Research published Wednesday reveals that nearly all of the carbon offsets Chevron relies on to "cancel out" its planet-heating emissions are likely "worthless," rendering the oil giant's so-called "net zero aspiration" a masterclass in greenwashing that threatens to exacerbate the fossil fuel-driven climate crisis.
According to a new report from Corporate Accountability, at least 93% of the voluntary carbon market offsets Chevron purchased and counted toward its climate targets between 2020 and 2022 are "of low environmental integrity and therefore appear to be junk, until or unless proven otherwise." To make matters worse, at least 42% of the purportedly green initiatives the company invested in and gave itself credit for over the past three years are linked to claims of ecological and social harm, particularly in the Global South.
"This is how we lose a planet: through corporate dishonesty and obstruction."
Over half of Chevron's offset credits from 2020-2022 (including over 97% in 2022) were based on large hydroelectric projects, but these are "meaningless" from a carbon accounting standpoint because they don't deliver additional reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution, the report notes.
The authors cite a preexisting explanation from the GHG Management Institute and Stockholm Environmental Institute: "GHG emissions reductions are additional if they would not have occurred in the absence of a market for offset credits. If the reductions would have happened anyway—i.e., without any prospect for project owners to sell carbon offset credits—then they are not additional… if their associated GHG reductions are not additional, then purchasing offset credits in lieu of reducing your own emissions will make climate change worse."
Mega-dams also tend to be associated with myriad downsides, including widespread displacement and violent repression. Two projects in Colombia that account for a combined 37% of Chevron's recent offsets—Proyecto Hidroeléctrico El Quimbo and the Sogamoso Hydropower Project—have been accused of inflicting substantial damage on local ecosystems and communities, with the latter under fire for allegedly threatening, disappearing, and even killing opponents.
One-third of Chevron's offset credits over the past three years came from Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries, or REDD+, projects. The vast majority were purchased through Verra, the world's largest carbon credit certifier; a recent analysis found that 94% of the rainforest offsets sold by Verra have no discernible climate benefits, contributing to its CEO's Tuesday decision to resign. In addition to largely failing to reduce deforestation—resulting in dubious emissions reduction effects—REDD+ projects "are also notorious for their negative impacts on Indigenous peoples and local communities worldwide due to risks of land grabbing and loss of land tenure rights," the new investigation points out.
Chevron's recent offsets also include several ostensible reforestation projects, but according to the report, two of them are large rubber plantation monocultures for latex extraction and another is based on pine and eucalyptus plantations destined to be harvested before 2040.
"Large plantations such as these, unlike natural or even secondary forests (e.g., those that are replanted and left to grow naturally), require sterile habitats, frequent harvesting, and sometimes clearing, which releases stored carbon back into the atmosphere," the report notes. "These plantations can actually create cumulatively worsening conditions for local ecosystems and biodiversity and are not effective carbon-offsetting strategies."
"In addition to junk offsets, Chevron also promotes its investment in CCUS [Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage] as central to achieving its 'net zero' target," the report observes. "By its own admission, Chevron's CCUS projects are failing to achieve even close to the amount of emissions removals promised, in some cases even failing to meet the targets by 50%."
Notably, even if Chevron were to hit its current climate targets, it would still ignore 90% of its overall emissions. That's because the oil giant's goal of achieving "net zero" GHG pollution by 2050 only applies to upstream ("scope 1" and "scope 2") emissions—the 10% that correspond with production and the operation of company-owned property. The vast majority of Chevron's emissions are downstream ("scope 3"), or those that stem from the end use of its petroleum products.
Rachel Rose Jackson, director of climate research and policy at Corporate Accountability, said in a statement that "Chevron's 'net zero' rhetoric looks to be little more than a PR ploy to prevent strong climate action while the corporation rakes in record profits and plans for further production or expansion in at least 20 countries."
Chevron, the second-biggest U.S. oil major behind ExxonMobil, raked in a record $35.5 billion in profit in 2022 and announced a $75 billion stock buyback plan for this year. In addition, the company—responsible for generating more than 43 billion tons of GHG pollution since 1965, second only to Saudi Aramco among corporations worldwide—is planning to dump $57.4 billion into ramping up fossil fuel production this decade, the report laments.
Chevron's investment plans, second only to Exxon's, are at odds with climate scientists' repeated warnings that fossil fuel expansion is incompatible with preserving a habitable planet.
"This deeply documented history of greenwashing and malfeasance should make every human on Earth who isn't paid by the fossil fuel industry furious."
Corporate Accountability's new exposé "supports what we have long suspected to be true beneath its 'green image,'" said Jackson. "Chevron is deploying junk offsets that are presumed worthless, and many of which are likely to be spurring harm on frontline communities. In addition, its vast lobbying is a hindrance to the strong climate action we urgently need."
According to Corporate Accountability: "Last year, Chevron lobbied on more than 150 federal bills or issues in the U.S.—targeting policies that sought to lower emissions while pushing others that would further legitimize risky and unproven schemes like CCUS. In 2020-2022, Chevron directly spent $20.8 million lobbying in the U.S. alone. This does not even take into account the more than $310.5 million its partner trade groups spent in the same time period."
In response to the report, climate scientist Peter Kalmus toldThe Guardian that "this is how we lose a planet: through corporate dishonesty and obstruction."
"This deeply documented history of greenwashing and malfeasance should make every human on Earth who isn't paid by the fossil fuel industry furious," Kalmus added.
The report comes just days after communities harmed by Chevron's operations held the 10th annual #AntiChevronDay of action on Sunday. Demonstrations took place in 10 countries, including a protest outside a massive oil refinery in Richmond, California, where the company is headquartered. It also comes one week before the company's annual shareholder meeting on May 31.
"It's imperative that shareholders, policymakers, and the public see Chevron's green claims for what they are—greenwashed destruction," says Corporate Accountability. "As this exposé illustrates, Chevron appears to be continuing its legacy of preventing, not promoting, the legally binding regulations, the rapid deployment of real solutions, and the fast track to real zero emissions that needs to happen to avert climate catastrophe."
In a statement, Chevron spokesperson Bill Turenne said that "Chevron supports offsets" as part of its effort "to advance a lower carbon future." He added that "the majority of the offsets referred to in the report are compliance-grade offsets accepted by governments in the regions where we operate."
Note: This piece has been updated with comment from Chevron.