Oil and gas companies collectively spent an estimated £654m last year on campaigns promoting their “green” credentials while continuing to lobby governments to support fossil fuels, claims a new report.
An analysis by climate think tank InfluenceMap found that 60 per cent of public messages from BP, Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and TotalEnergies contained green claims, while just 23 per cent promoted oil and gas. These companies are forecast to spend just 12 per cent on average of their capital expenditure budgets on low-carbon investments this year, the study added.
InfluenceMap has accused the oil firms of “spending huge amounts of time and money talking up their green credentials” while their business investments and lobbying activities “tell a very different story”. Friends of the Earth Scotland claimed the companies were guilty of “cynical marketing and spin” and “scandalous greenwashing”.
In reply the oil companies said they were investing billions of pounds in lower-carbon energy and simply advising customers through advertising or social media about green solutions that would enable people to reduce emissions.
InfluenceMap analysed 3,421 items of public communication from the five major oil companies during 2021, including company social media accounts, press releases and speeches.
The study found that 60 per cent of public messages contained at least one green claim, such as reducing emissions or promoting fossil gas as part of a clean energy solution.
The report also claimed each firm is part of a “dense network of industry groups that are actively engaged in blocking or watering down climate policy”.
All companies, except for TotalEnergies, are members of the American Petroleum Institute, which InfluenceMap describes as “one of the most strategically oppositional industry groups globally on climate policy” due to its aim of influencing public policy in support of the oil and natural gas industry.
The same four companies are also members of the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. TotalEnergies is a member of FuelsEurope and International Oil and Gas Producers.
InfluenceMap found evidence of each company – with the exception of TotalEnergies – engaging policy makers directly to advocate for policies encouraging the development of new oil and gas projects in 2021-22.
Faye Holder, InfluenceMap programme manager, said: “These companies talk about cutting emissions and transitioning the energy mix, but at the same time continue to invest heavily in new fossil fuels. While this PR strategy might convince some people, it doesn’t change the fact that these companies are out-of-step with science-based pathways to net zero.”
Freya Aitchison, Friends of the Earth Scotland’s oil and gas campaigner, argued that oil majors are “trying to pull the wool over our eyes by spending millions on ‘green’ messaging while continuing at full speed ahead with their climate-wrecking investments” in oil and gas extraction.
She added: “With just a tiny fraction of their enormous profits being spent on low carbon activities this year, it’s outrageous that any of the oil majors investigated in this report should be able to claim that they are part of any energy transition.
New oil and gas fields
“Climate scientists and energy experts are crystal clear that we cannot have any new oil and gas extraction if we are to have any chance of staying within agreed climate limits.
“The climate can’t afford the licensing of new oil and gas fields, yet the fossil fuel industry is working hard behind the scenes to lobby governments to pass policies that extend the lifetime of oil and gas, and therefore their own profits.”
A Shell spokesperson said: “The world will still need oil and gas for many years to come. Investment in them will ensure we can supply the energy people will still have to rely on, while lower-carbon alternatives are scaled up.
“We firmly believe our climate targets are aligned with the goal of the Paris Agreement: to limit the increase in the global average temperature to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. We were also the first energy company to submit its energy transition strategy to shareholders for a vote, securing strong endorsement.”
A spokesperson from TotalEnergies said: “Our public announcements policy reflects the transformation of TotalEnergies into a multi-energy company. As evidence of this, the InfluenceMap report releases a forecast that ranks TotalEnergies as the frontrunner among the supermajors in terms of renewables assets-based capacities.”
An ExxonMobil spokesperson said it “continues to mitigate emissions from its operations” and claimed it had achieved its 2025 emission-reduction plans four years earlier than planned.
“This progress supports the company’s more aggressive 2030 emission-reduction plans and its ambition to achieve net-zero scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions from operated assets by 2050,” they added
“ExxonMobil is investing more than £13bn between now and 2027 on lower-emission initiatives, and we anticipate a tripling of investment by 2025. This reflects our commitment to reducing our own emissions and confidence in the market adoption of lower-emission solutions, such as CCS, hydrogen, and biofuels.
“We intend to lead the industry by offering low cost, innovative solutions that enable our customers to reduce their emissions, thereby advancing society’s shift to cleaner energy and a lower emission future.”
BP and Chevron did not reply to our requests for a comment.
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