For climate campaigners, 26 May seemed like the start of a long-awaited reckoning for oil and gas companies.
Over a single 24-hour period, a Dutch court ordered Shell to dramatically cut emissions, shareholders voted to force Chevron to reduce emissions from the products it sells, and a tiny activist investment firm secured three positions on ExxonMobil’s 12-member board for candidates committed to climate action.
When trying to ascribe responsibility for the climate crisis, it’s hard to overstate the outsized role fossil fuel companies have played. The products of just 100 private and state-owned fossil fuel companies were linked to 71% of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions since 1988, according to a groundbreaking 2017 report.
A subsequent Guardian investigation in 2019 found 20 fossil fuel companies, including Chevron and ExxonMobil, were responsible for more than one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions since 1965 – the point at which experts say fossil fuel companies were aware of the link between their products and climate change.
But it’s not just fossil fuel companies fuelling the climate crisis. Even if we immediately phased out oil and gas, emissions from agriculture alone may make it impossible to limit warming to the 1.5C goal in the Paris agreement.
Across a slew of sectors from food and fast fashion to construction and heavy industry, companies have helped drive climate chaos. As climate impacts accelerate – the world is boiling, burning, flooding and melting – there is unprecedented pressure on all companies to start taking their own role in the crisis far more seriously.
This pressure is translating into action. A record number of companies are making climate pledges, but experts warn the pace of action remains glacially slow in the face of a barrelling climate crisis.
Even if all current Paris agreement climate pledges are met, the world is still set to see temperature rises of about 2.4C by the end of the century – well above the 1.5C of warming that scientists say will already lead to severe climate impacts.
As countries are under pressure to up their climate ambitions in the run-up to Cop26, the vital UN climate talks in November, the private sector is also being increasingly pushed by investors, employees, activists and consumers to take meaningful action.
In response, corporations have put out a flurry of climate commitments. At least a fifth of the world’s 2,000 largest public companies have now made some kind of “net zero” pledge to cancel out their carbon emissions. They are investing billions in clean energy, moving to electric vehicles, pledging to halt deforestation, and urging the US government to step up climate action.
This is an excerpt from an article by Jocelyn Timperley, originally published by The Guardian.