Political pressure is mounting to make businesses pay for the damage they cause to the environment, and the latest UN study assessing the impact of the world’s biggest companies is almost certainly the first stage in a concerted campaign to calculate how much damage is caused, what it is worth and ultimately how it can be stopped.

Amid growing momentum for more limits on operations, taxes and fines, investor groups such as the US based Ceres, which represents more than 80 funds managing more than $8 trillion of assets, are lobbying hard for companies to monitor, report and reduce their impact before they are forced to by legislation. So far, however, reporting is patchy and hard to compare.

A breakdown of the different sectors will be published in the final report this summer, but the Guardian asked London England based consultants Trucost, who also prepared the UN study, to analyse already published research to provide a close guide to what it is likely to show. Trucost’s analysis shows dramatic differences between different sectors.

By far the most damaging were the utilities, where the $400 billion total cost was dominated by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, nuclear waste, acid rain, smog precursors and metal pollution in water.

After the utilities, the two sectors with the biggest impact were basic materials, such as mining, forestry and chemical companies with costs put at just over $300 billion, and consumers goods such as cars, food, drink and toys at just under $300 billion.

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A writer and photographer, Spowart has publication credits in Canada, United States, Europe and Norway with such publications as The Globe & Mail, The National Post, Sun Media, Canwest News, and Canada News Wire.

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