Study concludes oil firms' promises don't match actions
The most recent scientific analysis finds claims of oil firms greenwashing their data to be well-founded.
According to the most extensive analysis to date, accusations of greenwashing against big oil firms who claim to be in the process of transitioning to renewable energy are well-founded.
The study looked at the records of ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP, which are collectively responsible for more than 10% of world carbon emissions since 1965. Data examined from the previous 12 years up to 2020 determined that their actions, which include growing rather than decreasing exploration, did not match with their promises.
The investigation discovered a significant increase in references of "climate," "low-carbon," and "transition" in annual reports in recent years, particularly for Shell and BP, as well as increased pledges of action in strategy. However, according to the researchers "Financial analysis reveals a continuing business model dependence on fossil fuels along with insignificant and opaque spending on clean energy.”
The International Energy Agency (IEA) stated in May 2021 that no new fossil fuel developments are permitted if the world wants to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
Investors are putting greater pressure on oil corporations to match their operations with climate goals, however, they have been met with skepticism.
Prof Gregory Trencher, at Kyoto University in Japan, said “Until there is very concrete progress, we have every reason to be very skeptical about claims to be moving in a green direction."
“If they were moving away from fossil fuels we would expect to see, for example, declines in exploration activity, fossil fuel production, and sales and profit from fossil fuels,” he said. “But if anything, we find evidence of the reverse happening.”
According to Trencher, “It’s like a very naughty schoolboy telling the teacher ‘I promise to do all my homework next week’, but the student has never worked hard.”
The latest analysis, published in the journal PLOS One, discovered that climate-related terms increased between 2009-2020. For instance, BP's use of the phrase "climate change" increased from 22 to 326 times.
“Until actions and investment behavior are brought into alignment with discourse, accusations of greenwashing appear well-founded,” the researchers said.
According to an ExxonMobil spokeswoman, "the transition to a lower-emission future necessitates numerous solutions that can be deployed at scale. To maximize shareholder returns, we want to play a leadership role in the energy transition while maintaining investment flexibility across a portfolio of developing options such as carbon capture, hydrogen, and biofuels."
"We are focused on decreasing the carbon intensity in our operations and striving to build lower carbon companies alongside our core business lines," a Chevron representative said. We intend to spend $10 billion in low-carbon projects by 2028."
Shell’s spokesperson said: “Shell’s target is to become a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050, in step with society. Our short, medium and long-term intensity and absolute targets are consistent with the more ambitious 1.5C goal of the Paris Agreement. We were also the first energy company to submit its energy transition strategy to shareholders for a vote, securing strong endorsement.”
"We included the records that were published throughout 2021, so the so-called data gap is just approximately six months, and we don't find any indication of any additional activities that would modify any of our conclusions," Trencher said.
He added that “Unfortunately, the way the energy markets are structured around the world, fossil fuels still enjoy many [regulatory and tax] advantages and renewables are still disadvantaged."