Oil giants lobbied minister to keep UK burning fossil fuels

Companies claim burning gas ‘vital part of solution to climate change’

Jane Dalton
Sunday 11 July 2021 21:43 BST
<p>Gas produces methane, which is even more damaging than carbon dioxide</p>

Gas produces methane, which is even more damaging than carbon dioxide

Oil and gas producers including ExxonMobil, BP and Shell lobbied a government minister to keep burning natural gas for years - even though the UK is committed to reaching net zero damaging greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The companies described continued use of the fossil fuel as “a necessary compromise”.

Representatives from the three gas giants, plus Chevron and Equinor, used a dinner with then-trade minister Conor Burns in February last year to argue the fossil fuel industry should be seen as a “vital” part of the solution to climate change.

They also encouraged a “greater recognition for the role of gas in transition” to a lower carbon future, because it was “cleaner than coal and is fundamental to the Texas economy”.

The International Energy Agency has warned there can be no new gas development if the world is to reach net zero by 2050 and stay within safe limits of global heating.

The methane emitted by gas is 84-86 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

And a UN report earlier this year said that slashing methane emissions would be the strongest action possible in the world to slow global warming.

In the memo, Mr Hyde says the firms argued that “moving the US and the developing world from coal to gas is a necessary compromise, while they make inroads in affordability of genuinely clean energy”.

The government has banned the installation of oil and gas boilers in new homes from 2025 to try to meet the 2050 target.

BP, Equinor and Chevron all defended their lobbying, telling Channel 4 News they were committed to a cleaner energy future and reducing carbon emissions.

Shell, Chevron, Equinor and ExxonMobil all said they support the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C.

Shell said: “We make no apology for talking to policymakers and regulators around the world about climate change and how to tackle it – business must be part of the solution.”

BP said gas was “an important part of our business and has a critical role to play in the transition to net zero” - but that its strategy includes a fall in global oil and gas production and a tenfold rise in renewables by 2030.

Equinor too said it was “accelerating our own transition away from fossil energy sources to renewable ones”.

ExxonMobil said oil and gas would “continue to play a critical role in meeting the world’s demand for energy”, noting that “many national and state governments have included a shift to natural gas in their carbon-reduction programmes, recognising the contribution that natural gas can make”.

The Foreign Office told Channel 4 News the meeting was “a routine engagement with the energy industry”.

“We discussed their investments in renewable energies and their decarbonisation plans, and we were not lobbied.”

Last week, Channel 4 News aired covert recordings of a senior ExxonMobil lobbyist claiming that the company had secretly fought against climate change legislation.

Further footage appeared to show the firm also lobbied against action on plastic waste.

Speaking to undercover Greenpeace reporters, he also appeared to admit that Exxon produced products containing highly toxic fluorinated chemicals known as “for ever” chemicals, which remain in the environment.

The Chairman of the Congressional Oversight Subcommittee on the Environment, Rep Ro Khanna, told Channel 4 News he was prepared to take steps to ensure ExxonMobil executives appeared before his committee to discuss the issues raised.

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