Lima climate talks hear big polluters should pay for damage

Analysis shows 65% of emissions can be traced to just 90 entities

Corporations found to be responsible for much of the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere should be facing levies for loss and damage to the planet, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Commenting on a detailed analysis by the Climate Accountability Institute, UCS chief scientist Peter Fromhoff said major carbon producers needed to be “held accountable for the risks their products create and the damage they’ve already caused”.

At a side event during the UN climate conference in Lima, Dr Fromhoff likened the role of oil and gas giants such as Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Shell and Gazprom to tobacco companies that were eventually found liable for deaths and disease caused by smoking.

He said many of these companies “now accept the findings of climate science”, yet some were still involved in lobby groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, which was working to overturn draft US regulations on greenhouse gases.


The accountability analysis showed that 65 per cent of all heat-trapping emissions from fossil fuels since the mid-18th century can be traced to just 90 entities, with nearly one-third of the total attributable to the 20 largest investor or state-owned companies.

“Delegates at the climate conference are dealing with emissions country-by-country,” said principal researcher Richard Heede. “Looking at emissions through the lens of the relatively few companies that are actually producing the fuels paints a complementary picture.”

Carbon capture

Environmentalists protested at another side event in the International Emissions Trading Association’s pavilion at which representatives of Chevron, Shell and the

World Coal Association

argued that there was still a future for fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage.

British-South African mining giant Anglo American was also accused by Friends of the Earth, the Corporate Europe Observatory and the Transnational Institute of promoting a green image while operating the world's largest open-pit coal mine in La Guajira, Columbia.

Bill Hare, who runs the Climate Analytics think-tank, warned that even with recent pledges to cut emissions made by the EU, the US and China, the world was likely to exceed its available “carbon budget” by 2050 in terms of capping global warming at two degrees .

Although global emissions have reached a new peak, recent developments “indicate a new readiness for action on climate protection”, according to the authors of the latest Climate Change Performance Index, published by Germanwatch and Climate Action Network (Can) Europe.

The index’s principal author Jan Burck noted that the rate of increase in emissions is slowing down while renewables such as wind and solar are “rapidly growing due to declining costs and massive investments”.

Coal boom

Germanwatch policy director Christoph Bals said coal was now “under pressure on a worldwide scale”, with potential investors ”getting the message”. In particular, China’s decade-long coal boom “seems to be over, offering new hope for global climate protection”.

With the first three slots on the index vacant on the basis that no country is doing nearly enough, the list is led by Denmark (in fourth place), followed by Sweden, Britain, Portugal, Cyprus and Morocco, which has jumped up the list due to its ambitious renewable energy targets.

Ireland is in 10th place in the index of 58 countries. Although ranked higher in terms of “emissions development” and renewable energy, Ireland was criticised by the authors for its “low incentive to generate renewable electricity from sources other than wind and observe growing opposition to wind energy”.

Frank McDonald

Frank McDonald

Frank McDonald, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former environment editor