Feb 17, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Study: Oil giants' green rhetoric outweighs action

An illustration of a hundred dollar bill covered in oil

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Oil majors are talking the talk on climate change far more than they're walking the walk, a peer-reviewed study concludes.

Driving the news: The paper in PLOS One examines Exxon, Shell, Chevron and BP in 2009-2020 on the basis of three broad categories.

  • They are the use of climate and clean energy-related language in annual reports; pledges and actions in their business strategies; and investments in clean energy versus oil and gas.

What they found: The majors' climate discussion has outpaced spending growth to develop and deploy low-carbon energy.

  • The companies have yet to meaningfully start moving business practices away from fossil development, and clean energy remains a very small percentage of capital spending, it concludes.
  • "[T]he transition to clean energy business models is not occurring...Until actions and investment behavior are brought into alignment with discourse, accusations of greenwashing appear well-founded," it states.

Why it matters: Oil majors are increasingly diversifying into clean energy even as fossil fuels remain by far their dominant business lines. But critics call the efforts too slow.

The other side: Companies highlighted plans unveiled at the tail end of the study period or after.

  • "Because this paper looks back historically over the period 2009-2020, we don’t believe it will take these developments and our progress fully into account," BP said.
  • BP, which has increasingly moved into renewables, EV charging and other areas, said low-carbon investments were 12% of its capital spending in 2021 and will reach 40% by 2025. It also plans to reduce oil-and-gas production by 40% by 2030.
  • Exxon cited its 2021 pledge to invest $15 billion on low-carbon development through 2027 focused on carbon capture, hydrogen and biofuels.
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