Just 57 companies linked to 80% of greenhouse gas emissions since 2016 | Greenhouse gas emissions

A mere 57 oil, gas, coal and cement producers are directly linked to 80% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since the 2016 Paris climate agreement, a study has shown.

This powerful cohort of state-controlled corporations and shareholder-owned multinationals are the leading drivers of the climate crisis, according to the Carbon Majors Database, which is compiled by world-renowned researchers.

Although governments pledged in Paris to cut greenhouse gases, the analysis reveals that most mega-producers increased their output of fossil fuels and related emissions in the seven years after that climate agreement, compared with the seven years before.

In the database of 122 of the world’s biggest historical climate polluters, the researchers found that 65% of state entities and 55% of private-sector companies had scaled up production.

During this period, the biggest investor-owned contributor to emissions was ExxonMobil of the United States, which was linked to 3.6 gigatonnes of CO2 over seven years, or 1.4% of the global total. Close behind were Shell, BP, Chevron and TotalEnergies, each of which was associated with at least 1% of global emissions.

The most striking trend, however, was the surging growth of emissions related to state and state-owned producers, particularly in the Asian coal sector.

This expansion, which has continued since, runs contrary to a stark warning by the International Energy Agency that no new oil and gas fields can be opened if the world is to stay within safe limits of global heating. Climate scientists say global temperatures are rapidly approaching the lower Paris target of 1.5C above the pre-industrial era, with potentially dire consequences for people and the rest of nature.

“It is morally reprehensible for companies to continue expanding exploration and production of carbon fuels in the face of knowledge now for decades that their products are harmful,” said Richard Heede, who established the Carbon Majors dataset in 2013. “Don’t blame consumers who have been forced to be reliant on oil and gas due to government capture by oil and gas companies.”

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The Carbon Majors research has helped to change the narrative about responsibility for the climate crisis by apportioning emissions to the entities that profit from taking fossil fuels out of the ground rather than the individuals that later burn and discharge them in the form of emissions. This ongoing study has been cited in climate lawsuits and was the basis for the Guardian’s 2019 series, The Polluters, which named and shamed the 20 companies behind a third of all carbon emissions.

The database has now been updated and was relaunched on Thursday on a dedicated public access website, which is hosted by InfluenceMap.

It includes a striking comparison between long-term emissions trends dating back to 1854, and more recent developments since the 2016 Paris deal.

The historical record encompasses 122 entities linked to 72% of all the fossil fuel and cement CO2 emissions since the start of the industrial revolution, which amounts to 1,421 gigatonnes.

In this long-term analysis, Chinese state coal production accounts for 14% of historic global C02, the biggest share by far in the database. This is more than double the proportion of the former Soviet Union, which is in second place, and more than three times higher than that of Saudi Aramco, which is in third.

Then comes the big US companies – Chevron (3%) and ExxonMobil (2.8%), followed by Russian’s Gazprom and the National Iranian Oil Company. After that are two investor-owned European firms: BP and Shell (each with more than 2%) and then Coal India.

The 21st century rise of Asia becomes apparent when the historical records are compared with data from 2016-2022. In this recent period, the China coal share leaps to more than a quarter of all CO2 emission, while Saudi Aramco goes up to nearly 5%. The top 10 in this modern era is dominated by Chinese and Russian state entities and filled out with those from India and Iran. Western capitalism does not appear until the 11th placed ExxonMobil with 1.4%, half of its historical average.

The picture may change again in the future. The United States is by far the world’s biggest oil and gas producer even if operations are fragmented among many different companies rather than one state behemoth. President Biden has granted licences to multiple new exploration projects. Gulf states are also planning to step up their output.

ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and Shell all have net zero emissions targets, though their definitions of that goal and methods to achieve it vary. Many of the companies on the list have made some investments in renewable energy.

Daan Van Acker, program manager at InfluenceMap, said many of the entities in the Carbon Majors database were moving in the wrong direction for climate stability. “InfluenceMap’s new analysis shows that this group is not slowing down production, with most entities increasing production after the Paris agreement. This research provides a crucial link in holding these energy giants to account on the consequences of their activities.”

Heede argues that fossil fuel producers have a moral obligation to pay for the damages they have caused and exacerbated through their delaying tactics. He cites the proposal made by Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados, for oil and gas companies to contribute at least 10 cents in every dollar to a loss and damage fund.

He was also encouraged by actions to hold fossil fuel firms to account. As examples, he cited the billboards that sprang up in Houston, Texas, after a hurricane that declared: “We Know Who Is To Blame” beside the names of oil companies, or the campaign in Vermont to create a climate superfund paid for by polluters that would allay the rising costs from floods, storms and heatwaves.

“This is a threat to civilisation as we know it,” he said. “If business as usual continues we won’t have a livable planet for our children and grandchildren. We must collect political, corporate and political will to avoid the worst threat that climate change poses. We can do this.”

The Guardian approached Exxon, BP, Chevron, Total Energies, Coal India, Saudi Aramco and Gazprom for comment.

A spokesperson for Shell said: “Shell is committed to becoming a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050, a target we believe supports the more ambitious goal of the Paris agreement to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. We continue to make good progress on our climate targets, and by the end of 2023, we had achieved more than 60% of our target to halve Scope 1 and 2 emissions from our operations by 2030, compared with 2016.”

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