The world’s largest producers of oil and gas are not changing their investment plans fast enough to reduce their emissions in line with the world’s 2050 net zero emissions goals.
In 2022, Europe’s six largest energy majors by fossil fuel production — BP, Eni, Equinor, Repsol, Shell and TotalEnergies — all committed less than a quarter of their total capital expenditure (capex) to “low carbon” projects, according to campaign group Reclaim Finance’s analysis of company data. The US energy majors — Chevron, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips — did not make any investments into renewables during 2022.
Louis-Maxence Delaporte, an energy analyst at Reclaim Finance, tells fDi that despite their communication strategies insisting on low-carbon investment, net-zero ambitions and renewables deployment, the realities of energy major’s capital spending plans are very different.
“Far from being in transition and moving away from oil and gas, majors are still focusing their investments on fossil fuels and nothing shows a change in their strategy,” he says.
Despite differences in the way energy majors report their capital expenditures, the shortfall in renewables investments is in stark contrast to recommendations from climate scientists and multilateral institutions.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report this week (March 20) calling for an “acceleration agenda” of actions to avoid the climate warming by more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Reclaim Finance calculates that by 2050, the six European energy majors will each release anywhere from 32% to 79% more greenhouse gas emissions than they are permitted under the 1.5-degree scenario.
António Guterres, the UN’s secretary general, said this week there needs to be a phase down of oil and gas production, with a phasing out of coal by 2030 in OECD countries and 2040 in all other countries.
“I am also calling on CEOs of all oil and gas companies to be part of the solution,” said António Gutteres, the UN’s secretary-general, who also called for a cease to all new licences or funding of new oil and gas projects in line with International Energy Agency (IEA) warnings.
However, evidence suggests energy companies plan to do the exact opposite. A Dallas Fed survey of about 150 oil and gas executives undertaken last December found that 64% expect to increase their capital expenditure in 2023, compared with 2022.
New oil and gas discoveries in countries such as Guyana are leading some majors such as ExxonMobil to commit billions of dollars worth of investment into new exploration and development projects.
Energy executives such as Saudi Aramco’s CEO Amin Nasser have also questioned assumptions that renewables will meet future energy demand, asserting that oil and gas will be relied upon for many years to come. Figures from fDi Markets show that in 2022 oil and gas returned to the top-10 recipient sectors of FDI, following the energy crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The nine European and US energy majors also distributed more than $140bn to shareholders through dividends ($64bn) and share buybacks ($78bn) in 2022, according to Reclaim Finance. In the same time, less than $8bn were invested in renewable electricity generation.
“To be aligned with their net-zero targets, oil and gas companies should stop growth capex in new oil and gas projects, and rather use their 2022 cash flow from operations and cash in hand to primarily invest in clean energy and ensure a sustainable future,” says Mr Delaporte.