‘What’s next, a sustainable Death Star?’ Environmentalists accuse Exxon of ‘half-truths’ in 2050 net-zero plan

Exxon is one of 20 fossil fuel companies which have created 35 per cent of all energy-related emissions globally since 1965

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent, New York
Friday 21 January 2022 13:55 GMT
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ExxonMobil has announced its “ambition” to reach net-zero by 2050 - but the target does not account for the carbon footprint created by burning the oil and gas it produces.

The net-zero plan covers the company’s oil, gas, and chemical exploration and production around the world along with the power used to run those facilities - so-called “Scope 1” and “Scope 2“ emissions. Exxon earlier set a net-zero goal for its Texas’ Permian Basin operations by 2030.

But Exxon’s statement on Tuesday was absent new “ambitions” on Scope 3 emissions - those which result from consumption and use of oil and gas indirectly, and typically the vast majority of an organisation’s total greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

“We are developing comprehensive roadmaps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our operated assets around the world,” Exxon CEO Darren Woods said in a statement.

The company is “working with our partners to achieve similar emission-reduction results” in properties where Exxon is not in charge of operations, he continued.

ExxonMobil is among the world’s largest and most powerful oil and gas companies, making a net profit of $6.75bn in the third quarter of 2021 alone.

The oil major is one of 20 fossil fuel companies which have created 35 per cent of all energy-related, planet-heating carbon dioxide and methane worldwide since 1965.

A 2019 analysis from the Colorado-based Climate Accountability Institute (CAI), a leading authority on the fossil fuel industry’s climate impact, said Chevron was the largest polluter of eight investor-owned corporations, closely followed by Exxon, BP and Shell.

According to the “GHG Corporate Protocol” of the US Environmental Protection Agency, all organizations should quantify Scope 1 and 2 emissions - while reporting Scope 3 emissions is optional.

However EPA reports that more organizations are trying to understand their full emissions impact along the supply chain “because scope 3 emission sources may represent the majority of an organization’s GHG emissions”.

Some of Exxon’s competitors, particularly in Europe, are also taking some steps to address Scope 3 emissions including BP and Royal Dutch Shell. One US company, Occidental Petroleum, has committed to eliminating Scope 3 emissions, The New York Times reported.

Richard Heede, who conducted the CAI analysis, told The Independent in an email that Exxon’s decision to ignore Scope 3 product-related emissions in their net-zero target is “par for the course”.

“It is based on deception that they have no responsibility for continued investment in and production of carbon fuels that are profoundly harmful to their customers, communities, and the biosphere that will undermine civilization as we know for hundreds of years,” he said.

“Good that the company is setting a target to reduce net operational emissions to zero by mid-century, but in the scope of their ~8x larger contribution by their carbon products, it is insufficient and ignorant of their deeper responsibilities to shift away from carbon fuels altogether.”

Climate activists were also quick to point to the large omission in emissions.

Jamie Henn, director of nonprofit Fossil Free Media, told The Independent: “What are we going to see next, Darth Vader sending out a press release about a sustainable Death Star? ExxonMobil remains a planet destroyer and the obfuscations and half-truths they’re using to claim a pathway to ‘net-zero’ won’t change that in the slightest.

“The gaps in this plan are big enough to fly an asteroid through.”

Exxon’s 2022 progress report also touted its multibillion-dollar investments in technologies like carbon capture and storage (CCS), hydrogen and biofuels.

However, environmentalists are sceptical of the fossil fuel industry’s embrace of CCS - which collects carbon dioxide created by industry from the air and stores it underground.

The Center for International Environmental Law calls it “expensive, energy-intensive, and unproven at scale” and says it “entrenches reliance on fossil fuels”.

CCS has also been criticised as an attempt to stave off speedy transition to cheaper renewable power that the scientific community, along with influential groups such as International Energy Agency, say is necessary to avoid even greater climate chaos.

“The investments in climate solutions that Exxon is touting are still only around 10 per cent of their capital expenditures per year, meaning the other 90 per cent is going to oil, gas, plastics, and other polluting products,” Mr Henn noted.

“Exxon has lied about the climate crisis for decades and they’re continuing to do so today. The only difference is that instead of trying to deny that there’s a problem, now they’re trying to pretend that they’re part of the solution.”

The Independent has contacted ExxonMobil for comment.

ExxonMobil has appeared keen to distance itself from Scope 3 emissions.

In an unprecedented move last year, Exxon was forced to replace three company board members after a challenge by shareholders demanding the oil giant better prepare for a clean-energy future.

Weeks before the shareholder showdown, the company released a begrudging statement, “noting that stakeholders have expressed growing interest in Scope 3 data”.

Exxon’s statement claimed that “Scope 3 emissions do not provide meaningful insight into the Company’s emission-reduction performance and could be misleading in some respects”.

And while in Europe, oil majors are ramping up renewable rollouts, both Exxon and Chevron remain committed to pumping more oil this decade.

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