Jun 24, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Big Oil's transatlantic divide on climate change policy

Reproduced from Goldman Sachs Investment Research; Chart: Axios Visuals
Reproduced from Goldman Sachs Investment Research; Chart: Axios Visuals

Big Oil's transatlantic split on climate change is really on display of late, with a couple of recent reports highlighting the differences.

Driving the news: "Royal Dutch Shell will announce a major restructuring by the end of the year as the energy company prepares to accelerate its shift towards low-carbon, CEO Ben van Beurden told employees," Reuters reports.

  • Meanwhile, a detailed new report from the nonprofit Carbon Tracker Initiative finds a "widening Atlantic divide" on companies' emissions plans.
  • The study out this morning also highlights differences among the European majors, putting Eni, Repsol and BP in their top tier.

Where it stands: A wider Goldman Sachs report, which we covered last week, about the economic potential of clean technology shows how renewables are a growing, though still small, share of European oil majors' capital spending.

  • One finding is that oil-and-gas investment cuts during the downturn boost the percentage of renewables spending, Goldman notes.
  • Nonetheless, they also write that "the transition of the European Big Oils into Big Energy is accelerating" as companies also move into not just renewables but also retail power markets, EV charging and more.

The intrigue: European majors have also been boosting their climate pledges in recent months, setting ambitious long-term targets eschewed by U.S. giants ExxonMobil and Chevron.

  • A number are vowing to become "net-zero" emissions by mid-century, though the pathways to get there remain somewhat vague and aspirational.
  • And setting targets for Scope 3 emissions — that is, CO2 from the use of their fuels in the economy — is now the coin of the realm.

Yes, but: A brief Wood Mackenzie note Friday highlights the European-U.S. divide, but also points out that for European companies "zero carbon is a big growth opportunity globally, but the Majors’ pipeline of projects is still modest."

  • "Sizeable acquisitions, including renewables and utility companies, will be needed if they are to achieve scale in new energy, broaden reach and build capability," WoodMac's Simon Flowers writes.
  • And Carbon Tracker Initiative, in summarizing their study, points out: "Most oil majors have set climate ambitions that leave them free to increase production or ignore the full impact of burning their future oil and gas."
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