BP is raking in a huge amount of cash these days on oil, so it wants you to ignore all those lofty promises it made about the climate just a few years ago.
On Tuesday, the company became the latest oil major to post some truly jaw-dropping returns from its fourth financial quarter. Thanks in part to the global energy crisis kicked off by the conflict in Ukraine, oil producers have been rolling in dough for the past year, with companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron have posting record profits. BP is no exception. On Tuesday, the company said its 2022 profits were about $US27.7 ($38) billion, more than twice the profit it posted in 2021. Not bad!
And thanks to that big ol’ number, BP says it’s gonna slow down its progress on the whole climate action thing. In 2020 — as the industry was experiencing a crisis where oil prices plunged so low that they briefly went negative — BP said it would reduce carbon emissions from its oil and gas production by 35% to 40% by 2030. Hidden in the financial news released Tuesday, however, is a new target: The company has downgraded its goal to between 20% and 30% over the same time period, allowing it to keep churning out more of that sweet, sweet oil that’s so in demand right now after oil prices hit enormous highs this summer.
“At the end of the day, we’re responding to what society wants,” CEO Bernard Looney told reporters about the changes on Tuesday. In a seeming attempt to counterbalance the bad news, Looney emphasised in a LinkedIn post that the company would be investing an additional $US8 ($11) billion in initiatives “like bioenergy and EV-charging that can help people and businesses go lower carbon sooner.”
BP has long been at the forefront of oil companies trying on green marketing for size. The climate- and renewables-related goals it rolled out in 2020, announced under the title “From International Oil Company to Integrated Energy Company,” are among some of the most aggressive put forward by any oil and gas company. (That isn’t saying much, given how none of the net-zero promises put forward by any oil majors are actually worth a damn when it comes to the science, but at least BP is trying slightly harder than, say, Exxon.)
This isn’t the first time BP has walked back on green promises. In the early 2000s, the company formerly known as British Petroleum decided to rebrand as Beyond Petroleum, overhauling its logo and investing in a slew of solar and wind projects. The company ended up quietly selling off those renewable assets in order to pay for two pricy oil spills, including the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Oop!
Tuesday’s announcement emphasises the danger of allowing the fox to run the henhouse when it comes to the energy transition. In recent years, sensing a sea change in how society views their products, oil majors have been positioning themselves as a core part of the solution, coining a raft of new terminology to greenwash their efforts and investing heavily in technological solutions to carbon emissions. The science is clear, however: In order to avert climate disaster, the world needs to stop using fossil fuels as quickly as possible. As BP’s announcement clearly illustrates, as long as there’s still money to be made in fossil fuels, oil companies can’t be trusted to do what needs to be done.
And while Looney may be falsely attributing BP’s drive to earn money from oil on what “society wants,” the rent may yet come due for companies like his.
“This is a temporary situation,” Nick Butler, who used to be a senior executive at BP and is now a visiting professor at Kings College, told the BBC. “Oil and gas prices are going down and the windfall these companies are making won’t last.”
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