Big Oil has finally admitted that climate change is a genuine issue requiring changes in the global energy system — but will it make any difference? CEOs of 10 of the world’s largest oil and gas companies issued a joint declaration on Friday of their support to limit climate change to within 2˚C. However, this voluntary effort looks like just another P.R. stunt. (Note that the group, known as the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), made no concrete commitments to actually do anything.) Rather, the firms will wait for national regulations and a comprehensive U.N. agreement — neither of which are guaranteed to occur, let alone suffice.
This is not to say that Big Oil’s actions aren’t commendable. One of their key commitments is to improve efficiency in their operations, fuels, and vehicles. Efforts to this end will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and, by optimizing internal operations, save them money.
But another main commitment is the intensification of the ongoing swap within fossil fuels, the displacement of coal by natural gas. Granted, natural gas releases significantly fewer GHG emissions than coal, but as a fossil fuel it is not the long-term solution. That said, the firms’ pledge to eliminate “routine” flaring of natural gas and reduce methane emissions from their operations would be improvements from the status quo, but more in line with improving efficiency than any new breakthrough.
Tellingly, the declaration’s proposed long-term solutions were also free of details, just a vague “investing in R&D and innovation to reduce GHG emissions; participating in partnerships to progress carbon capture and storage; contributing to increasing the share of renewables in the global energy mix.”
Furthermore, no major U.S.-based oil firms participated in the OGCI. (ExxonMobil and Chevron were notable absences.) Nonetheless, Robert Dudley, chief executive of London-based oil firm BP, said “I think we can make the difference. Almost every company here has large investments in the United States.” But staying within a 2˚C increase “would require leaving much of the world’s existing oil, gas and coal reserves unburned and would require the companies to make major changes in the way they do business. Many experts, including people in the oil industry, doubt that the goal can be met,” reported the New York Times.
Some oil executives have called for a global carbon market, but as of yet there is no consensus. Oil firms may no longer be in denial about climate, but their support for corrective measures only goes surface-deep.