By Clemente Álvarez @clementealvarez
Before the start of the World Climate Summit in Paris this month, President Barack Obama garnered the support of major corporations in the United States in the fight against climate change.
A total of 81 companies have joined the White House’s American Business Act on Climate Pledge ( list), among them well-known brands such as Apple, Coca-Cola, Facebook, General Motors, Google, Kellogg’s, McDonald's, Nestlé, Pepsi and Walmart. In all, these companies' 2014 revenues equal $3 trillion.
But while support from this group may turn out to be crucial, the absence of other US corporations is perhaps as significant, especially since they are precisely the largest generators of the greenhouse gases that are changing the climate.
Currently, the electric utility firms American Electric Power, Duke Energy Corp. and Southern Co. have not joined Obama's climate change commitment. In 2013, these three companies were the top polluters in the country, according to the Greenhouse 100 Polluters Index published by the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Their data shows that each of these three companies releases more than 100 million tons of CO
2 annually, which amounts to 5% of all the emissions generated in the United States. It's the equivalent to that coming from 73 million automobiles.
Top 10 producers of CO2
In equivalent CO2 (emissions from all the greenhouse gasses expressed as CO2)
|Company||Emissions in 2011||% of US|
|American Electric Power||130.4||1.94%|
|Duke Energy Corp||126.7||1.89%|
|Luminant Generation Company LLC||61.9||0.92%|
|FirstEnergy Generation Corp||53.2||0.79%|
|Xcel Energy Inc||50.8||0.76%|
Source: Political Economy Research Institute
Only two of the 100 largest polluters on the Greenhouse 100 index (which includes the US government) have joined the White House commitment: Berkshire Hathaway and Alcoa. There is no trace on the pledge list of other top polluters like Ameren Corp, Luminant Generation Company LLC, First Energy Generation Corp, AES Corp, and Xcel Energy Inc.
Also conspicuous by their absence are the US oil producers
ExxonMobil. Although other companies generate more CO
2 annually, especially those related to coal-fueled power plants, these two have much to say about how we've arrived at this point with respect to the planet’s climate.
A 2013 study by the Climate Accountability Institute showed how only 90 companies generated two thirds of the CO 2 and methane emissions worldwide from the burning of fossil fuels between the years 1751 and 2010. Among these historical worldwide polluters, the top three have been Chevron (with 3.34% of all the emissions between 1751 and 2013), Saudi Arabia’s oil company Aramco (3.29%) and ExxonMobil (3.10%).
There are many more US companies on the list, such as ConocoPhillips, Peabody Energy, Consol Energy, Arch Coal, Anadarko, Occidental, and Marathon; none have joined Obama's climate change pledge.
The negotiations to reduce greenhouse emissions tend to focus on countries. But one of the interesting points made by this study is that a good part of the responsibility falls on corporations, largely US corporations, but also those from other countries, such as Saudi Aramco (Saudi Arabia), Gazprom (Russia), Shell (Netherlands), National Iranian Oil Company (Iran), Pemex (Mexico), Coal India (India), and Petróleos de Venezuela (Venezuela).
“It seems reasonable to argue that they [these oil companies] have an ethical obligation to help address climate destabilization,” says Rick Heede, director of the Climate Accountability Institute, which calls our attention to this other fact: Half of all the industrial CO
4 emissions generated between 1751 and 2010 were released into the atmosphere after 1984, when scientists had already warned about the effects that the burning of fossil fuels might have.