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The 90 companies responsible for two-thirds of historical greenhouse gas emissions

  • The 90 companies responsible for two-thirds of historical greenhouse gas emissions

    Exxon Mobil, the fifth-leading producer of greenhouse gas emissions in the world from 1880 to 2010, has been planning since 2018 to raise its yearly carbon-dioxide emissions by as much as 17% by 2025, according to internal documents reviewed by Bloomberg. The news comes in stark contrast to efforts to slow down the pace of global warning—and amid several of Exxon's competitors, including BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell Plc, announcing plans to reach net-zero emissions.

    Despite the onus put on consumers to reduce their carbon footprints, just 90 companies around the world have been responsible for nearly two-thirds of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 1880 to 2010, according to a 2017 Climate Change study by Brenda Ekwurzel of the Climate & Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists and a team of researchers. In its study, the research team wrote that “the emissions traced to these 90 carbon producers contributed ∼57% of the observed rise in atmospheric CO2, ∼42–50% of the rise in global mean surface temperature (GMST), and ∼26–32% of global sea level (GSL) rise over the historical period, and ∼43% atmospheric CO2, ∼29–35% GMST, and ∼11–14% GSL since 1980.” Stacker analyzed the study to rank the largest emitters by their atmospheric carbon dioxide contributions from 1880 to 2010. All values included in this story are taken from estimates using the “best,” or middle-scenario, the model described in Millar et al. 2016. Each slide also summarizes the best practices employed by the company and the country to reduce emissions and move toward a sustainable future.

    Coal, oil, and natural gas are produced by 83 of these companies. The remaining are cement and building material manufacturing companies. Unsurprisingly, the companies most responsible for climate change included Saudi Aramco, Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Gazprom, and National Iranian Oil Company—companies spread across the Middle East, Europe, Russia, and the United States. The top emitter was China's state-owned coal and cement production company.

    Half of these emissions were produced in the past 25 years, when globally, the awareness of climate change, GHGs, global warming, and rising sea levels has increased. During this period, while some noted oil giants and household names chose climate change denial and funded organizations that questioned climate scientists, others transitioned from being called an oil or coal producer to an “energy” company, projecting a cleaner profile.

    Under the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, 196 countries committed to taking steps to limit the rise in global temperature this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius. Four years later, global emissions still increased: by 1.7% in 2017, and a further 2.7% in 2018. In 2019, emissions declined in the United States and European Union but rose in India and China with an overall 0.6% rise worldwide.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the U.N.’s climate-science body, said in its 2018 Climate Change Land Report that to keep temperatures from rising, nations needed to halve their GHG emissions by 2030 and aim for net-zero emissions by 2050. According to Climate Action Tracker, which covers data and tracks about 80% of the global population emissions, the countries on track to meet their self-set goals are Gambia, Morocco, and India. Those seen as barely trying are Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Russia. Keep reading to discover the 90 companies responsible for two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions.

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  • #89. Taiheiyo, Japan (tie)

    - Contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide rise, 1880–2010: 0.028 ppm (0.03% of total emissions)
    - Contribution to global mean surface temperature rise: 0.0002 C (0.02% of total rise, #84 highest contributor)
    - Contribution to global sea level rise: 0.02 mm (0.01% of total rise, #73 highest contributor)

    Taiheiyo Cement Corporation is a building material company in Japan with operations in the United States, China, and Vietnam, that has 30 cement plants worldwide and also runs limestone mines. According to the company’s website, most of its GHG emissions are due to cement production. It has set a mitigation target of 2025, by which time it plans to reduce CO2 emissions at individual cement plants by reducing the use of fossil fuels and relying on biomass and waste-derived fuels.

  • #89. OMV Group, Austria (tie)

    - Contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide rise, 1880–2010: 0.028 ppm (0.03% of total emissions)
    - Contribution to global mean surface temperature rise: 0.0001 C (0.02% of total rise, #90 highest contributor)
    - Contribution to global sea level rise: 0.003 mm (0% of total rise, #90 highest contributor)

    Headquartered in Vienna, Austrian Mineral Oil Administration (OMV) is one of the largest industrial oil and gas companies in Austria, with 24,000 employees in 30 countries. The company defined its first Carbon Strategy in 2008, and between 2008 and 2015 it achieved 956,000 metric tons of GHG emissions savings. Targeting 2025, the company has set strategic objectives, including reducing carbon intensity, establishing a zero routine flaring and venting policy, and maintaining transparency with its investors regarding the company’s carbon performance.

  • #88. Murphy Oil, United States

    - Contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide rise, 1880–2010: 0.03 ppm (0.03% of total emissions)
    - Contribution to global mean surface temperature rise: 0.0002 C (0.02% of total rise, #84 highest contributor)
    - Contribution to global sea level rise: 0.01 mm (0.01% of total rise, #83 highest contributor)

    Murphy Oil Corporation, headquartered in El Dorado, Ark., produces oil and natural gas in the United States and Canada and conducts independent exploration activities in Brazil, Australia, Mexico, the Gulf of Mexico, and Southeast Asia. Murphy has established an internal interdisciplinary Climate Change Work Group, providing a guideline for the business units of the company to focus on air emission topics and minimize environmental impacts. In its 2019 sustainability report, the company says its policies and reforms have helped drive continued reductions in GHG emissions and intensities.

