Is BP Finally Committing To Ambitious Climate Action — Or About To Fool Us Twice?

Credit to Author: Guest Contributor| Date: Sat, 12 Sep 2020 23:44:41 +0000

Published on September 12th, 2020 | by Guest Contributor

September 12th, 2020 by  

Originally published on the blog of the .
Peter Frumhoff, Director of Science and Policy and Chief Climate Scientist at UCS

As big oil and gas companies feel the intensifying heat from shareholders, lawsuits, and divestment campaigns to take responsibility for their outsized contributions to climate change, several European oil and gas giants, including BP and Shell, are making high-profile announcements of their intent to begin aligning their business models with core implications of climate science — that swift and deep reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases are needed to keep global temperature rise in check.

BP plans to unveil further details of the company’s climate strategy at a virtual investor meeting on Monday September 14th.  The company’s history of false-starts on climate action and misleading clean energy advertising provides plenty of fodder for justified skepticism. So, how shall we assess their climate claims this time around?

A portable EV fast charger from BP charging a Nissan LEAF. Image (cropped) courtesy BP.

In February, BP CEO Bernard Looney announced to great fanfare the company’s aims to bring carbon emissions from the oil and gas it produces and brings to market to net-zero by 2050 (with lesser ambitions for the oil and gas BP buys from other producers and then markets). In early August, Looney further pledged that by 2030, BP would cut its oil and gas production by 40% below 2019 (pre-pandemic) levels, increase its renewable electricity generation from ~2.5 gigawatts (GW) today to a whopping 50 GW and stop exploring for fossil fuels in new countries.

He also promised to provide more details in September.

“Today is about a vision, a direction of travel,” Looney said at the February rollout. “I appreciate you want to see more than a vision. We don’t have that for you today, but we will in September. The direction is set. We are heading to net zero. There is no turning back.”

[Read how UCS assessed BP’s initial announcements—and the questions they left outstanding — herehere, and here.]

BP’s ambitious pledge might sound … familiar. And well it should, because we’ve heard ambitious climate pledges from BP before. Back in 1997, when BP was known as British Petroleum, then CEO John Browne famously broke ranks with the climate-denying statements and actions by ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel companies, announcing in a speech at Stanford University that the company accepted climate science and its responsibility to address the problem:

“[W]e are all citizens of one world, and we must take shared responsibility for its future. … [T]here is now an effective consensus among the world’s leading scientists and serious and well-informed people outside the scientific community that there is a discernible human influence on the climate and a link between the concentration of carbon dioxide and the increase in temperature. [I]t would be unwise and potentially dangerous to ignore the mounting concern.

“We in BP … alone could not resolve the problem. But that does not mean we should do nothing. …We have a responsibility to act [and] BP accepts that responsibility. …”

Under Browne’s leadership, the company rebranded as “Beyond Petroleum” and made a short-lived effort to expand its investments in renewable energy before returning to its roots as single-minded fossil energy giant paying lip-service to addressing climate change while pushing back on climate policy.

And — as this year’s 10th anniversary of the explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling platform and ensuing massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico reminds us — also enabling a culture and practice of serious negligence on environmental health and safety.

Make no mistake, BP’s ambitious new climate claims justly deserve our attention. Slashing oil and gas production 40% by 2030 would be a big deal.

But too often, fossil fuel companies’ pledges of future climate action are met with unquestioning acceptance and unwarranted fulsome praise.

A recent piece in the Washington Post, for example, simply takes Bernard Looney at his February press-statement word that the “oil giant BP Plc is planning to become a net-zero emissions company by 2050.” Bloomberg Green’s headline on BP’s February announcement breathlessly reads: “BP Sets Bold Agenda for Big Oil With Plan to Eliminate CO2.” (With more well-deserved skepticism, a Fortune article in August asked, “Is oil giant BP finally ready to ‘think outside the barrel’?”)

Indeed, we need to see and read the fine print and work to hold companies accountable to live up to their claims.

So, how should investors, the media, and civil society evaluate BP’s climate pledges this time around? Here are five things UCS will be looking for in BP’s promised specifics at next week’s investor meetings:

I and my UCS colleagues will be closely watching BP’s presentations next week, asking questions, and evaluating what we learn so that we can separate rhetoric from reality.

The climate cannot afford further corporate PR, deception, and delay. 


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