Thirteen of the 15 largest publicly traded oil and gas companies have revised climate targets since May 2021, and together they reveal an industry entirely without normative policies shaped by climate science, according to a new analysis by Britain’s research initiative Carbon Tracker.
The Carbon Tracker approach has practical value beyond the specific conclusions they make about fossil fuel leaders and laggards. The questions that make up the report seek to illustrate the rhetorical thrust of the sector – and therefore much of the world – towards net zero emissions commitments. These three questions, which form its basic framework, are broadly applicable:
The Absolute Impact report, first launched in 2020, is a snapshot of an industry under climate pressure like few others, with its core product being a major cause of the global problem.
“Take a car maker. We need to change the way cars are run. Ultimately, we’re still on our way to using cars,” said Mike Coffin, head of oil, gas and mining at Carbon Tracker. “With the oil and gas industry, as the entire energy mix is changing. The entire industry will essentially shrink.”
Changing investment and usage patterns around oil and gas is hard enough for organizations outside the sector. Even some forward-looking pension investors are finding it difficult to change, according to an analysis by Fossil Free California this week that forces funds to inflate the cost of fossil fuel divestment. The Science Based Targets Initiative, a group that verifies corporate climate goals that align with science guidance, is still developing policy for fossil fuel companies and is not currently accepting commitments for the sector, according to its website.
Scope 3 emissions are particularly important for oil and gas companies, because 85% of their emissions come from end users. In a comment to BlackRock Inc. This week on climate-related shareholder proposals, analysts noted that “to bring about a change in Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions in a fair and balanced manner, policy action by governments will be necessary. Businesses cannot solve Scope 3 alone.”
This makes analyzes such as the Carbon Tracker useful for documenting the best – and worst – kinds of climate policies among traditional energy companies. The new report also sets out several credibility criteria to help separate aggressive and vulnerable targets.
“Look, if you set goals, make sure they’re appropriate,” Coffin said. “For those companies that are setting goals – and we’ve seen a lot of progress over the past three years in that – companies are getting better.”
Eni ranked first for best climate policies for the third year in a row in the Carbon Tracker rankings. The Italian energy giant has pledged to reduce its absolute level of emissions by 35% by 2030, more ambitious than its previously announced target of 25%, and it is also investing in carbon capture facilities. Only four of the companies on the list say they are seeking absolute cuts. All North American companies lag behind their European counterparts. An Eni spokesperson said the arrangement “confirms the completeness of our decarbonization strategy” that focuses on new technologies and business models.
The group highlights three practices that investors may consider red flags:
- Companies should not sell polluting assets just to “create space” for new investments in fossil fuels. The report refers to the IEA’s mid-century net-zero scenario, which calls for an end to new oil and gas fields from 2021, no new fossil fuel boilers by 2025, and an end to sales of new internal combustion vehicles by 2025. 2035.
- They should “not rely unduly” on what Carbon Tracker calls emissions mitigation technologies, a broad category they have created to include all types of carbon capture, direct air capture, and forests and oceans.
- Fast-moving compensation markets attract scrutiny and should not be overused.
Carbon Tracker’s focus on what is covered in corporate net zero pledges and details the paths to achieving them is supported by the latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on preventing dangerous warming.
The rate at which emissions are declining is a very influential factor in determining how warm the Earth is. The report concluded that the Paris Agreement’s minimum target of limiting warming to 1.5°C was out of reach, unless the world speeded up cutting emissions – which are still increasing – so they peak “before 2025 at the latest”.