BP sets target to achieve net zero by 2050 to tackle climate emergency

Oil giant criticised for lack of detail on how it will eliminate 415 million tonnes of carbon each year while spending billions of pounds on new fossil fuel extraction

Ben Chapman
Wednesday 12 February 2020 17:57 GMT

BP has set an ambition to become a net-zero company by 2050 or sooner as part of a plan to “fundamentally reorganise” its business to tackle the climate emergency.

The oil giant’s new chief executive Bernerd Looney laid out a vision to slash the 415 million tonnes of carbon dioxide it is responsible for each year and transform BP into a “thriving sustainable energy business”.

“The world’s carbon budget is finite and running out fast; we need a rapid transition to net zero,” said Mr Looney, who took over the top job at BP last week. “It will require nothing short of reimagining energy as we know it.”

However, critics pointed out that the announcement contained little detail about how the target would be met while BP still plans to invest billions of pounds into new fossil fuel production.

Bruce Duguid, head of stewardship at investment manager Federated Hermes welcomed the plan but added: “It also raises a number of key questions, including how BP proposes to reduce or offset the very large emissions embedded in its upstream oil and gas production and how to accelerate the reduction of the carbon intensity of its products in line with the Paris Goals.”

BP said it will reach net zero emissions by reducing the 55 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent that it emits each year, and the 360 million tonnes associated with oil and gas it sells. It said it expects to invest more in low carbon businesses and less in oil and gas over time.

However, the company will continue to increase its production of fossil fuels over the next decade, while aiming to reduce the carbon intensity of the energy it supplies. That means BP will likely still have to offset hundreds of millions of tonnes of emissions each year through schemes such as tree planting. BP has not provided any details about how it will achieve this.

“BP is vague on the details of its plan, but it should not rely on using carbon offsetting schemes as a licence to continue polluting,” said Oxfam’s climate policy advisor Kiri Hanks. ”Poorer countries should not be bribed to grow forests instead of food to enable business as usual in rich nations.”

Murray Worthy at Global Witness, an anti-corruption and environmental campaign group, dismissed BP’s announcement.

“There is nothing ambitious about a plan that is simply not credible,” he said.

“BP’s net-zero pledge looks like an attempt to grab some positive headlines by a new chief executive, but with little of substance to show how it will achieve these grand claims.“

Last year, Global Witness calculated that major oil and gas companies had committed $4.9 trillion (£3.8 trillion) of investment in new fossil fuel extraction projects, dwarfing the amount they plan to spend on renewables.

Industry analysts Rystad Energy forecast that BP will spend $71bn (£54bn) on new oil and gas fields over the next decade.

Investor groups that have worked with BP to help cut its emissions, including Climate Action 100, the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC) and the Church of England Commissioners, supported its new stance.

Stephanie Pfeifer, member of Climate Action 100+ and chief executive of IIGCC, said oil and gas companies must be included in efforts tackle the climate crisis.

“Building on the positive engagement with BP through Climate Action 100+, investors will continue to look for progress from the company in addressing climate change.

“This includes how it will invest more in non-oil and gas businesses, and ensuring its lobbying activity supports delivery of the Paris Agreement.”

Greenpeace’s investigative unit, Unearthed, revealed last month that BP lobbied the US government to water down environmental laws so that new fossil fuel projects could bypass climate checks.

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