From the Paris Agreement to the present, climate-changing emissions have continued to increase rather than decrease. Even those related to coal — the most polluting of fossil fuels, which is why it is set to disappear first —are on the rise. The vast majority of the recent growth in emissions, 80%, is related to the activities of only 57 companies and government entities in the fossil and cement sectors.

The Carbon Majors report

The data emerging from Carbon Majors, the database on the origin of climate-changing emissions maintained by the NGO InfluenceMap, are not unexpected, but they make an impression. The database has been around since 2013, inaugurated by researcher Richard Heede of the Climate Accountability Institute (CAI). However, it is InfluenceMap, a group that specialises in studying and exposing lobbying activities, that has updated and republished it in recent days. The database gives an account of 1,421 gigatonnes of CO₂ equivalent produced by 122 companies. A huge amount, accumulated in the atmosphere from 1854 to 2022. 

The anthropogenic origin of these emissions is no mystery, but more than 70% of these gases were released by just 78 companies and entities that were roughly public. The count does not consider all types of polluting activities: it includes fossil fuels (gas, coal, oil) and cement, excluding intensive livestock farming and deforestation. The database, which can be accessed by anyone via a dedicated website, is a goldmine of data.

Who produces the most climate-changing emissions

The researchers divide the producing entities between predominantly privately held companies, public companies, and state-owned entities. The former are responsible for 31% of cumulative emissions, and the top emitters in this category are all Western: Chevron, ExxonMobil, and BP. Publicly owned companies are accountable for 33% of emissions and have predominantly Asian entities at the top of the list: Saudi Aramco, Gazprom, and Iranian National Oil Company. Finally, states are responsible for 35% of cumulative emissions. In the dock is the current Chinese coal production and the Soviet's one of the last century.

In 2015 in Paris, governments from around the world signed what is still the most important international treaty to fight global warming. The Paris Agreement commits the nations of the Planet to gradually reduce their emissions to the point of halting the rise in average temperatures, with the aim of staying below 2°C above pre-industrial levels-that is, before the time when we started altering the climate. But results are taking a long time, and Carbon Majors confirms this. Since then, 117 of the 122 entities examined have released more than 251Gt of CO₂ equivalent. Eighty percent of these can be traced to just 57 entities.

The majority of responsibility falls on public companies (38% of the total), followed by states (37%) and private multinationals (25%). The vast majority of privately held companies have increased, not decreased, production from the Paris Agreement to the present. At the global level — except in North America — more companies are expanding climate activities than are reducing them. No good news on coal either. The dirtiest and most antiquated of fossils, hoped to be close to peak use and thus beginning its decline, continues to grow: with an 8% increase since 2015. Its use, researchers explain, is shifting from the private to the public sector.

Eni's emissions and the broken promises of COP28

Italian companies also find space in the database. Eni, classified as private but controlled by the Ministry of Economy and Finance, is 33rd out of 122 in the ranking of polluters. The researchers write, "It appears that Eni opposes greenhouse gas emissions legislation and supports maintaining a long-term role for fossil gas in the energy mix. Eni maintains membership in industry associations that promote the use of fossil fuels."

"The Carbon Majors research shows us exactly who is responsible for the deadly heat, extreme weather, and air pollution that threatens lives and causes damage to our oceans and forests," is the comment of Tzeporah Berman, Director of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, a fossil fuel ban proposal that has found support from several small nations, the WHO and the European Parliament. "These companies have made billions of dollars in profits by denying the problem, delaying and obstructing climate policies. They are spending millions on advertising campaigns about being part of a sustainable solution while continuing to invest in the wider extraction of fossil fuels."

In December 2023, in Dubai, governments from around the world met again to discuss joint actions to fight the climate crisis. COP28, the name of the negotiating meeting, led for the first time to an explicit promise to reduce fossil fuels. But words continue to fail to be followed by action. And extreme weather events — from droughts to floods — are claiming more and more victims.


This article is also available in Italian / Questo articolo è disponibile anche in italiano


Image: Nik Shuliahin, Unsplash


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