BP CEO Bernard Looney speaks during an event in London on February 12, 2020, where he declared the company’s intentions to achieve “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050. | Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images
Oil company BP says it will try to cancel out nearly all its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It’s still unclear how a company that sells the stuff that heats up the planet — it plans to continue pumping out fossil fuels despite this announcement — will achieve that net-zero goal.
The company says its ambition is to slash emissions from its operations and from the burning of the fossil fuels it sells. It will also invest more in alternatives to oil and gas over time, although it didn’t set out a deadline for the transition. BP also announced plans to fundamentally restructure the company in order to achieve its aims.
“It will require nothing short of reimagining energy as we know it”
“Trillions of dollars will need to be invested in replumbing and rewiring the world’s energy system. It will require nothing short of reimagining energy as we know it,” CEO Bernard Looney said in a statement.
But exactly what form that reimagining will take remains to be seen. The company is one of the largest oil and gas companies in the world. It produced about 8.6 million cubic feet of natural gas per day in 2018, and 2.64 million barrels of oil equivalent every day in 2019. In a Q&A, Looney said that the company would “very likely” still be producing and refining hydrocarbons by 2050, but that it planned to invest “less and less in oil and gas” over time.
It’s easier for a company to reign in emissions from its direct operations; many companies making net-zero pledges have stopped short of counting the climate pollution generated from customers using their products, called “Scope 3 emissions.” This is even tricker for an oil company like BP, which makes its money by selling emissions-generating fuels. The company now says it wants to get rid of the greenhouse gases that come from burning its oil and gas after it’s sold. The overwhelming majority of BP’s emissions come from customers burning its fuels, Bloomberg reports.
Important clarification from BP spokesperson: The BP climate plan includes cutting majority of Scope 3 emissions, about 360 million tons out of the 437 million tons That is, net zero on oil and gas BP extracts and sells. But not yet on crude it buys, refines, and sells.— Akshat Rathi (@AkshatRathi) February 12, 2020
As the climate crisis worsens, lawsuits have been aimed at Big Oil and Gas while activists and politicians have called for a switch to renewables. Reactions to BP’s latest announcement from people advocating for change have been mixed. Some investors have hailed the net-zero announcement as groundbreaking, but others have been unimpressed.
“This isn’t ambitious or anywhere near enough,” Greenpeace UK said in response to BP on Twitter.
With its new goal, BP appears to be making the case that fossil fuels can somehow still power the future — it just needs to figure out its carbon dioxide problem. How, exactly, it’s going to do that — along with the greenhouse gases it’s responsible for — are still up in the air. The company plans to set out more of its strategy and short-term plans in September.