When we talk about environment or eco-sustainability, we often end up trying to identify those responsible for the damage caused.
A few days ago, the American Climate Accountability Institute presented a study entitled Climate accountability as a fulcrum for climate stewardship, in which the “faults” of fossil fuel companies are reaffirmed. On the contrary, according to the researchers, these companies would even “lead” the climate crisis, being aware of the dangers involved in using their products. The analysis, conducted by Richard Heede, showed that the top 20 oil companies in the world are responsible for 35% of all emissions of carbon dioxide and methane related to the energy of the planet. Since 1965, they would be responsible for 480 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2). Already a couple of years ago, the same institution had carried out another study whose conclusions were similar: more than half of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere since 1988 must be traced back to a few dozen companies, with the top ranks also the coal mining companies, such as China Coal.
It is important to note that, according to the new report, more than half of the 20 companies in the sector that are most responsible for CO2 emissions are state-owned, owned or controlled by governments. The first among the oil companies responsible for emissions, Aramco, alone responsible for 4.38% of global CO2 emissions, is managed by the Arab government.
The same is true for plastic (the two sectors are linked with a double wire). Often the perpetrators remain in the dark and the promises end in oblivion. Like the one made last August 15 (Independence Day of India) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi had promised to “take the first big step” to start banning disposable plastic from October 2 (the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth). An important promise: according to a report published in 2017 by the Central Commission for Pollution Control, the Central pollution control board, in India, around 25,940 tons of plastic waste ends up in the trash every day. Immediately after, however, some notes reported estimates that spoke of reaching the goal of an India without plastic in 2022. “Prime Minister Modi has not spoken of ‘prohibition’, but of ‘goodbye’ to disposable plastic waste,” he said Prakash Javadekar, Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change). In the end, the month of October has come and to eliminate the plastic, in India, we no longer speak. Indeed, the Indian government would have made it clear that, at least in the short / medium term, no measures will be adopted to prohibit bags, glasses, plates, bottles, straws and plastic bags, reaffirming only the commitment to limit their use. This means that India, in spite of the promises made, will continue to discharge millions of tons of plastic into the environment each year. With great happiness for the producers of plastic materials.
The plastics sector is one of the most flourishing and growing sectors of the planet (together with arms and armaments). Despite the promises, the amount of plastics produced is increasing. World production of plastic has increased from 15 million tons in 1964 to over 310 million in 2018 (“Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”), it could reach 34 billion tons by 2050! And only a small part (between 2 and 4%) is actually recycled. The rest ends up in the environment and creates enormous damage to the ecosystem.
Production of plastics and hydrocarbons walk together: 99% of synthetic polymeric materials come from chemical products obtained from fossil fuels.
A sector that the USA really likes (but strangely little Greta doesn’t seem to have talked about it during her visit to New York). According to the Center for International Environmental Law, an oil and shale gas revolution is underway: “Since the production of fossil fuels is highly localized in specific areas, the manufacture of plastics is also concentrated in specific regions, particularly on the coast of the Gulf of the United States ”, as written in the Fueling Plastics report.
The pharmaceutical sector is closely linked to the use of plastics. And even here there are surprises. According to a study recently published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, Big Pharma (as indicated by the group of major pharmaceutical companies in the world) would produce emissions in terms of CO2equivalents. Also superior to those issued by the automotive industry or the agricultural sector. Lotfi Belkhir, associate professor and president of eco-entrepreneurship at McMaster University in Ontario, said: “We rarely talk about the pharmaceutical industry that evokes images of smokestacks, pollution and environmental damage … An immediate one and the surprising result is that the the pharmaceutical sector is anything but ecological “.
One of the globally recognized rules is that according to which “the polluter pays”. Yet no one has ever asked these large industries, often “multinationals”, to pay for the damage caused to the environment (except in exceptional cases, such as oil spills).
The “others” are the ones to pay: the citizens. Especially those in poor countries, the least responsible for CO2 emissions and environmental damage. According to a study that calculated CO2 emissions in relation to the population, in Africa (except for South Africa), CO2e emissions are very low, often close to zero: 0.05 in the DRC, 0.08 in Niger and 0.04 in Chad. But it is enough to go to the “developed” countries (those that, on paper, should know the impact they have on the environment) to record a surge in these values: in Europe, where there are 6.7 tons / per capita in Italy , 7.9 in the United Kingdom, 8.92 in the “green” Germany and 10.43 in the Czech Republic. Then we go overseas, in Canada, the emissions go up to 14.14 tons / per capita. In Australi they become 16.52 and even 17.02 in the USA. The highest levels ever are recorded in Saudi Arabia: over 18 tons / per capita.
In other words, precisely in the country where the largest emissions related to the oil industries are registered all over the planet. And to do so is a “state” company.
“The great tragedy of the climate crisis is that seven and a half billion people have to pay the price – in the form of a degraded planet – so that a couple of dozen polluting interests can continue to make record profits. It is a great moral failure of our political system that we have allowed this to happen”, said Michael Mann, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, who invited politicians who will participate in the next COP to take urgent action.
Perhaps, given the numbers, it would be better if this invitation (and those of all environmentalists, budding or grown) were addressed to the sparse number of people at the helm of multinationals, very often the real perpetrators of climate change taking place on the whole planet. But to which no one dares to address their appeals.