Energy firms under fire over climate promises

New analysis has concluded that the climate plans released by the major energy companies fail to meet the levels necessary to align with global targets on temperature.

Oil Change International released details of the discussion paper, which measures oil and gas company climate plans against ten minimum criteria for 1.5ºC alignment. Critical to those aim are commitments to stop expanding extraction and to significantly decline production by 2030. It finds that each of the eight major companies assessed are failing, scoring grossly insufficient or insufficient in a majority of criteria.

“An arsonist pledging to light a few less fires is still an arsonist,” said Kelly Trout, senior research analyst at Oil Change International. “As families across the United States and around the world flee fires and floods supercharged by fossil fuel pollution, BP, Shell, and Total are still drilling us into a deeper climate emergency, and that has to stop before they can claim any credibility.”

The paper, titled “Big Oil Reality Check,” was released by Oil Change International in collaboration with 30 organizations from across the globe. While some existing analyses have rated oil companies’ plans against each other, the analysis is the first to focus squarely on the level of ambition required for a 1.5ºC-aligned phase-out of oil and gas production.

The rubric includes ten minimum baselines to ensure proper ambition, integrity, and transition planning in the commitments, with a focus on stopping expansion and planning a significant decline in production by 2030. These imperatives have emerged as a new norm for fossil fuel producers and financial institutions, as seen in a new set of “Paris Principles” for the finance sector, issued last week by a global set of 60 climate and rights groups.

Past Oil Change International research shows that even if global coal use were phased out overnight, the oil and gas reserves in already developed fields and wells could still push the world beyond 1.5ºC.

Notably, BP has received some plaudits for its recent announcements. BP took a critical step in the right direction as the first oil company to commit to reduce oil and gas production by 2030. However, when BP’s plan is held up against the ten criteria laid out in this analysis, it joins the rest of the industry in failing to meet the bar of what is required. In particular, BP’s plans omit the company’s stake in Russian oil giant Rosneft, meaning its announced production cuts could be less than 30% by 2030 when science indicates global carbon dioxide pollution must be halved in that time frame.

David Tong, senior campaigner at Oil Change International and lead author of the paper said: “A critical reality check has been urgently needed, lest investors and the public be misled much in the way Big Oil has been misleading the public for decades.”

Other groups which were part of the report have also criticised the energy firms.

Tzeporah Berman, International Program Director, Stand.Earth said: “Net zero alignment by oil companies planning to expand production is climate denial 2.0. To put out a fire you don’t add more fuel.  It’s simple really. Are you phasing out fossil fuel production and increasingly spending more on renewables or not?”

Regine Richter, energy campaigner with Urgewald added: “This report makes it clear that the Big Oil and Gas majors with their current business models should not be part of the portfolios of climate-conscious investors and banks. Those investors shouldn’t be fooled by the nice sounding yet empty announcements of the oil and gas majors.”

“Unless climate commitments from major oil companies lead to a swift decline in the production of oil and gas and reparations for the communities who have borne the brunt of fossil-fuelled pollution, they’re little more than lip service,” said John Noël, Senior Climate Campaigner, Greenpeace USA. Exxon, Chevron, and their peers in the oil industry are some of the most polluting companies in the history of the world, and we expect them to come out with more than corporate double-speak. As this report clearly finds, Big Oil’s business plan is still out of sync with the kind of fossil fuel phaseout we need to avoid climate catastrophe.”