Oil and gas companies are putting investors at risk because their plans to reduce emissions rely on technologies that are expensive and unproven at scale, finds a report from the financial think tank Carbon Tracker released on Thursday.
All but two of the 15 largest publicly traded oil and gas companies have updated their climate targets since May 2021, but the report warns that most are failing to commit to absolute cuts in emissions and it questions the credibility of company plans which seek to make room for new production.
Eni is one of only four companies to accept absolute cuts in emissions from the production and use of its products and has the strongest climate policy: it pledged a 35 per cent cut by 2030, up from its previous 25 per cent target.
All North American companies lag behind Europeans and ExxonMobil has the weakest policy: it adopted a net zero target last year but has not pledged specific cuts and excludes 95 per cent of lifecycle emissions from the products it sells.
No new investment in fossil fuel production is needed if the world is to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius Paris climate target and avoid the worst impacts of climate change, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Demand is set to fall over time as a result of governments’ climate policies, the rapid growth of clean technologies, and the drive for energy independence following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Investors concerned about climate change and the risk of stranded assets are putting increasing pressure on oil and gas companies to align their plans with Paris.
“Absolute Impact 2022: Why Oil and Gas Companies Need Credible Plans to Meet Climate Targets” highlights the three approaches that companies are using to cut emissions while justifying continued investment in production: planning to roll out a wide range of emissions mitigation technologies (EMTs); selling assets; and buying offsets.
Mike Coffin, Carbon Tracker Head of Oil, Gas and Mining and report author, said: “Financial institutions must scrutinise companies’ emissions targets and whether their plans to achieve them are practical and credible in order to assess alignment with global climate goals.
“This is particularly so for companies which seek to ‘create space’ for further fossil investment.
“The best way for companies to reduce both their climate impact and transition risk exposure for investors is to allow their existing production to decline without investing in new assets.”
All but one of the 15 companies have announced plans to use EMTs: Eni plans to build plants in the North West of Britain and Ravenna, Italy, which will each capture and store 10 million tonnes (10Mt) of CO2 a year by 2030, but these will be from industrial processes, and not reduce emissions from its own products.
ConocoPhillips plans to capture CO2 and reinject it into reservoirs to extract more oil.
Although this may reduce the emissions intensity of its operations, it will likely lead to more oil being produced and burned.
Occidental is spending an estimated $1 billion to build the first large-scale plant in the US to capture carbon directly from the air. It aims to sequester 1Mt a year — 100 times the current global capacity from all such projects, but just 0.4 per cent of the total emissions from the assets it operates in 2021.
Total lists a 13,500 sq km forest in Peru among its offsetting projects, claiming it will help “prevent” more than 15Mt of CO2 over 10 years, but it is not planting new trees.
Repsol plans to offset 16Mt by planting 700 sq km of forest at Motor Verde, Spain.
Maeve O’Connor, Carbon Tracker Analyst and report author, said: “Oil and gas companies are gambling on emissions mitigation technologies that pose a huge risk to both investors and the climate. Most of these technologies are still at an early stage of development, with few large projects working at anything like the scale required by company goals, while solutions that involve tree planting require huge areas of land.
“It remains to be seen whether these technologies will be technically feasible or economically viable given the huge costs involved.”