Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Global Carbon Pollution - Who is Responsible?

A recent publication by the environmental charity CDP looks at the role that corporations play in greenhouse gas emissions.  The Annual Carbon Majors Report for 2017 uses data from the Carbon Majors Database which was established in 2013 by Richard Heede of the Climate Accountability Institute.  The database shows us how carbon emissions are directed linked to a relatively small group of companies termed "Carbon Majors".  The report looks at both industrial carbon dioxide and methane emissions derived from fossil fuel producers in the past, present and future, providing investors and other interested parties to better understand the amount of carbon being released by key companies.

In its current form, the Carbon Majors Database consists of the following:

1.) data on 100 fossil fuel producers (the Carbon Majors) which includes 41 publicly traded companies, 16 private companies, 36 state owned companies and 7 state producers.  Whenever possible, the data used in this report data was supplied by corporate responses to the CDP Climate Change information request.   Other data came from estimates of emissions that are directly related to the emissions factor that is specific to the industrial activity (i.e. oil production, natural gas production etcetera).

2.) data on 923 gigatonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent from direct operational and product-related carbon dioxide and methane emissions between the years of 1984 and 2015.  This data represents 52 percent of the global industrial greenhouse gases that have been released since the beginning of the industrial revolution in 1751. 

3.) data on a wider sampling of 224 companies which representing 72 percent of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions in 2015.

Here is a graphic showing the contribution of the three main fossil fuels to greenhouse gas production since 1988:


Since 1988, 833 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent has been emitted compared to 820 gigatonnes in the 237 years between the beginning of the industrial revolution and 1988.  Coal is making up a larger share of fossil fuel production over the past 15 years, leading to an emissions intensity increase of 2.4 percent since 1988 despite the increase in the share of natural gas production, a lower carbon alternative.

With that background, let's take a closer look at the top 25 companies responsible for over half (51 percent) of global industrial greenhouse gas production by year going back to 1988:


In total, all 100 active major fossil fuel producers are responsible for 70.6 percent of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions.  The highest emitting companies since 1988 are as follows:

1.) Investor-owned - ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron, Peabody, Total and BHP Billiton.

2.) State-owned - Saudi Aramco, Gazprom, National Iranian Oil, Coal India, Pemex and CNPC (PetroChina).

One of the great contributors to the growth of greenhouse gas emissions is connected to the expansion of coal mining in China.  Since 2000, China's coal production has tripled to nearly 4 billion tonnes annually, nearly half of global coal output.  Half of China's coal production in 2015 came from 15 company groups with one-third of national coal production coming from 7 companies; Shenhua Group, Datong Coal Mine Group, China National Coal Group, Shandong Energy Group, Shaanxi Coal Chemical Industry, Shanxi Coking Coal Group and the Yankuang Group.

Here is a graphic showing the product mix for major oil and gas companies and their greenhouse gas emissions intensity:


For those of us who live in Canada, we can see that Suncor, Husky and Canadian Natural all fall high on the greenhouse gas emissions intensity scale, largely because of their oil sands operations, including both surface and in situ projects.  It is these unconventional oil projects that have higher greenhouse gas intensity than conventional crude oil and natural gas projects (i.e. higher carbon emissions on a per barrel of oil produced).

Let's close with this table which shows the top 50 companies in order of their cumulative industrial greenhouse gas emissions between the years 1988 and 2015:


The interesting data in this report will provide both the investing and non-investing public with an understanding of which global companies are responsible for the lion's share of carbon emissions.  Whether you believe that anthropogenic activities are leading to a changing global climate or not, it is interesting to see that a tiny fraction of the world's companies have long history of emitting pollutants that have the potential to create a much different world for the coming generations.