Of the world’s 500 biggest corporations, just 50 of them are generating 75% of the greenhouse gases from corporate sources. According to a 2013 article in the Sustainable Business Journal, “At least 17 of the worst 50 are U.S. companies, many of them in the oil industry: Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, Apache, Devon Energy and Occidental Petroleum. Other offenders include Carnival, Air Products & Chemicals, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Praxair, AT&T, American Electric Power, Duke Energy, and Exelon.” Some companies like Amazon and Apple declined reporting at all, while others gave only selective information to downplay their carbon footprint. For example, in the financial sector, just 6% disclosed emissions associated with their investments, which make up the majority of their emissions. Bank of America is a good example – it touts its environmental progress while continuing to invest in coal – 50 of the World’s 500 Biggest Companies Undermine Progress on Climate Change.
E & E News published a report in 2014 that quantified economically the societal costs of climate disruption, for anything from “sea-level rise, to extreme heat, and crop losses, that will cost the country several billion dollars annually in the decades ahead”. Of concern is who pays these costs? Costs from flooding, storm damage, wild fires, disease, and drought typically fall on the shoulders of emergency agencies, insurance companies, governments (taxpayers), or simply individuals. Such losses resulting from corporate actions are “externalized” off the company books into the public sphere, by way of denying cause and consequence – ‘Risky Business’ report puts climate costs at many billions of dollars annually.
But now in a 2017 study published by the Climatic Change Journal, the authors report that “Using a simple, well-established climate model, our study for the first time quantifies the amount of sea level rise and increase in global surface temperatures that can be traced to the emissions from the 90 largest carbon producing companies. We have the data needed to link the emissions traced to products sold by a fossil fuel company to a specific share of changes in temperature and sea level rise”. This is a sea change (pardon the pun). Exact costs of given climate disasters can now be pinned on the balance sheets of specific corporations! For example, they report that “More than 6% of the rise in global sea level resulted from emissions traced to ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP, the three largest contributors”. This data can be confidently used by governments to assess corporations for damages, or by individuals or communities to sue corporations for damages. In fact, “Lawsuits filed in July by three coastal California communities against ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and other large fossil fuel companies argue that the companies, not taxpayers and residents, should bear the cost of damages from rising seas”. Read more at – Big Oil must pay for climate change. Now we can calculate how much.