After spending decades trying to deny and hide that climate change is happening, fossil fuel companies have changed their rhetoric. Nowadays, they often speak about sustainability, reducing pollution, and “clean” things. Yet despite this change in rhetoric, their actions haven’t changed all that much.
Since the start of last year, fossil fuel companies have rolled out expensive plans to extract oil and gas from tar sands, deepwater fields, and the Arctic — completely disregarding the climate goals set in the Paris Agreement.
The report was carried out by Carbon Tracker, a financial thinktank, and the results are concerning for all parties involved. Not only are companies risking our climate and the planet’s future, but even financially, their decisions wouldn’t make sense in a low-carbon world. Andrew Grant, the author of the report, said: “Every oil major is betting heavily against a 1.5C world and investing in projects that are contrary to the Paris goals.”
The report found that none of the largest listed oil and gas companies are acting in line with climate goals. If the governments take a tougher stance on carbon emissions, as is required to significantly curb climate change, the companies risk losing 2.2 trillion dollars. Investors should be concerned, Grant says.
“Investors should challenge companies’ spending on new fossil fuel production. The best way to both preserve shareholder value in the transition and align with climate change goals will be to focus on low-cost projects that will deliver the highest returns,” Grant said.
According to the findings, at least 30% of the companies’ investments are inconsistend with climate targets. For instance, Shell sais it would spend $13bn on a liquefied gas project in Canada. Also in Canada, ExxonMobil invested $2.6bn on a new oil sand project — one of the “dirtiest” types of oil there is.
Shell claims that 100% of the home electricity it delivers is renewable and that they are playing their part in providing “cleaner energy solutions for all in a sustainable future”. Yet, when asked about the difference between rhetoric and actions, a spokesperson for Shell gave a generic dodge-the-question answer:
“We agree that the world is not moving fast enough to tackle climate change. As the energy system evolves, so is our business, to provide the mix of products that our customers need.”
This should come as no surprise. There is conclusive evidence that oil companies have known about climate change for decades — and not only did they not take action or sound the alarm, but they hid and denied it for as long as possible. To this date, fossil fuels are aggressively funding lobby, public discourse, and even some scientists, for the purpose of spreading doubts about climate change and reduce environmental regulation.
These activities also seem to go hand in hand with populist leaders, who reduce environmental protection and, while talking about the interests of the people, are actually protecting the interests of the very rich. According to recent research from Oxford University, populist world views and climate scepticism often fit well together, although it’s not entirely clear why.
Nevertheless, the world is slowly starting to divest from fossil fuels. Over $3.4 trillion have been divested away from the industry by 2015, a figure which has doubled since 2019. Renewable energy has also grown substantially, accounting for 12.9% of the world’s total electricity use last year, up from 11.6% the year before. However, despite this shift, global emissions associated with electricity are slowly growing, as more and more of the developing countries are starting to use more electricity. If we want to have a chance to achieve the climate goals we have set, it’s up to us and our elected politicians to hold companies responsible and push more sustainable legislation.