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"Exxon lies" sign at protest

Activists rally on February 22, 2017 in New York City to support an investigation into whether the oil giant Exxon covered up its knowledge about climate change. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Exxon Net-Zero Plan Called Greenwashing From 'Climate Liar'

"Exxon and Big Oil's whole strategy is to pretend that fossil fuels can be part of the solution so that they can delay the adoption of renewables another year and keep profiting from oil and gas."

Julia Conley

Climate action campaigners on Tuesday were eager to explain why a net-zero carbon plan released by oil giant ExxonMobil is an example of "more greenwashing" from the company that's expected to increase its emissions by 17% in the coming years.

"I don't give a damn if Exxon is changing the lightbulbs at their office: It's the millions of barrels of oil they're producing that are the problem."

Critics were quick to point out that the $332 billion company's so-called "Advancing Climate Solutions" report—which says it aims to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and which made headlines in a number of major corporate news outlets Tuesday—only applies to 20% of the emissions Exxon directly causes.

The plan, they said, centers on simply changing how the company extracts planet-heating fossil fuels—not reducing the climate impact of the greenhouse gases themselves.

The net-zero plan covers only the company's "Scope 1" and "Scope 2" emissions, explained experts including Fossil Free Media director Jamie Henn and analyst Ketan Joshi. Those emissions come from the act of extracting, refining, and shipping the oil and gas Exxon sends all over the world.

Left out of the strategy is what Exxon plans to do to reduce the impact of 80% of the carbon emissions it is responsible for: Its "Scope 3" emissions, which come from the burning of the oil and gas that the company brings to market.

Exxon's net-zero plan should be treated by the public "as a tobacco company promising all their staff will quit smoking and then expecting to be congratulated for having solved the lung cancer problem," said Joshi.

"I don't give a damn if Exxon is changing the lightbulbs at their office: It's the millions of barrels of oil they're producing that are the problem," added Henn.

Under the proposal, announced by Exxon chairman and CEO Darren Woods, the company plans to use "lower-emissions fuel" in its oil and gas extraction projects.

After raking in more than $178 billion in revenue in 2020 from selling nearly five million barrels of petroleum products per day, the company claimed Tuesday it's pursuing "high-impact reduction opportunities" like "equipment upgrades" and "electrification of operations, using renewable or lower-emission power."

"Exxon and Big Oil's whole strategy is to pretend that fossil fuels can be part of the solution so that they can delay the adoption of renewables another year and keep profiting from oil and gas," tweeted Henn. "This delay is just as deadly as denial."

Exxon's plan also includes investing $15 billion over the next five years in "lower-emission initiatives" such as carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, and biofuels.

As Brian Kahn pointed out at Gizmodo, such technologies have been shown to be "borderline useless at lowering emissions." In the case of blue hydrogen, which fossil fuel companies have claimed is a valuable climate solution, Exxon's mitigation plan may actually leave a greenhouse gas footprint that is 20% larger than it would if it shifted to using natural gas.

Carbon capture and storage are also "uncompetitive with renewables" due to their cost, noted Henn.

While Exxon's net-zero proposal isn't likely to do much to reduce carbon emissions, wrote Kahn, it will be useful for "allowing Exxon to keep digging up oil and gas while promising that it's trying really hard to figure out how to fix this whole 'huge source of carbon pollution' thing."

With no apparent plan to include its Scope 3 emissions in the strategy, said Henn, Exxon's plan amounts to "more greenwashing and gaslighting" from the company that spent millions of dollars over several decades to promote misinformation about the climate crisis and hide its own role in pushing the planet toward catastrophic heating.

Henn noted that numerous studies from a range of sources have shown in recent years that fossil fuel extraction must end to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

While "Big Oil uses these 'net zero' commitments to try and undermine the types of action that would actually tackle the problem," Henn said, the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have made clear that "the only way to keep global warming below 1.5°C is to immediately stop new fossil fuel production and wind down existing production as fast as possible."

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