Fossil fuel companies, wealthy countries causing ‘catastrophic’ global warming

November 2, 2022
If the climate was a bank
Claims from fossil fuel companies that they are “leading” the transition to renewables are nothing but corporate greenwashing. Image: Markus Spiske/Pexels

Ahead of the United Nations Climate Conference (COP27) on November 6, governments are making a big deal of their pledges to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But, even if all the pledges under the Paris Agreement were kept, global warming would still reach at least 2.5°C by the end of the century — a level deemed catastrophic by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report 2022 said there is currently “no credible pathway to 1.5°C in place”.

The IPCC has called for 45% emissions reduction by 2030. But other climate scientists have argued this is too conservative and does not take into account the tipping points — such as methane release from permafrost melt and the stalling of huge ocean currents — which will be surpassed under 43% emissions reduction scenarios. They have called for net-zero emissions by 2030 to reduce the chance of passing irreversible climate tipping points.

Global temperatures have already risen by 1°C, fuelling catastrophic natural disasters that have killed millions of people. An analysis by Carbon Brief of hundreds of extreme weather events over the past decade found that 71% were made more severe by human-induced climate change.

A new report by the UN Children’s Fund predicts that nearly every child on Earth will be exposed to “more frequent, longer lasting and more severe” heatwaves by 2050. Heatwaves cause deaths and long-term health problems, such as asthma, respiratory illnesses and heart disease.

Despite the sustained warnings from scientists and activists, the global capitalist class is intent on exploiting fossil fuels for profit. Claims from fossil fuel companies that they are “leading” the transition to renewables are nothing but corporate greenwashing.

Dirty plans

The world’s 20 largest fossil fuel companies — many of which claim to support the Paris Agreement and efforts to limit global warming — are planning to invest US$932 billion on developing new oil and gas fields over the next nine years. This is despite new fossil fuel projects being incompatible with a 1.5°C target, according to the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

In the pursuit of huge profits, these companies will continue to destroy the environment and climate.

The fossil fuel industry has made a staggering $4 trillion in profits this year. This is not a new phenomenon — the oil and gas industry has made, on average, $1 trillion in profits every year for the past 50 years.

A global super-profits tax, like the war profit taxes introduced during World War I, could easily fund climate action.

The global transition to a low-carbon economy would cost $4–6 trillion a year, according to the UNEP report. This is a tiny fraction (1–2%) of the trillions held in global capital markets, in the form of bonds, banking credit and equity.

This would be enough to not only fund the global transition, but also cover the adaptation costs of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, who are already being exposed to climate-related extreme weather events.

The IISD said that the planned $570 billion worth of oil and gas projects could “fully finance” wind and solar projects in line with limiting global warming to 1.5°C.

Instead, governments continue to help a small number of fossil fuel companies to engineer runaway global warming. The fossil fuel industry benefits from $5.9 trillion a year — $16 billion a day — in subsidies, according to an International Monetary Fund report.

While the brunt of climate change impacts are borne by the world’s poorest, they are the least responsible for creating the catastrophe. Only 100 companies account for about 71% of global emissions since 1988.

Big polluters

The wealthy are responsible for the bulk of GHG emissions. The bottom 50% of households contribute just 12% to global emissions, while the top 1% make up nearly 20% of emissions.

The world’s wealthiest countries (G20) are responsible for about 80% of global GHG emissions. The United States, Russia and China are the biggest per capita emitters.

The richest countries have dragged their feet on climate action, refusing to implement meaningful emissions reductions targets and commit to funding the renewables transition.

Compare this to the billions wasted on military spending last year by the US ($801 billion), China ($293 billion) and Russia ($66 billion) to fight imperialist wars and defend the interests of global capital. Global military spending has been rising for years, and exceeded $2 trillion last year.

Militaries are responsible for huge emissions through fuel use and powering military infrastructure — the world’s militaries account for nearly 10% of greenhouse gas emissions. If the US military were a country, it would be the 47th-largest emitter in the world.

Yet, wealthy countries with massive military budgets will not even commit to meaningfully contributing to the comparatively measly $100 billion yearly climate fund to help developing countries mitigate climate change.

There is a moral imperative to act, demanded by the 99% of people who have contributed little to the emissions that are creating an uninhabitable planet.

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