Oil majors are responsible for nearly a quarter of their industry’s emissions. But they’re not taking responsibility. Instead, they've denied it, and fought climate policy. The only thing that's changed is our awareness of their disinformation.
Here are the reports to prove it:
The Columbia Center on Sustainable Development has documented the extent to which oil majors are responsible for the climate crisis by including their entire value chain, and not just the limited information about upstream emissions that the industry provides voluntarily. Overall, the top six biggest oil companies — BP, Chevron, Eni, ExxonMobil, Shell, and TotalEnergies, “jointly account for nearly 23% of the cumulative global carbon footprint” of the oil refining sector between 1980 and 2019.
And while they’ll take the profits, they’re certainly not taking responsibility. A new study from Robert Brulle, published in Environmental Politics last Monday, sheds some light on what the industry’s front groups were doing behind the scenes in the early days of climate policy by tracing the history of the Global Climate Coalition.
“People have been very stuck on this idea that the industry strategy went from climate denial to delay,” Brulle told Amy Westervelt, but “that’s historically inaccurate. It was always about delay, and the PR guys viewed casting doubt on climate science as one of their key talking points, but not the only one and not the central one.”
Brulle documents how the Global Climate Coalition successfully sabotaged what was a potential bipartisan climate agreement around the Kyoto Protocol back in the ‘90s. That doesn’t mean the industry’s not still up to its old tricks, though.
For that, we turn to Earthworks and their new 'Tricks of the Trade' report on how leading oil and gas companies are deceiving the public about their emissions. (See ExxonKnews for more coverage.)
Shell, BP, TotalEnergies and ConocoPhillips are claiming to have reduced their emissions in 2021, but Earthworks found that 40-60% of those reductions were just from selling off highly polluting assets. The same amount of pollution (if not more) was going into the air – they just moved it off their books and on to someone else’s!
Earthworks also shows how companies aren’t being transparent enough to prove their commitments, and are underestimating their methane emissions “by as much as 100%.” They're all falling short of even their own internal goals, and ultimately, “every company’s climate ambitions fall far short of the IPCC’s directive to cut emissions in half by the end of the decade because they omit Scope 3 emissions which make up between 75-90% of their total emissions.”
If oil companies were to address these issues, their reporting would look a lot more like the Columbia report we mentioned above, and the public would be able to more clearly see their responsibility for climate change.
Which is, of course, why they’ve tried so hard to avoid that transparency.