How Corporations Contribute to Greenhouse Gases

Emily Folk

A handful of corporations bear the most responsibility for carbon emissions since 1880. Here's what they can do about it.

It's common to think of climate change as something we're collectively responsible for, without any single entity at fault. We assign blame to broad categories like transportation, industry and agriculture. The problem seems far too large to give a face and name — but that mindset is slowly starting to shift.

Research has found that a handful of companies are culpable for a range of environmental issues. Just 90 corporations have caused more than a quarter of sea level rise and around half the global temperature increase between 1880 to 2010. Most of the contributors are energy companies.

Chevron, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and CONSOL Energy are all examples of American companies on the list of the largest carbon producers. Additional companies from Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, India, France, the United Kingdom and other countries also appear on the list.

Given these insights, how extensive is the problem? How can corporate executives reduce their companies' carbon emissions and adapt to higher standards of sustainability? We'll answer those questions and others like them, looking at this complex subject in greater detail.

Corporations and Carbon Emissions

The 90 corporations in the aforementioned study accounted for around 42 percent to 50 percent of the global temperature increase. Furthermore, they were responsible for 26 percent to 32 percent of the global sea level rise. Even after global warming began to receive widespread attention in 1980, little seemed to change.

As context, emissions since 1980 have accounted for 28 percent to 35 percent of rising temperatures and 11 percent to 14 percent of rising sea levels. Since the executives of energy companies knew for decades about the effects of greenhouse gas pollution, some have argued they should pay for damages.

To that end, local governments in California have sued oil and gas companies, and the state attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts have launched investigations. Many representatives from energy companies have remained silent, declining to comment on the issue.

Solutions for Corporate Executives

Energy companies that plan to lower their carbon emissions have to take a target-driven approach. As they deliver on the demand for oil and gas, they need to show annual progress in reducing their environmental impact. Corporations have multiple methods to accomplish this goal.

First, they can focus on lower carbon-intensive assets and lighter liquids, making gas a priority. Next, they can invest in technologies that mitigate emissions, such as carbon capture and storage. Reforestation is another strategy, and zero-carbon power production has already gained traction.

In short, energy companies have the means to effect change. When they have motivation from stakeholders, regulatory bodies and concerned organizations, they'll make the necessary adjustments. As this is happening, corporate executives should remain transparent with their reporting.

In truth, corporate executives often benefit from honesty and integrity in their disclosures. Nearly 80 percent of the S&P 500 companies that report emissions to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) see a higher rate of return compared to other types of corporate capital investments.

Predictions for the Energy Industry

As pressure on energy companies continues to intensify, the transition to renewables will likely gain momentum. While it may take time, it's safe to speculate that corporate executives will give greater attention to the reduction of carbon emissions. Gradually, they'll make steady progress and meet their goals.

With the scrutiny of regulatory bodies, energy companies will revise their outdated practices and invest in green technologies. They'll demonstrate support for environmental conservation and develop a net carbon-neutral strategy, though some will likely show reluctance. Regardless, the outlook is positive.

Another Step Forward

Though energy companies bear much of the responsibility for climate change, everyone can participate in environmental protection. As corporations adapt to higher standards of sustainability, we can do the same, practicing an eco-friendly lifestyle to reduce our carbon emissions and eliminate waste.


Energy & Economics