The report shows that these businesses and their products have emitted more CO2 in the past 28 years, than in the 237 years before that. A small amount of fossil fuel producers have been key players, CDP states, with more than half of global industrial emissions since 1988 traced to just 25 corporate and state companies.

CDP predicts that if fossil fuel extraction continues on the same trajectory over the next 28 years, global average temperatures would be on track to rise by 4C by the end of the century. It warns that this would lead to substantial species extinction and large food scarcity risks worldwide.

But a low-carbon “tipping point” could be in reach if investors and ‘carbon majors’ take urgent climate change action, the report claims.

“This ground-breaking report pinpoints how a relatively small set of just 100 fossil fuel producers may hold the key to systemic change on carbon emissions,” CDP technical director Pedro Faria said. “We are seeing critical shifts in policy, innovation and financial capital that put the tipping point for a low carbon transition in reach, and this historic data shows how important the role of the carbon majors, and the investors who own them, will be.”

Investor engagement

The research shows that 41% of emissions from the past 28 years come from investor-owned companies, including Peabody, Chevron and Total. This highlights the power of investors in the decarbonisation transition, CDP said.

“That puts a significant responsibility on those investors to engage with carbon majors and urge them to disclose climate risk in line with the FSB Task Force for Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) recommendations,” Faria added. 

The report looks forward to 2100 to illustrate a ‘contraction and convergence’ theory at the company level. Setting science-based targets is cited as an initial step for companies to ensure they are aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement. CDP insists that the fossil fuel sector can decouple growth and emissions through investments in carbon capture and storage (CCS), alongside a diverse portfolio of energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro and biomass.

Oiling the wheels

Included in the top 50 fossil fuel companies are 29 oil and gas firms that account for one-third of global industrial emissions. As highlighted in a recent report from research group Wood Mackenzie, a number of oil and gas firms are now analysing scenarios in which global emissions are constrained.

Oil giants ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Total were among a group of large corporations last month supporting a plan to tax carbon dioxide emissions in order to address climate change. Meanwhile, seven major oil firms – BP, Eni, Repsol, Saudi Aramco, Royal Dutch Shell, Statoil and Total – announced a $1bn investment fund aimed at accelerating the development and uptake of low-carbon technologies, in November last year.

George Ogleby

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