Sustainability Blog

Big Oil or Big Spoil?

By Apurva Gosalia - May 26, 2022

Despite a series of new “net zero” commitments over the past two years, climate pledges by major American and European oil and gas companies still do not meet the minimum required to comply with the Paris Agreement. This is shown in a new study published on Tuesday this week by Oil Change International (OCI).

David Tong, the lead author of the study “Big Oil Reality Check,” which involved over 35 organizations from around the world, said: “The climate pledges and plans of big oil and gas companies seem designed to disinform and distract, rather than seriously address the climate crisis.”

The study, which updates a previous iteration from 2020, analyzes recent climate pledges by eight global major oil and gas companies against 10 minimum criteria for meeting the 1.5 degree Celsius target set by the Paris Agreement. The climate pledges and plans of all eight companies are rated highly inadequate overall.

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The analysis provides new data on the climate threat posed by the near-term oil and gas expansion plans of the eight companies. Their plans clearly contradict the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) conclusion that to meet the 1.5 C target, no new oil and gas development should be allowed after 2021.

Major oil and gas companies are planning more than 200 expansion projects to be approved between 2022 and 2025 that, if implemented, would generate an additional 8.6 billion metric tons of emissions. This is the equivalent to the emissions from 77 new coal-fired power plants (over their lifetime). Another study released last week found that burning oil, gas and coal from existing fields and mines alone will far exceed the remaining CO2 budget for 1.5 C.

“Instead of facing up to the reality of the climate crisis and cutting fossil fuel production, our analysis found that these big oil and gas companies plan to keep adding fuel to the fire,” said Kelly Trout, research co-director at OIC.

The rubric used to assess oil and gas companies focuses on the level of ambition to keep fossil fuels in the ground on a rapid timeline, the integrity of pledges, including their scale of reliance on carbon-sequestration, offsets or fossil gas, and commitments to centering Indigenous communities and workers.

OCI’s study also concludes that the few oil and gas companies projecting a decline in total production by 2030 appear to be pursuing a strategy of selling their assets so that other companies can continue to exploit them, rather than mining and closing them. 

As recently as March, a report by researchers at the Tyndall Centre concluded that the wealthiest nations must halt oil and gas production by 2034 to maintain a 50% chance of limiting warming to 1.5 C. The IPCC’s latest report shows that global fossil fuel emissions – of which oil and gas are the largest contributors – must drastically fall now to stand a chance of keeping global warming below 1.5 C. 

“The companies that have contributed most to the climate crisis cannot be trusted to address it in any meaningful way,” Tong adds. “The big oil and gas companies are not going to manage their own decline. Investors and governments need to step up and help us all break out of the unstable ‘boom-bust’ cycle of the fossil fuel industry.”

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