New research claims that just 100 fossil fuel producers are to blame for 71 percent of industrial greenhouse gases since 1988, the year human-induced climate change was officially recognized through the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Despite the landmark establishment, the oil, coal and gas industry has expanded significantly and has become even more carbon-intensive since 1988, according the 2017 Carbon Majors report from the environmental not-for-profit CDP.
"By 1988, fossil fuel companies knew, or should have known, of the destabilizing effects of their products on the environment," the report states. "Nonetheless, most companies have expanded extraction activities significantly in the time since, while non-carbon primary energy sources, such as renewables, have seen relatively very little investment."
Notably, in the 28 years between 1988 to 2015, just 25 fossil fuel producers are linked to 51 percent of global industrial emissions.
The highest-emitting companies since 1988 include state-owned entities such as the Chinese coal industry, Saudi Aramco, Russia's Gazprom, National Iranian Oil, Coal India and Mexico's Pemex. Public investor-owned companies such as ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron, Peabody, Total and BHP Billiton are also major contributors.
The analysis found that fossil fuel producers contributed 833 gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide (GtCO2e) in the last 28 years, compared to 820 GtCO2e in the 237 years between the birth of the Industrial Revolution in 1751 and 1988, when the IPCC was established.
If the trend in fossil fuel extraction continues over the next 28 years as it has over the previous 28, then global average temperatures would be on course to rise around 4ºC above preindustrial levels by the end of the century.
"This would entail substantial species extinction, large risks of regional and global food scarcity, and could cross multiple tipping points in the earth's climate system, leading to even more severe consequences," the report warns.
The CDP's analysis is important because it focuses on the greenhouse gas emissions of investor- and state-owned companies rather than on individual countries.
"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," Pedro Faria, the technical director at CDP, said.
"Our purpose is not to name and shame firms, our purpose is to provide transparency and call attention to the quite extraordinary fact that just 100 companies played a crucial role in the problem," Faria added to the Telegraph.
"Not only is it morally risky, it's economically risky," he explained. "The world is moving away from fossil fuels towards clean energy and is doing so at an accelerated pace. Those left holding investments in fossil fuel companies will find their investments becoming more and more risky over time."
Here are the top 10 greenhouse gas emitters since 1988 followed by the percentage of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Carbon Majors report:
1. China (Coal), 14.3%
2. Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Aramco), 4.5%
3. Gazprom OAO, 3.9%
4. National Iranian Oil Co, 2.3%
5. ExxonMobil Corp, 2.0%
6. Coal India, 1.9%
7. Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), 1.9%
8. Russia (Coal), 1.9%
9. Royal Dutch Shell PLC, 1.7%
10. China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), 1.6%