New research suggests nearly two-thirds of global greenhouse emissions generated since the start of the industrial revolution has been caused by just 90 companies including BHP and Rio Tinto.
These companies emitted the equivalent of 914 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, said the report’s author, Richard Heede, director of the US-based Climate Accountability Institute.
The report states that more than half of that total has been emitted since 1984.
The study, called "Tracing anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane emissions to fossil fuel and cement producers 1854-2010", was based on historical production records spanning 150 years.
Chevron and ExxonMobil took out the top two spots in the report, accounting for almost 100 gigatones of carbon dioxide between them, representing 7.74 per cent of the total.
BP came in at third, emitting 35.4 gigatones of carbon dioxide, or 2.47 per cent of the total.
While Shell was fifth, with 2.12 per cent emissions or 30.75 gigatones.
BHP Billiton was ranked as 19th-largest polluter, contributing 7.24 billion tonnes.
Rio Tinto emitted almost 6 billion tonnes, pushing it to 34th on the list.
The list of 90 companies included 50 investor-owned firms and 31 state-owned companies including Saudi Arabia's Saudi Aramco, Russia's Gazprom, and Norway's Statoil.
Some welcomed the report, including former US vice-president and environmental campaigner, Al Gore, who said the report would make for greater accountability, The Guardian reported.
"Those who are historically responsible for polluting our atmosphere have a clear obligation to be part of the solution,” Gore told The Guardian.
However other were not so supportive of the report, labelling the findings “spin”.
The New York Times' Andrew Revkin said the report drew some long bows in its analysis.
"It's kind of like saying that the hundreds of thousands of firearm murders in the history of the United States are the fault of Smith & Wesson and its ilk," he wrote in a Dot Earth blog post.
Others have taken the issue further, claiming the report may be cause for legal action.
“Even if the community accepts the argument that these companies were unaware that their product was generating dangerous climate change until the late 1980s or 1990s, that still makes them reasonably liable for the damage done over the last 25 years,” Macken said.
One of the contributors to the study also sees the report as a finger-pointing tool aimed out calling out companies deemed responsible.
“What I think could be a game changer here is the potential for clearly fingerprinting the sources of those future emissions,” said Michael Mann, a contributor to the study.
“It increases the accountability for fossil fuel burning. You can’t burn fossil fuels without the rest of the world knowing about it.”
Interactive – Pie Chart.