Big producers emit most CO2

Image: Saudi Aramco

Just 10 public and government-owned oil and gas companies are responsible for 26 per cent of all fossil fuel emissions and 45 per cent of oil and gas emissions since 1988, says Richard Heede, an environmental scientist and head of the Climate Accountability Institute (CAI) in Colorado.

Heede has been compiling research on CO2 emissions from the fossil fuel sector back to 1882, and to do so, he doesn’t even need to file any kind of request to gain access to decades of information. Despite environmental groups frequently suggesting emissions information is kept secret or covered up, Heede says CO2 production data is actually readily available.

“I’m accessing self-reported production data from oil and gas and coal producers,” Heede says. “I access the basic data sets then deduct non-energy uses, such as for asphalt and lubricants.”

In 2011, Heede’s organization started working with the London-based Carbon Disclosures Project (CDP) to produce the annual Carbon Majors Dataset. The report covers global oil, natural gas and coal production activity of the 100 largest fossil fuel producers from 1988.

“The 2017 update highlights the industry’s role in reducing the carbon-intensity of the global energy system and the urgency of accelerating industry commitment to align with the two-degree-Celsius pathway…of the Paris accord,” the CAI says in a press release accompanying the report.

Like the ones before it, the 2017 report shows the world’s largest publicly listed or state-owned companies produced most global fossil fuel emissions. Notably, 100 companies are now responsible for 85 per cent of fossil fuel CO2 and methane emissions and 71 per cent of industrial fossil fuel CO2, methane, nitrous oxide and other gas emissions.

The coal sector’s contributions to CO2 emissions were also highlighted: 29 investor- or state-owned coal-producing companies were responsible for one-eighth of all fossil fuel emissions since 1988.

Fossil fuel emissions in 1988-2015 totalled 749 billion tonnes. Half of all industrial emissions of CO2 since the dawn of the fossil fuel era have been emitted since 1988.

The most important conclusions from his work, Heede says, is that global emissions from oil and gas production and energy use are still increasing, and the world is shifting to a lower-carbon future much too slowly.

Heede adds that his research is unchallenged because “the methodology is clear and transparent.” The CAI has even gone so far as to invite oil and gas companies to actively participate in the preparation of the report, and several companies took him up on the offer, including BP, Shell and Statoil.

Though he believes a no-fossil-fuel future is not actually possible, Heede is optimistic the shift to renewables could reduce the use of fossil fuels by up to 80 per cent. On the other hand, he acknowledges other technologies, such as carbon capture, could slow that shift even further and be a lifeline of sorts for fossil fuels. He also believes natural gas, the lowest CO2-emitting fossil fuel, will continue to play an important role in the energy system.

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