  • #87. Italcementi

    - Contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide rise, 1880–2010: 0.037 ppm (0.04% of total emissions)
    - Contribution to global mean surface temperature rise: 0.0002 C (0.02% of total rise, #84 highest contributor)
    - Contribution to global sea level rise: 0.01 mm (0.01% of total rise, #83 highest contributor)

    This Italian multinational company produced cement, ready-mix concrete and construction aggregates. In 2015, HeidelbergCement acquired the company, becoming the world’s second-largest cement producer with approximately 57,000 employees working at more than 3,000 of its production sites in over 50 countries on five continents. In 2016, the U.N. acknowledged the increasing climate action initiatives taken by this cement giant. Italcementi created a cement with active ingredients that capture pollution in the air and convert it into inert salts, reducing damage because of smog.

  • #86. Polish Oil & Gas Co., Poland

    - Contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide rise, 1880–2010: 0.041 ppm (0.04% of total emissions)
    - Contribution to global mean surface temperature rise: 0.0002 C (0.03% of total rise, #84 highest contributor)
    - Contribution to global sea level rise: 0.005 mm (0% of total rise, #89 highest contributor)

    Polish Oil and Gas Company (PGNiG) is involved in the exploration and production of natural gas and crude oil. The Warsaw-based company is also active in import, storage, sales, and distribution of gas and liquid fuels, and in heat and electricity generation. The company was the official partner of the U.N. COP24 Climate Summit where it pushed for the greater use of natural gas as a source of electricity and heat, and as a low-emission fuel for sustainable development. The company also announced plans to invest 7.5 million zlotys by 2022 in infrastructure to create gas power grids, and at the same time, it is investing in PGG, Poland’s largest coal producer and CO2 emitter.

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  • #85. Cemex, Mexico

    - Contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide rise, 1880–2010: 0.044 ppm (0.04% of total emissions)
    - Contribution to global mean surface temperature rise: 0.0002 C (0.03% of total rise, #84 highest contributor)
    - Contribution to global sea level rise: 0.01 mm (0.01% of total rise, #83 highest contributor)

    Cemex, headquartered in San Pedro, Mexico is a multinational manufacturer of cement, ready-mix concrete and other building materials. In its position statement on climate change, the company’s support of international agreements like the Paris Accord and the Kyoto Protocol is clear, and it is also encouraging low-carbon technology partnership initiatives. Approximately 80–90% of its CO2 footprint originates from the in-use phase where clinker is produced to make cement, but the company is trying to reduce that footprint through the use of alternative fuels, clinker substitutes, carbon capture and storage, and a greater commitment to clean power.

  • #84. HeidelbergCement, Germany

    - Contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide rise, 1880–2010: 0.046 ppm (0.05% of total emissions)
    - Contribution to global mean surface temperature rise: 0.0002 C (0.03% of total rise, #84 highest contributor)
    - Contribution to global sea level rise: 0.01 mm (0.01% of total rise, #83 highest contributor)

    The company was founded in 1873 in Germany and has grown into one of the largest building material companies in the world with operations on five continents, and the expanse of the business also makes it one of the biggest contributors to GHG emissions. Climate protection is at the core of the company’s environmental policy. According to its website, the company reduced its specific net CO2 emissions by 20% per metric ton of cement from 1990 to 2018, and for 2030 it wants to continue to reduce the emissions by 30% compared to the 1990 level through the use of energy-efficient technologies, promotion of composite cement, and increased use of alternative fuels such as biomass.

  • #83. Nexen, Canada

    - Contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide rise, 1880–2010: 0.049 ppm (0.05% of total emissions)
    - Contribution to global mean surface temperature rise: 0.0003 C (0.04% of total rise, #82 highest contributor)
    - Contribution to global sea level rise: 0.02 mm (0.01% of total rise, #73 highest contributor)

    Oil giant China National Offshore Oil Corporation Ltd. (CNOOC) purchased the Calgary-based oil and petroleum company Nexen Inc. in 2012, and it continued to operate with the same name until December 2018.

    In July 2018, Nexen was asked to pay a $290,000 fine by Environment and Climate Change Canada following a 2015 pipeline spill at its Long Lake facility, endangering migratory birds. As its climate change action plan, CNOOC (Nexen) plans to use new technologies that are more energy-efficient and incorporate alternative fuel sources to reduce the company’s carbon footprint.

  • #82. Husky, Canada

    - Contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide rise, 1880–2010: 0.051 ppm (0.05% of total emissions)
    - Contribution to global mean surface temperature rise: 0.0003 C (0.04% of total rise, #82 highest contributor)
    - Contribution to global sea level rise: 0.01 mm (0.01% of total rise, #83 highest contributor)

    Husky Energy is an integrated energy company based in Alberta, Canada, and operates in Western and Atlantic Canada, the United States, and the Asia-Pacific region. Given the fact that oil and gas generation produces huge amounts of GHG emissions, the company has created air quality and carbon management programs. According to its website, the company reduced its energy use slightly in 2018 as compared to 2017 due to methodology changes, and also reduced its GHG emissions because of the reduction in conventional oil production.

  • #81. UK Coal, United Kingdom

    - Contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide rise, 1880–2010: 0.057 ppm (0.06% of total emissions)
    - Contribution to global mean surface temperature rise: 0.0004 C (0.05% of total rise, #75 highest contributor)
    - Contribution to global sea level rise: 0.02 mm (0.01% of total rise, #73 highest contributor)

    UK Coal was at one time the largest coal mining business in the United Kingdom, but the company is no longer operational and active in coal mining due to restructuring since 2012. The closure also was partly due to the U.K. government’s decision in 2015 to stamp out coal power entirely within a decade. Coal and oil power plants accounted for 86% of the nation’s power supply in 1971, and by 2018 it had declined to just 5%.

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