LAST week, the world’s most prestigious authority when it comes to the oil industry, the Climate Accountability Institute, published some devastating data.

Their extensive research revealed evidence just 20 top companies worldwide have contributed 35% of all energy-related carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, totalling 480bn tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent since 1965.

Many of these private companies are household names: BP, ExxonMobile, Shell. The majority, however, are state owned like Saudi Arabia’s Aramco or Russia’s Gazprom.

Climate Accountability Institute researchers and scientists used the oil companies’ own data and annual reports to compile their list of polluters-in-chief.

This included the annual production of oil, natural gas, and coal.

After that, they calculated how much carbon and methane in the fuels is released into the atmosphere, including through amounts used in production, supply, extraction and their eventual burning – quite possibly by you or I, in our daily lives.

This is because 90% of the emissions came from such products as petrol, aeroplane fuel, natural gas and coal.

The remaining 10% of greenhouse gases came from the numerous ingenious ways oil companies have developed over the years to extract fossil fuel and ship it to market.

What is also clear from the research is that oil companies have known about the disastrous consequences of their trade since at least the mid-1960s. In that time they have made no attempt to curtail their activities.

On the contrary, Rystad Energy, a highly-regarded Norwegian consultancy for oil industry data, are forecasting that the world’s 50 biggest oil companies will increase oil production by 7m barrels per day over the next decade. Nearly an 8% rise between 2018 and 2030.

So much for the Paris accords meant to lessen the risk of such disasters as floods, uncontrollable forest fires, hurricanes and dangerous global temperatures. By planning huge new investment and extraction of fossil fuels, such companies make it inevitable that humanity will fail to meet the 45% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 that scientists report is essential to hold global heating at 1.5C. And even the 1.5C figure implies life-threatening dangers to ecosystems and societies.

Instead of a planned, urgent reduction in our dependency on fossil fuels by replacing them with renewable energy, we are witnessing a mad grab for profits at the expense of the whole world.

And prepare for loads of ads from the big polluters on Facebook and Twitter claiming the very opposite.

A study by InfluenceMap revealed oil polluters have spent $17m on Facebook political social media advertisements since May 2018.

Against such forces it would seem ordinary people are powerless. Especially as the political and media elite show scant willingness to hold those companies threatening humanity’s very survival to account.

Even Extinction Rebellion’s brave, non-violent protests feel like waving a life jacket at an oncoming tsunami. Personally, I’m not so sure.

For one thing, vital information regarding the climate crisis is now circulating freely. If knowledge is power, ordinary people are increasingly being allowed to see the dangers of our fossil-fuelled, consumerist way of life. At last we are beginning to grasp that the system itself needs fundamental change.

This problem is far too big for individual consumer choices alone to make a decisive difference.

For that, we require active government policy. The critical issue, I believe, is whether we can make democracy function for the good of all the world’s citizens – and this is truly a global issue – or for the usual suspects ruling over us: the billionaires and oligarchs along with their hired political representatives.

By such a reckoning, it is vital that legal means are used to force oil companies to reverse their current trajectory.

Their historic task now is to leave as much fossil fuel as possible in the ground while using their huge resources to invest in renewables.

In short, they must be made to dismantle their own operations in as sustainable a manner as possible.

Punitive taxation and sanctions have a big role to play in such an energy revolution. Nor should we be afraid to ban climate polluters from trading in the UK. Failure to act right now is no longer a morally justifiable or sane option.