Oct 1, 2021 - Energy & Environment

China's oil giants cautiously chart their climate course

Greenhouse gas emissions for select oil companies in 2020
Data: Columbia | SIPA Center on Global Energy Policy; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

There's plenty written about what oil giants like Exxon are — and aren't — doing on climate, but a report from a Columbia University energy think tank explores how Chinese companies are approaching the matter.

Why it matters: Chinese state companies have a role to play in China's vow to peak emissions before 2030 and become carbon neutral by 2060.

  • But they're key to the energy security of the world's largest oil and gas importer, the paper notes, so supply of those fuels "almost certainly will remain job number one."

The big picture: One conclusion is that China's national companies are "shifting from 'oil and gas' to 'gas and oil' companies."

  • "Natural gas can reduce China’s GHG emissions if it substitutes for coal and methane emissions are managed," writes research scholar Erica Downs.

Yes, but: Deep decarbonization ultimately requires a shift away from fossil fuels.

  • The companies know they have to expand initiatives around areas like offshore wind, even though fossil fuels will remain their core business "for at least the next decade."

Of note: That chart above looks at emissions from companies' operations and energy they use, but doesn't include much larger "Scope 3" emissions — the CO2 from the use of their products in the economy (think cars, factories and so forth).

Go deeper: China vows end to building coal-fired power plants abroad

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