Mar 6, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Exxon resists calls for big climate pledges

Exxon Mobil sign

Photo: Ken Jack/Getty Images

Exxon CEO Darren Woods put quite an exclamation point on the idea that U.S.-based oil majors aren't getting into an arms race with European rivals over long-term climate ambition.

What he's saying: Woods defended the company's approach at yesterday's investor day in New York, telling analysts that Exxon looks at the topic on a "global scale" rather than engaging in a "beauty match."

  • "Individual companies hitting targets and then selling assets to another company so that their portfolio has a different carbon intensity has not solved the problem for the world," he said, noting, “This is not a company challenge, this is a global challenge."
  • "We are very focused on trying to make sure we are talking about this holistically and actually taking steps to solve the problem for society as a whole and not to try and get into a beauty match, beauty competition around who’s sheet looks like what."

Why it matters: The comments come as multinational giants headquartered in Europe have recently expanded their longer-term pledges, including BP's recent pledge to become a "net-zero" company by 2050.

  • Big European players like Equinor, BP, Shell and Eni are also setting targets around Scope 3 emissions (that is, emissions from the use of their products in the economy), which is something Exxon and U.S.-based rival Chevron have not done.

The big picture: Woods and other officials defended Exxon's approach, citing projections of rising oil-and-gas demand for decades while highlighting their investments in low-carbon energy R&D in areas like algae-based biofuels and carbon capture.

  • Woods also said the company is on track to meet its target of a 15% cut in its methane emissions and a 25% cut in gas flaring this year compared to 2016 levels.

The other side: Edward Mason, head of responsible investment of the Church Commissioners for England, blasted Woods' comments about Exxon's climate posture.

  • He said via Twitter that Exxon is "pursuing an ugly strategy — ugly ethically & ugly financially — so it has no place at a beauty parade." The tweet on his personal feed also notes that Exxon's stock is at a 15-year low.
  • And Noah Brenner, the Houston bureau chief with Energy Intelligence, notes that Exxon "isn't being judged by activists — its being judged by investors."

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