise at company meetings.

Mark Rosenzweig, Editor in Chief. You can email him at [email protected]
About the Author

Mark Rosenzweig | Former Editor-in-Chief

Mark Rosenzweig is Chemical Processing's former editor-in-chief. Previously, he was editor-in-chief of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers' magazine Chemical Engineering Progress. Before that, he held a variety of roles, including European editor and managing editor, at Chemical Engineering. He has received a prestigious Neal award from American Business Media. He earned a degree in chemical engineering from The Cooper Union. His collection of typewriters now exceeds 100, and he has driven a 1964 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk for more than 40 years.

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