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The Greenwashers: Big Oil’s words and actions on climate emergency do not match, says study

Such companies spend huge sums of money to portray themselves as proactive on climate action; but their measures to reduce climate change are inconsistent towards such a goal

Representative photo by iStock Representative photo by iStock

There is a big difference in the words and actions of global oil companies as far as the ongoing climate emergency is concerned, a new analysis has shown.

The analysis by InfluenceMap showed that while such companies were spending huge sums of money to portray themselves as positive and proactive on climate action, their measures to reduce climate change were inconsistent towards such a goal.

InfluenceMap is a company that provides information and analysis on the impact of business and finance on the climate crisis.

The document analysed the public communications of five ‘supermajors’ oil companies — Shell plc, BP plc, TotalEnergies, Chevron Corp, and ExxonMobil Corp.

“Across the 3,421 individual evidence items of public communication analysed from the five companies from 2021, 60 per cent contained at least one green claim, while only 23 per cent contained claims promoting oil and gas (with another 23 per cent deemed not to contain claims relevant to either),” the analysis noted.

The most popular type of ‘green claim’ made by the companies was that of their support of or involvement with efforts to move transition the energy mix.

The companies assessed in the analysis did not disclose their strategies that informed their public messaging on climate change. Instead, InfluenceMap used cost estimates based on the number of communications and media staff employed by them.

It suggested that the companies were spending around $750 million each year cumulatively on climate-related communication activities.

The companies might have mostly made ‘green claims’. But only 12 per cent of their 2022 capital expenditure (CAPEX) was forecasted to be dedicated to ‘low carbon’ activities. Also, several of the companies’ oil and gas production appeared set to increase up to 2026 from a 2021 baseline.

“Such production forecasts appear to significantly overshoot the recommendations in the International Energy Agency’s Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario,” the analysis said.

Meanwhile, the companies’ lobbying efforts were not at all aligned with the green claims they had made.

Shell, TotalEnergies, and BP rank a C- in the report, indicating a mix of both pro and anti-climate advocacy, ExxonMobil and Chevron rank a D and D- respectively, indicating predominantly oppositional policy engagement. 

All supermajors except TotalEnergies engaged policymakers directly to advocate for policies encouraging the development of new oil and gas in 2021-22.

Also, all supermajors except Chevron lobbied policymakers to dilute renewable energy-focused policies through demanding the inclusion of fossil gas. 

Moreover, none of the supermajors have lobbied consistently in favour of methane emissions reduction regulations since 2021. They have instead taken mixed or negative positions on the details of specific regulations.

“This is despite the importance of methane mitigation being a key claim from the industry and top line support for the development of methane regulation,” the report said.

The supermajors were also part of network associations that lobbied against climate policies globally across different levels of government, targeting both state level and federal policies.

They did so through a variety of means including direct engagement with political leaders, the use of the courts to prevent climate action and vast disinformation campaigns which played out across social media.

“This is not something new. The commitments made by such companies on Net Zero are a typical example of greenwashing. They say they will achieve Net Zero by 2045 or 2050. These are ploys by such companies to delay their climate action committments and not really investing to reduce emissions.

“But if you go into their long-term planning, their investment or their operations in terms of fossil fuels is not being reduced. We see that they are not increasing their oil production in one zone but are increasing their natural gas production in another zone. That is the kind of jugglery they practice,” Souparna Lahiri, from the Global Forest Coalition, told Down To Earth.

Big Oil’s Real Agenda on Climate Change 2022 was released this month.

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