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Exxon Releases ‘Net-Zero’ Roadmap, Ignores Lion’s Share of Emissions

Colossal fossil ExxonMobil has unveiled what news reports are calling an “asset-by-asset roadmap” to bring greenhouse gas emissions from its operations to zero by 2050, but leaves out the much larger climate impacts of burning those products once they’ve reached their final users.

“Exxon said it had identified 150 modifications of its exploration and production practices to help reach its goals, including electrification of operations with energy from renewable sources,” the New York Times reports. “Initial steps will include elimination of the flaring and venting of methane, a byproduct of drilling that is a powerful greenhouse gas.”

“This is more than just a pledge,” Exxon CEO Darren Woods said Tuesday. “We’ve been doing work for several years now to make sure we were confident that we had a line of sight on how to achieve this.”

And now, “by the end of this year, 90% of our assets will have roadmaps to reduce emissions and realize this net-zero future,” he added.

Exxon reported that its operations produced 111 million tonnes of carbon dioxide or equivalent in 2020, Bloomberg writes, down 6% during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not to be outdone, Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary Imperial Oil announced Wednesday that it will reduce the emissions intensity of its tar sands/oil sands operations 30% by 2030 “through implementation of newer technologies at its Cold Lake operation in Alberta, efficiency improvements at its facilities, and the use of carbon capture and storage,” Reuters writes. That goal falls short of the 40 to 45% reduction target the federal government has set across the Canadian economy. And it applies only to Imperial’s emissions per barrel of oil—if the company increases its production, as all Alberta fossils are still vowing to do, the actual carbon pollution it emits will rise in turn.

Exxon’s decision to exclude so-called Scope 3 emissions from its planning puts it behind European competitors that are paying attention not only to the climate impact of extracting and processing oil and gas, but also to the far higher emissions that occur when the end product is put to use. Last year, under mounting pressure from investors, colossal fossil Exxon disclosed that Scope 3 emissions had driven its total up to 730 million tonnes in 2019, making it the biggest emitter among western oil and gas companies and placing its carbon pollution on a par with a country like Canada.

Axios says this week’s announcement still marks a shift for a company that was dismissive of net-zero targets as recently as two years ago, before earmarking US$15 billion over six years for low-emissions investments last November.

Still, “those investments are a small slice of the company’s overall spending, which remains focused on its traditional fossil fuel business lines and long-term hydrocarbons production,” the U.S. news outlet writes. “Overall, Exxon is planning $20 to $25 billion annually in capital investment through 2027.”

The announcement follows a devastating year for the colossal fossil, after rebellious shareholders led by start-up hedge fund Engine No. 1 succeeded in electing three of 12 directors on the Exxon board last spring. Months after those new arrivals took their seats, Exxon still hadn’t “embraced them holistically and recognized that this is shareholders talking to them and wanting a change,” Christopher Ailman, chief investment officer for the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), warned in a year-end interview with Bloomberg TV.

“If these companies want to survive and not be Eastman Kodak or Blockbuster Video, darn it, they better get their act together and become energy companies, not just oil and gas firms,” Ailman said.