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90 fossil fuel firms contributed half of global temperature rise: Study

Emissions by 90 largest carbon producers contributed almost half of global surface temperature increase and roughly 30 per cent of global sea level rise since 1880, says an international study.

They blame 50 investor-owned carbon producers, including BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Peabody, Shell and Total, for roughly 16 per cent of the global average temperature increase from 1880 to 2010, and around 11 per cent of the global sea level rise during the same time-frame.

The first-of-its-kind study published in the scientific journal Climatic Change last week links global climate changes to the product-related emissions of specific fossil fuel producers.

Focusing on the largest gas, oil and coal producers and cement manufacturers, the study calculated the amount of sea level rise and global temperature increase resulting from the carbon dioxide and methane emissions from their products as well as their extraction and production processes.

The study quantified climate change impacts of each company’s carbon and methane emissions during two time periods: 1880 to 2010 and 1980 to 2010.

By 1980, investor-owned fossil fuel companies were aware of the threat posed by their products and could have taken steps to reduce their risks and share them with their shareholders and the public.

“We’ve known for a long time that fossil fuels are the largest contributor to climate change,” an official statement quoting Brenda Ekwurzel, lead author and director of climate science at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-profit science advocacy organisation based in the US, said.

“What’s new here is that we’ve verified just how much specific companies’ products have caused the earth to warm and the seas to rise.”

The study, “The rise in global atmospheric CO2, surface temperature, and sea level from emissions traced to major carbon producers”, builds on a landmark 2014 study by Richard Heede of the Climate Accountability Institute, one of the co-authors of the study published on September 7.

Heede’s study, which also was published in Climatic Change, determined the quantity of carbon dioxide and methane emissions that resulted from the burning of products sold by the 90 largest investor-and state-owned fossil fuel companies and cement manufacturers.

The study led by Ekwurzel found that emissions traced to the 90 largest carbon producers contributed to approximately 57 per cent of the observed rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, nearly 50 per cent of the rise in global average temperature, and around 30 per cent of global sea level rise since 1880.

Myles Allen, a study co-author and professor of geo-system science at the University of Oxford in Britain, said until a decade or two ago, no corporation could be held accountable for the consequences of its products’ emissions because “we simply didn’t know enough about what their impacts were”.

Now the moot question is: Who is responsible for climate change and who should pay for its related costs?

The UN Environment Programme estimates that developing countries will need $140 billion to $300 billion annually by 2030 and $280 billion to $500 billion annually by 2050 to adapt.

At the Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris 2015, the governments agreed to “hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees”.

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