It’s time to rein in the fossil fuel giants before their greed chokes the planet

(The Guardian, 9 Oct 2019) Just 20 companies are responsible for 35% of carbon emissions yet they continue to ignore calls for change.

We’ve long known that the big fossil fuel companies are responsible for a huge share of the world’s carbon emissions. Now the Climate Accountability Institute is publishing new data quantifying how much each of these has contributed to the climate crisis. We find that, chiefly from the combustion of their products, the top 20 companies have collectively produced 480bn tonnes of carbon dioxide and methane since 1965 – 35% of all fossil fuel emissions worldwide in that time. The worst offenders in the top 10 include Saudi Aramco (number one), Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell.

Seven-eighths of emissions attributed to the top 20 carbon producers is from use of their products – petrol, jet fuel, natural gas and coal – and one-eighth from extracting, refining and delivering finished fuels. These carbon fuels are produced and marketed to consumers with the knowledge that they will worsen the climate crisis. For the most part, these companies are ignoring calls to urgently shift investment from exploration and production of carbon fuels to the renewable and alternative technologies required to reduce global emissions in alignment with the science-based target to eliminate net carbon emissions by 2050.

In my view, fossil fuel firms were morally and legally obliged to warn that continued use of carbon fuels threatens our health and welfare, and to accelerate the conversation on how to reduce the threat. Instead the industry has for decades invested millions in climate denial and obfuscation in order to delay legislative action and avoid losing market share.

At the same time oil, natural gas and coal companies have benefited for decades from hundreds of billions in government subsidies incentivising fossil fuel development, as well as regulatory preferences and other taxpayer-funded costs, such as military protection for shipping lanes.

Overall, companies are the beneficiaries of what climate economist Nicholas Stern has called the “greatest market failure the world has seen”. We need to eliminate subsidies and regulatory preferences, and to price carbon so as to “internalise” the vast costs of climate damages now mostly paid by people who did not cause the problem, such as today’s farmers and tomorrow’s children.

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The Guardian, 9 Oct 2019: It’s time to rein in the fossil fuel giants before their greed chokes the planet