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Social and environmental justice groups opposed to Shell's plans to drill for fossil fuels in Arctic waters organized a protest in kayaks on the shores of Seattle's Elliot Bay in 2015. (Photo: Greenpeace)

Social and environmental justice groups opposed to Shell's plans to drill for fossil fuels in Arctic waters organized a protest in kayaks on the shores of Seattle's Elliot Bay in 2015. (Photo: Greenpeace)

Arsonists 'Pledging to Light a Few Less Fires': Analysis Exposes Failure of Big Oil Climate Pledges

"BP, Shell, and Total are still drilling us into a deeper climate emergency, and that has to stop before they can claim any credibility."

Jessica Corbett

An analysis published Wednesday by Oil Change International, and endorsed by 30 other advocacy groups, found that none of the climate strategies, plans, and pledges of eight major oil and gas companies even come close to aligning with the 2015 Paris agreement's goal of limiting global warming this century to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

"An arsonist pledging to light a few less fires is still an arsonist."
—Kelly Trout, OCI
"An arsonist pledging to light a few less fires is still an arsonist," OCI senior research analyst Kelly Trout said in a statement. "As families across the United States and around the world flee fires and floods supercharged by fossil fuel pollution, BP, Shell, and Total are still drilling us into a deeper climate emergency, and that has to stop before they can claim any credibility."

Trout co-authored Big Oil Reality Check (pdf) and detailed the paper's main points in a blog post. The paper—which evaluates the policies of BP, Chevron, Eni, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Repsol, Shell, and Total—says that "if oil and gas companies were serious about the Paris agreement they would need to end new oil and gas exploration and extraction now and phase out production from existing developed reserves."

"This phase out would need to reflect the principles of a Just Transition," the paper continues. "Building any further infrastructure, investing any further capital, or employing any further workers to exploit additional fossil fuel reserves will only create even more 'carbon lock-in'—making it more difficult, both politically and economically, to limit production."

In terms of oil majors' climate plans and alignment with the Paris goals, Trout and her fellow researchers found "failure across the board." All eight plans were assessed based on various factors related to ambition, integrity, and transition planning, and received grades for each category that ranged from "fully aligned" to "grossly insufficient."

Big Oil Reality Check features a chart detailing the findings:

big oil climate plans

"Oil companies are responding to pressure from the public to get real on climate, but their response is, as ever, deceitful and geared toward protecting their bottom line," said OCI senior campaigner David Tong, lead author of the paper. "A critical reality check has been urgently needed, lest investors and the public be misled much in the way Big Oil has been misleading the public for decades."

The paper notes that "only one oil major, BP, has committed to cutting oil and gas extraction by 2030. However, it has excluded around 30% of the carbon pollution associated with its extraction investments from that commitment. Almost all oil and gas majors are still on track to increase their overall contribution to the climate crisis between now and 2030."

As Common Dreams reported last week, the latest edition of BP's annual Energy Outlook signals that the dirty energy industry is dying by admitting that global demand for oil may have already peaked while forecasting major renewable growth in the coming decades. The BP report followed a July analysis from the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) which found that fossil fuel companies are "writing down and selling off their assets at heavily discounted prices."

In recent years, Big Oil has been targeted by a series of lawsuits from communities already facing devastating impacts of the climate crisis their products helped create. In September alone, the state attorneys general of Connecticut and Delaware as well as local leaders representing the cities of Charleston, South Carolina and Hoboken, New Jersey have filed climate liability lawsuits against major fossil fuel companies.

"We cannot trust that the fossil fuel industry can manage its own decline—we need strong action from governments that starts with eliminating handouts on the backs of tax-payers to the oil and gas industry."
—Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, NRDC
These suits, explained Center for Climate Integrity executive director Richard Wiles, "are an essential step toward holding polluters accountable for decades of propaganda and disinformation that stalled climate action and caused untold destruction."

Big Oil Reality Check suggests that the fossil fuel industry's current plans will cause further destruction. The paper says that "the oil and gas industry should take responsibility to rapidly phase out its extraction-based business model and repair the climate damages it has caused."

"However," the paper adds, "governments, investors, and communities should not assume the industry most responsible for causing the climate crisis will do its fair share to solve it. Governments in particular must step in to manage the decline in fossil fuels, by phasing out fossil fuel production and implementing Just Transition measures."

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) senior strategic adviser Susan Casey-Lefkowitz echoed that message in a blog post about the paper, writing Wednesday that "in this time of Covid-19, we have a chance to reinvigorate our economies moving off fossil fuels and putting more clean energy in place. We must reduce emissions and not be tempted to bail out the fossil fuel industry."

"We know that to avoid further worsening of climate change, we need to end our dependence on fossil fuels," Casey-Lefkowitz continued. "We cannot trust that the fossil fuel industry can manage its own decline—we need strong action from governments that starts with eliminating handouts on the backs of tax-payers to the oil and gas industry."

The groups that endorsed the paper are Amazon Watch, Asian Peoples' Movement on Debt and Development, BankTrack, Bold Alliance, BothENDS, Christian Aid, Centre for International Environmental Law, Culture Unstained, Earthworks, Environmental Defence Canada, Friends of the Earth US, Global Catholic Climate Movement, Global Witness, Greenpeace USA, Hip Hop Caucus, Indigenous Environmental Network, Les Amis de la Terre, Milieudefensie, Power Shift Network, Rainforest Action Network, Reclaim Finance, Recourse, ShareAction, Sierra Club, SOMO, Sunrise Project, Stand.earth, Urgewald, Women's Earth & Climate Action Network, 350.org.


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