Climate action plans are all the rage for polluting companies. Last month, Shell pledged to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. It’s just the latest example: Other oil giants have recently made similar pledges as well. These pronouncements use pseudo-inspirational marketing speak, promising to “leverage” their “assets” to “reimagine” the “future.” But as a new report shows, they’re largely full of it.
The analysis was released Tuesday by the Transition Pathway Initiative, an organization that represents investors managing a combined $19 trillion in assets. The group looked at the top European oil companies’ plans to reach net-zero carbon emissions by the middle of the century or sooner.
Each of Europe’s six largest oil majors—Shell, BP, Total, Eni, Repsol and OMV—have made climate commitments. All but OMV have strengthened them in the past six months. And compared to U.S. oil giants’ pledges, EU companies’ are much stronger.
Adam Matthews, Transition Pathway Initiative co-chair, praised the six oil majors in a statement for incorporating plans to reduce emissions from consumers’ use of their products—also known as scope 3 emissions—in addition to direct emissions from operations and electricity they use.
However, some of the plans are stronger than others, and none of the companies’ pledges are aligned with the central goal of the Paris Agreement. The international climate treaty laid out a goal of limiting greenhouse gas emissions to keep warming to within 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) of pre-industrial levels. But though each company says it will reach net-zero, their plans fall far short of that goal.
The report identifies Shell and the Italian multinational corporation Eni as the two companies with the most ambitious plans. Each has made the broadest commitments to reduce scope 3 emissions. Shell also aims to cut its overall carbon intensity—or its emissions per unit of energy produced—65 percent by 2050, which the report says comes the closest to aligning with the Paris Agreement. Eni is the only company which set an absolute emissions reduction goal, meaning emissions can’t rise with increasing production. By 2050, Eni plans for its carbon output to go down by 80 percent.
But close isn’t necessarily enough. Shell’s plan doesn’t even align with what’s needed to keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius goal. On average, TPI calculated that each European company would need to cut its emissions intensity by more than 70 percent between 2018 and 2050. To get there, Shell’s plan would rely on its ability to only serve businesses and sectors that are themselves at net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. But Shell’s clientele include highly polluting industries like aviation, freight, and marine based shipping, which the company claims it’ll help. Shell just doesn’t explain how it’ll do so as of now.
Other plans are similarly full of gaping holes. BP and the Spanish company Repsol, for instance, have pledged to bring down their overall emissions to net-zero by 2050, but they don’t factor in fuel they acquire from other producers and sell through their marketing businesses. The report also notes that Eni is the only company that discloses the expected contribution of carbon capture and storage and carbon offsets to their emissions reductions. And frankly, even in Eni’s case, disclosure isn’t everything: Carbon offset programs don’t actually lower emissions and can be horrifyingly unjust, and carbon capture and storage technology hasn’t been shown to work at scale.
The report makes a bunch of suggestions for how these oil majors could improve their climate plans, including setting higher emissions reductions targets, boosting transparency, and aligning with long- and short-term targets better. But really, the best way for energy companies to stop harming the planet would be to stop producing and selling fossil fuel products altogether, fast.