The fine print in BP’s bold, new carbon reduction pledge shows the UK-based colossal fossil still plans to invest billions in environmental catastrophe over the next decade, writes self-described eco-auditor, columnist, and Stop Killing Cyclists founder Donnachadh McCarthy, in a blistering opinion piece for The Independent.
Just last week, BP unveiled a program to reduce its fossil fuel output 40% by 2030, scale back its dividend to shareholders for the first time since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in 2010, and ramp up renewable energy production, in what CEO Bernard Looney called a “comprehensive and coherent approach to turn our net zero ambition into action.” At the time, the announcement drew conditional but unmistakeable praise from campaign organizations that have been pushing and prodding the fossil industry for decades.
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“Whatever the devils that will no doubt emerge in the detail, this is a pretty big change from BP,” tweeted Greenpeace UK Chief Scientist Doug Parr.
“Today’s announcement is an important signal to the rest of the industry that the only credible way to cut pollution is to cut fossil fuel production,” said Kelly Trout, senior research analyst at Oil Change International. But Trout presciently added that “vague promises of ambition by 2050 are meaningless without clear details on the actions oil majors will take to manage a rapid decline in extraction within this decade, the critical time frame for staying within 1.5°C of warming.”
In BP’s case, it didn’t take long for those details to emerge. “Buried deep in the announcement was the detail that BP plans to invest up to a staggering US$70 billion in its fossil fuel and non-renewable energy operations over the coming half-decade,” McCarthy writes. “These devastatingly destructive investments by BP are a suicide note to humanity and bode destruction for what is left of nature. I believe it is outrageous that such investments are even legal, in view of the depth of the climate and ecological emergencies.”
McCarthy cites four promises in the BP release that apparently aren’t what they seem:
• BP says it “will not seek to explore in countries where it does not already have upstream activities.” McCarthy counters that that’s not much of a promise from a company that already operates in 70 countries around the world. “The statement explicitly re-committed BP to its partnership with one of Russia’s largest oil corporations, Rosneft, saying it is a ‘fundamental part of its portfolio’,” he writes, even though Rosneft “is notorious for drilling in the pristine Arctic region.” And “BP itself was recently revealed to have conducted active, successful lobbying of the Trump administration to open up Alaska’s nature reserves to oil drilling.”
• The company’s headline pledge to reduce oil and gas production 40% by 2030 “sounded like BP would start closing down its oil and gas fields, which would be a hugely exciting step forward,” McCarthy writes. “But that is not what is proposed. BP is merely planning to sell over $25 billion of its less profitable oil and gas fields, to concentrate on its most profitable. It’s possible that not a single tonne of carbon will be saved, as these fields could be purchased and operated by other corporations.”
• The renewable energy expansion plan promises a fund of up to US$80 billion through 2025, but the only specifics in the release suggest a target of only $3 to $4 billion per year. That means only 13% of the company’s planned capital investments will go to renewables.
• The emphasis on “resilient and focused hydrocarbons” will translate into a bigger natural gas portfolio to “complement” renewable energy development, McCarthy says, adding that BP’s media relations unit wouldn’t say whether methane-intensive natural gas production counts as “clean” energy in their books.
“To achieve the net-zero economy that the climate science dictates is needed within five years,” McCarthy concludes, “BP needs to announce it is immediately halting all drilling for new fossil fuels anywhere, not just those countries where it has no operations to date, and ensure all new energy investments are in energy efficiency and renewables.” More broadly, “what they really need, 20 years after they first promised to go ‘Beyond Petroleum’, is to actually do it.”