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Fossils’ Green PR Outpaces Low-Carbon Investment, Content Analysis Finds

Five of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies put a lot more effort into public messaging last year than actual low-carbon investments, concludes a content analysis released last week by InfluenceMap.

BP, Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and TotalÉnergies spent at least US$750 million on climate-related messaging, with 60% of their public statements containing green claims and another 23% promoting oil and gas, the London, UK-based climate finance think tank says in a release. They only devoted 12% of their capital expenditures, between US$87 and $96 billion, to green investments.

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“The world’s big oil and gas companies are spending huge amounts of time and money talking up their ‘green’ credentials, while their business investments and lobbying activities tell a very different story,” InfluenceMap Program Manager Faye Holder said in the release.

“These companies talk about cutting emissions and transitioning the energy mix, but at the same time continue to invest heavily in new fossil fuels,” she added. “While this PR strategy might convince some people, it doesn’t change the fact that these companies are out of step with science-based pathways to net-zero.”

The research also showed all the companies but TotalÉnergies “engaging policy-makers directly to advocate for policies encouraging the development of new oil and gas in 2021-22,” the release says.

The content analysis covered 3,421 communications from the five colossal fossils, including company and CEO social media accounts, media releases, speeches, and secondary websites meant for outreach, InfluenceMap says. The dollar figure for climate-related messaging was understated, since it left out agency fees and external advertising.

“None of the companies have aligned their climate policy engagement activities with the goals of the Paris Agreement,” Influence Map states on the landing page for the report. The companies “retain a dense and global network of industry associations globally, which are highly active in their opposition to Paris-aligned climate policies,” including the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the American Petroleum Institute, and the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association.

“Companies lobby governments. They always have,” said Natasha Landell-Mills, head of stewardship at UK-based investment advisory group Sarasin & Partners. “While ensuring well-informed policies that minimize unintended harm is in the public interest, corporate lobbying that promotes narrow interests at the expense of society is not.

The InfluenceMap analysis “paints a picture of a corporate effort to block more robust climate action,” she added. “This jars with these same companies’ expensive marketing campaigns that portray them as building a green future for society. If oil and gas majors are serious about delivering a sustainable planet, it is time they called for the robust policy measures they know are needed. It is also time they publicly disassociate themselves from lobbying initiatives that seek the opposite.”

“The time to act on climate disinformation is now,” said Greens Member of European Parliament (MEP) Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield. “This report shows the lengths oil and gas companies are willing to go to mislead citizens and protect their own interests. But protecting the environment from their harmful actions is in all of our interests.”

Shell took issue with InfluenceMap’s findings, saying the analysis missed its marketing investments in low-carbon businesses like electric vehicle charging and [Shell said] bioethanol. “We are already investing billions of dollars in lower-carbon energy,” a spokesperson told the Guardian. “To help alter the mix of energy Shell sells, we need to grow these new businesses rapidly. That means letting our customers know through advertising or social media what lower-carbon solutions we offer now or are developing, so they can switch when the time is right for them.”

“The world will still need oil and gas for many years to come,” the Shell spokesperson added. “Investment in them will ensure we can supply the energy people will still have to rely on, while lower-carbon alternatives are scaled up.”

TotalÉnergies and Exxon responded with quotes that described their low-carbon initiatives. The Guardian says Chevron and BP did not respond to requests for comments.