For the world to stay within relatively safe limits of climate change, we need to keep temperature increases at no more than two degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels. That means restraining ourselves from emitting more than 1,000 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions overall, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
And yet, the pent-up supply of harmful emissions exceeds that budget many times over. The 100 biggest coal companies and the 100 biggest oil and gas companies have proven reserves equating to 555 billion tons of further emissions–roughly five times the amount that can be burned if we’re stay within the two-degree threshold.
That’s according to a new report from Fossil Free Indexes (FFI), a New York group that tracks the carbon content of fossil fuel companies. At a time when climate scientists say we need to be reducing the amount of CO2 that goes into the atmosphere, the biggest companies are actually preparing to increase their output. FFI says the carbon intensity of its index increased 10% last year.
The top coal companies by emissions include Coal India and China Shenhua. In the oil and gas sector, the top companies are Gazprom, Rosneft, PetroChina, ExxonMobil, and Lukoil. Those five account for 50% of all emissions and “much of the emissions growth,” according to FFI. The top ten oil and gas companies hold two-thirds of potential emissions, making them likely targets for the growing fossil fuel divestment movement.
“The research highlights the concentration of reserves, and hence emissions potential, in a small number of large firms,” FFI’s report says.
For all the conjecture and confusion around climate change, hard numbers really do exist: We ought to hold companies to them.