Pressure is on Exxon and Chevron after BP makes major climate pledge

Source: By Dino Grandoni, Washington Post • Posted: Monday, February 17, 2020


An ice sculpture fashioned by protesters in 2006 to demonstrate their view of how the company’s policies are affecting the environment. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

The biggest British petroleum producer just set one of the most ambitious climate goals of any major multinational oil-and-gas company. Now the pressure is on its American counterparts to do the same.

On Wednesday, BP said it will try to slash its own greenhouse gas emissions from the production and use of its gasoline, jet fuel and other products. Its goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of the century follows similar pledges from other European oil majors, including Royal Dutch Shell and Repsol.

Though BP was short on details about how it will hit that ambitious mark, its announcement is a coup for investors and activists putting pressure on corporations to confront a dire and looming environmental crisis.

Now their attention is turning to ExxonMobil and Chevron, the two largest oil companies in the United States.

“They were laggards before and they’re now further behind than they were a month or two ago,” said Andrew Logan, a senior director at Ceres, a sustainability nonprofit organization pressing companies to address climate change.

So far, the two big U.S. petroleum producers have only committed to trimming emissions from drilling, refining and transporting their products — not from their use in automobiles or at power plants. But those operational emissions account for only a fraction of any oil companies’ overall contribution to rising temperatures worldwide.

Neither Exxon nor Chevron replied to a request for comment.

That’s what makes BP’s commitment noteworthy: It includes end-use emissions in its climate targets. The company plans to still produce oil and gas by 2050, but that would require major breakthroughs in technologies that capture carbon dioxide before it reaches the atmosphere. Those carbon-capture technologies are still in development and are not yet financially feasible.

BP’s pledge, Logan said, “expands the scope of what’s seen as possible for what an oil company can do.” The announcement is one of the first moves made by Bernard Looney, BP’s new chief executive, who started the job earlier this month.

The news comes as big Wall Street banks are under greater pressure than ever to withhold financing from fossil-fuel projects. In a note to investors, one of those financial institutions, HSBC, called BP’s pledge “potentially a game-changer for the company and the industry.”

ExxonMobil and Chevron have made their fair share of pledges when it comes to climate change. In a break with President Trump, a staunch ally of the U.S. oil sector, both companies support placing a tax on carbon emissions and agreed with the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which seeks to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Trump has pulled the United States out of the Paris accord.

Exxon, too, says it supports having some sort of federal regulation on the release of methane, another greenhouse gas, from oil and gas facilities. The Trump administration has rolled back methane rules put in place under President Barack Obama.

But Exxon has otherwise resisted overtures from activist investors to tackle climate change more aggressively. Last year, Exxon persuaded the Securities and Exchange Commission to block a proposal urging the company to adopt and disclose greenhouse gas targets aligned with the Paris accord.

So why have European oil companies been more ambitious in their climate pledges than major U.S. firms? Kathy Mulvey, an accountability campaign director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, chalked up that transatlantic gap to oil companies facing greater pressure from European lawmakers to act on climate change.

“At the national level in Europe,” she said, “there’s more happening.”