Exxon flexes its deception muscle with meaningless climate plan
The oil giant’s new “emissions reduction plan” is yet another lie.
Emily Sanders is the Center for Climate Integrity’s editorial lead. Catch up with her on Twitter here.
Exxon would like to announce, from atop its high horse, that it has a plan to save the climate. Yes, that climate — the one that’s at risk of total collapse because of Exxon’s decades-long climate disinformation campaign, which successfully kneecapped political action to stop the crisis. Now that Exxon has made billions at the expense of life on earth, it wants you to know that it is here, and it is listening.
Exxon isn’t the only one in on this grift. Other oil giants being sued by cities and states across the country for decades of climate deception — including BP and Shell — have put out extremely hazy plans to go net-zero by 2050. Exxon certainly doesn’t go that far — it only has a five-year plan — and as many others have pointed out, Exxon CEO Darren Woods has criticized the other oil companies for engaging in a “beauty competition” with no real substance (okay, true).
But this company is going to do you one better. Its emissions reduction plan includes… *drumroll please* … no emissions reductions at all!
Instead of actually promising to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas it pumps into the air, Exxon says it will reduce the intensity of its emissions by 15% to 20% by 2025. And um, also, it’s going to be ramping up oil production, so you can cancel that out.
“Exxon plans to up its production by 1 million barrels per day over the next 5 years,” Andrew Grant, head of oil, gas, and mining research at the financial think tank Carbon Tracker, told Grist in a statement. Reducing the intensity of a fraction of those emissions, he said, is a “bet on continued business as usual.”
It’s not in Exxon’s press release, but according to internal documents reported earlier this year by Bloomberg, the company’s business plan will increase carbon emissions in coming years by 17% — or as much as the entire nation of Greece. Recent reporting by Bloomberg Green found that Exxon is shelving its carbon capture plans, too.
So even with any reduction of emissions per barrel of oil, it’s still planning to produce and burn… way more barrels of oil than it is today. Don’t worry, though: Mr. Woods has assured us that “we respect and support society’s ambition to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.” So sweet!
As Brian Kahn put it so perfectly for his analysis in Earther, “It’s the equivalent of someone who’s lactose-intolerant chugging a gallon of half-and-half instead of a glass of heavy cream and pretending that’s somehow better for them and everyone around them.”
Exxon’s pledge to reduce emissions intensity also applies only for everything between extracting the oil to getting it to the refinery — which accounts for about only one fifth of total emissions per barrel of oil. Most of the rest stem from transport to use, and Exxon conveniently blames you, the consumer, for that demand. (It’s not like they created a fossil fuel-dependent economy through decades of lying, or anything).
In its press release, Exxon states that it will report on those other emissions annually, but that such reporting “does not ultimately incentivize reductions by the actual emitters.” In other words: Exxon will tell you how bad the problem is, but it’s your problem to deal with, not theirs.
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So why does Exxon care enough to put out this empty husk of a plan, anyway?
The answer is pretty simple: its relationship with us, the public, and with its investors, is on the rocks. As I mentioned earlier, Exxon is fighting lawsuits from two dozen cities, counties, and attorneys general for lying about its role in the climate crisis and for the resulting damages. Exxon was also taken to court this year by a nonprofit for faking its climate and environmental commitments for social and political clout. And just a week prior to the release of this plan, multiple investor groups criticized the oil major for its total lack of plans to transition away from fossil fuels.
Ultimately, this announcement continues Exxon’s legacy of greenwashing and deception. “Exxon’s climate plan is an attempt to boost its social license, which oil companies increasingly need as the public becomes more aware of their huge contribution to climate change,” Emily Atkin wrote in HEATED. “Chevron, Exxon, Shell and BP are the top four investor-owned polluters, and together have caused more than 10 percent of the world’s carbon emissions since 1965.”
While Exxon claims to be part of the solution, it is still actively funding climate disinformation and paying front groups to publicly attack any efforts to hold them accountable.
It’s clearer than ever: Exxon and other Big Oil companies will never be part of the “solution.” The only way forward is for lawmakers, the public, and the courts to hold them accountable.
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