Many of the largest oil companies, primarily those in Europe, seem to be competing for bragging rights. BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron and Total are the most vociferous of the bunch so far. I’ve already outlined BP’s plans for themselves and the world. If you would like to read about the recent BP Week, click here.

How to get green “step” by “step”

In April, Shell announced its steps for becoming net-zero by 2050. Without delving into their detailed report, those steps are as follows:

  • An ambition to be net-zero on all the emissions from the manufacture of all our products by 2050 at the latest
  • Accelerating Shell’s Net Carbon Footprint ambition to be in step with society’s aim to limit the average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius in line with the Paris Agreement’s goals on Climate Change. This means reducing the Net Carbon Footprint of the energy products Shell sells to its customers by around 65% by 2050 (increased from about 50%), and by about 30% by 2035 (increased from about 20%)
  • A pivot towards serving businesses and sectors that by 2050 are also net-zero emissions

To me, these seem more like goals than steps. Perhaps in the detailed report they reveal the actual steps. But if it is anything like political campaigns, goals and steps are rather fluid terms.

Chevron announced on their website what they are doing now to go green:

  • $100MM pledged to the OGCI Climate Investment fund
  • $1B in carbon capture and storage project investments in Australia and Canada
  • $100MM committed to Chevron Technology Ventures to set up the Future Energy Fund launched in 2018
  • 85% reduction of methane emissions from Chevron’s U.S. onshore production operations since 2013

Total also announced their “steps” for the future. For those who have not heard of it, Total Energy is a major energy player, which produces and markets fuels, natural gas, and low-carbon electricity. The steps they have laid out are:

  • Net Zero across Total’s worldwide operations by 2050 or sooner
  • Net Zero across all its production and energy products used by its customers in Europe  by 2050 or sooner
  • 60% or more reduction in the average carbon intensity of energy products used worldwide by Total customers by 2050 – with intermediate steps of 15% by 2030 and 35% by 2040

Say what you mean and mean what you say

Again, these aren’t steps so much as goals. But are they attainable goals, and are they goals that can be taken at face value? A website called Inside Climate News answers at least the second question. “But many of the pledges are misleading and misrepresent how much the oil giants are changing,” the article says. “Most glaring is that none of the companies has committed to cut its oil and gas output over the next decade, the simplest and most reliable way — one might say the only way — to cut emissions, and a must if the world is to avoid dangerous warming. In fact, the stated net-zero ‘ambitions,’ as the companies generally call them, do not require that greenhouse gas emissions fall to zero at all. They rely instead either partly or largely on capturing or canceling out these emissions with unproven technologies and reforestation at a questionable scale.”

I both agree and disagree with the Inside Climate News writer’s ire. These companies are already not trusted by many simply because they are large companies and by others simply because they are fossil fuel companies. They aren’t going to win points from either group by using wordplay. If they mean net-zero via carbon capture, they need to man-up and come out and say so. 

I also disagree because it is illogical even to pretend to think that fossil fuel companies, large or otherwise, can just turn off the tap and have everyone continue to live the lives they have grown accustomed to. We can rely more on green energy, sure, but on a small scale. California is proving that point for us. What they can’t get from renewables, they get from Russia and neighboring states. Plus, planes don’t run on peddle-power. No matter the size of your hamster wheel, it’s going to take some jet fuel to get a plane off the ground. For renewables to be viable, they MUST work hand-in-hand with fossil fuels. They wouldn’t even exist without fossil fuels to create them. No, turning off the fossil-fuel tap isn’t the answer, and neither is the large oil companies’ green chest-beating. We need plain talk and common sense, and we need it now more than ever.