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September 14, 2013
CDP Report on Global 500 Emissions Is Published
    by Robert Kropp

The report finds that the average emissions of the 50 heaviest emitters among the world's largest companies have actually increased since 2009.

While it makes for a striking statistic, the fact that 10% of the world's 500 largest companies are responsible for three-quarters of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions should not be surprising. As the 2013 Global 500 Climate Change Report from CDP points out, the fifty companies responsible for all that pollution are from the energy, materials, and utilities industry sectors. Companies from these sectors, the report states, represent less than one-quarter of the Global 500 but are responsible for nearly 90% of emissions.

The physical science section of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) 5th Assessment Report will be published this month, and as IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri recently stated, “We have five minutes before midnight.” Given the urgency of combating climate change, what is more distressing about CDP's findings is that the emissions of those top 50 polluters—many more of which are headquartered in the US than anywhere else—have actually increased by an average of 2.3% since 2009.

“The biggest emitters, who have the largest impact on global emissions and so present the greatest opportunity for large-scale change, need to do more to reduce their emissions,” the report states. “Policy makers could help to accelerate the necessary change by increasing incentives.”

The report provides sector-specific breakdowns as well, and when one looks at the performance of the energy sector alone the trends are if anything even more alarming. “Since 2009, the overall emissions of the ten biggest emitters in the sector have increased by 53%,” the report continues. “The sector also has the highest number of companies without emission reduction targets (24%), which companies justify by concerns that targets would constrain growth in their companies and in the wider economy.”

Furthermore, 15 energy companies included in the Global 500 failed to respond to CDP's request to report. Seven of the 15 non-respondents are headquartered in the US.

By way of comparison, the utilities sector, which has the highest emissions of any sector, has reduced its overall emissions since 2012. According to the report, “The sector demonstrates a comparatively mature response to climate change, with all companies having emissions reduction targets.”

And despite the fact that significant majorities of companies now report having emissions reduction targets, “there is a disparity between companies’ strategies, targets and the emissions reductions which are required to limit global warming to 2C,” the report states.

The bad news doesn't end there. Reporting on Scope 3 or indirect emissions remains inadequate and even misleading, even though the relevant aspects of such reporting should be clear to companies by now. “Instead of measuring carbon-intensive activities in their value chain,” the report found, “companies often focus on relatively insignificant opportunities for carbon reductions.” Use of sold products, for instance, accounts for three-quarters of reported Scope 3 emissions, but only 22% of companies report on it. Only six percent of financial companies report on emissions generated by companies in their lending portfolios. Meanwhile, 72% of companies report on emissions generated by business air travel, which accounts for 0.2% of reported Scope 3 emissions.

There are some positive takeaways in the report as well, not the least of which is that CDP now requests data on emissions from companies on behalf of a record 722 institutional investors representing $87 trillion in invested capital. Also, nearly two-thirds of companies now seek outside verification of their sustainability reporting, twice the number that did so as recently as 2011.

“Investors and shareholders have always demanded accuracy in a company’s financial information,” the report states. “Increasingly, they are demanding accuracy in non-financial information as well.”

“Clear scientific evidence and increasingly severe weather events are sending strong signals that we must pursue routes to economic prosperity whilst reducing emissions of greenhouse gases,” Paul Simpson, chief executive at CDP, said. “It is imperative that big emitters improve their performance in this regard and governments provide more incentives to make this happen. The corporate world is an aggregator of both risks and opportunities from this challenge.”


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