122 companies responsible for nearly 80 percent of world's fossil-fuel carbon pollution

Efforts to reduce carbon emissions must overcome resistance by fossil fuel producers, says new report.

by Dan Lashof


he world's major energy companies contribute more to global warming than many developing countries, according to a report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the US Public Interest Research Group Education Fund. The report, "Kingpins of Carbon: How Fossil Fuel Producers Contribute to Global Warming," provides the first-ever company-by-company tabulation of carbon pollution based on fuel production. Previous analyses of global warming have largely focused on the issue of fossil fuel consumption, ignoring the critical role played by the producers of carbon-based fuels.

"There are no mandatory sentences for carbon pushers, but we can expose them in the court of public opinion," said US PIRG Education Fund's Katherine Silverthorne. "This report puts the polluting behavior of companies like Shell, Exxon, BP Amoco and Chevron front-and-center in the debate over how to reduce global warming pollution."

The report analyzed the 1997 production of the world's top 122 producers of coal, oil and natural gas. It found that:

  • Nearly 80 percent of the fossil carbon released into the atmosphere as man-made carbon dioxide is produced by these 122 companies.
  • Twenty-two percent of the world's carbon-based fuels are produced by only 20 private companies, including Russia's Gazprom, Shell, Exxon, Peabody, BP Amoco, ARCO, Chevron and Mobil.

If BP Amoco succeeds in acquiring ARCO, BP Amoco's combined production of carbon-based fuels would amount to 3 percent of 1997 world fossil fuel emissions, making it the second largest privately owned carbon producer and the fourth largest carbon producer overall.

During the months leading up to the December 1997 climate treaty negotiations in Kyoto, Japan, industries opposed to strong treaty provisions launched a $13 million ad campaign to try to undermine the talks. They ran television and print ads claiming that the Kyoto agreement would be unfair to the United States because it did not require developing countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. According to "Kingpins of Carbon," many of the companies participating in the ad campaign, such as Exxon, Mobil, Chevron and the Peabody coal company, each produce fuels that emit more carbon pollution than many developing countries. For example:

  • The combined annual carbon production of Exxon and Mobil exceeds the collective annual carbon emissions of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.
  • Shell's yearly carbon production exceeds the combined annual carbon emissions of Mexico, Argentina and Chile.
  • Peabody's annual carbon production exceeds Brazil's annual carbon emissions.

"It is time for fossil fuel producers to take responsibility for the global warming pollution they cause," said NRDC's Dan Lashof. "They can no longer get away with driving a wedge between developed and developing countries by labeling the world's poorest countries as the obstacle to curbing global warming."

Fossil fuel companies invest hundreds of billions of dollars in coal mines, onshore and offshore oil and natural gas production facilities, and pipelines and tankers. They also provide substantial sums to political candidates in both US parties. This all adds up to enormous economic and political power, which the companies use to perpetuate global overreliance on carbon-based fuels.

NRDC, UCS and US PIRG Education Fund urge the Clinton administration and Congress to take a stand against fossil fuel producers and protect the planet.

"Not only are these companies big polluters, they are major hypocrites," said Alden Meyer of UCS. "The president and Congress should reject their attempt to stall progress on addressing global warming. Rather than providing additional tax breaks to the Kingpins of Carbon, Congress should provide incentives for clean cars, renewable energy, energy efficient homes and other technologies that would reduce US dependence on fossil fuels."

"Kingpins of Carbon" is released by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Union of Concerned Scientists and US PIRG Education Fund in support of the Earth Day 2000 Campaign and Clean Energy Agenda of Earth Day Network (www.earthday.net).

  Ranking the World's Carbon Producers -- 1997

These 22 each produce more than 1% of the world's carbon. On aggregate, they produce 47.69% of the world's total.

Rank Company % of World Carbon Country Ownership*
1 Saudi Aramco 6.72 Saudi Arabia   State 
2 China National Coal   5.35 China State
3 Gazprom 4.11 Russia Private/60%
4 National Iranian Oil Co. 3.01 Iran State
5 PDVSA 2.85 Venezuela State
6 Pemex 2.85 Mexico State
7 Coal India Ltd. 2.56 India State
8 Shell 2.40 UK/Netherlands Private
9 CNPC 2.17 China State
10 Exxon 1.71 USA Private
11 Sonatrach 1.57 Algeria State
12 SHCA-Poland 1.45 Poland State
13 Kuwait Petroleum Co. 1.44 Kuwait State
14 Rosugul 1.42 Russia State
15 Peabody 1.25 USA Private
16 Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. 1.21 Abu Dhabi State
17 BP - AMOCO 1.19 UK Private
18 Pertamina 1.16 Indonesia State
19 ARCO 1.13 USA Private
20 Chevron 1.12 USA Private
21 Nigerian National Petroleum Co. 1.02 Nigeria State
Total   47.69    
 *Unless otherwise indicated, ownership is 100%. Where percentages are listed, they indicate majority ownership. From "Kingpins of Carbon: How Fossil Fuel Producers Contribute to Global Warming," produced by by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the US Public Interest Research Group Education Fund.

  Contact: Elliott Negin, NRDC, (202) 289-2405; Katherine Silverthorne, US PIRG Education Fund, (202) 546-9707; Paul Fain, Union of Concerned Scientists, (202) 332-0900