How Fossil Fuel Companies Overpromise But Under-Deliver On Climate Goals

Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!

InfluenceMap is an independent research group producing data driven analysis on how business and finance are impacting the climate crisis. In 2019, it produced a report entitled “Big Oil’s Real Agenda on Climate Change,” which revealed the world’s major fossil fuel companies have spent $1 billion since the Paris climate accords were signed on lobbying against climate change policies. Three years later, it is back with an updated report. Here’s what it has to say:

“This latest report compares and contrasts the public communications, business operations, and policy engagement of 5 ‘supermajor’ oil companies: BP, Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and TotalEnergies.

“Extensive analysis finds that the five supermajors are spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year on a systematic strategy to portray themselves as positive and proactive on the climate change emergency. This is found to be inconsistent with the companies’ plans for capital investment in their business. It is also found to be misaligned from the detailed policy engagement activities of the companies and their industry associations on climate change.

“Across 3,421 items of public communications materials from the five companies in 2021, 60% contained at least one green claim, while only 23% contained claims promoting oil and gas. Claims highlighting the companies’ support of, or involvement with, efforts to transition the energy mix were by far the most popular type of green claim.

“None of the companies assessed disclosed the strategies that inform their public messaging on climate change, nor the resources dedicated to related activities. Using cost estimates based on the number of communications and media staff the companies employ, InfluenceMap’s analysis suggests that the companies are spending around $750 million each year cumulatively on climate-related communication activities

“In contrast, only 12% of the five companies’ 2022 capital expenditure (CAPEX) is forecasted to be dedicated to ‘low carbon’ activities. Additionally, none of the supermajors’ forecasted oil production appears in line with the International Energy Agency’s Net Zero Emissions by 2050 (as of Q4 2021), with several companies planning to increase oil and gas production between 2021 and 2026.

“At the same time, InfluenceMap found that none of the companies have aligned their climate policy engagement activities with the goals of the Paris Agreement, and retain a dense and global network of industry associations globally, which are highly active in their opposition to Paris Aligned climate policies

“The findings raise serious and persistent questions for regulators and the companies’ shareholders, as well as PR and advertising agencies, media, and social media platforms that work with the companies. It is noted that this analysis focuses on the companies’ main corporate communications channels and thus is focused on their North American/European communications. Future research will focus on how the companies communicate in the Global South.”

Readers can download the data that supports the new report by logging in to the links provided by InfluenceMap on the web page for its 2022 report.

Fossil Fuel Companies Are Gaming The System

“Essentially, we found that big oil is spending millions of dollars on this green PR, and it is a really systematic campaign to portray themselves as pro-climate,” Faye Holder, program manager at InfluenceMap, tells The Guardian. “But at the same time, they are still lobbying to lock in fossil fuels and investing in a really unsustainable energy future with high levels of oil and gas, and very low spend on low carbon activities.”

None of the “About us” pages on the firms’ websites described them as oil and gas companies, Holder says. “The best instance, in my mind, was BP — on their ‘Who we are’ page, they only mention the word ‘oil’ twice. And it’s at the bottom of the page, under a section called ‘Our history’, where they describe how they have always been a transitioning energy company, from coal to oil to gas to this lower-carbon future. So it’s really clear they want to dissociate themselves from oil and gas, and attach themselves to this climate agenda.”

Reaction To The InfluenceMap 2022 Report

Reaction to the latest report has been immediate. Here are responses from two climate advocates (you can see more on the InfluenceMap web page):

“The time to act on climate disinformation is now. InfluenceMap’s report shines a light on the staggering amount of disinformation that is being spread by some of the world’s biggest polluters. This report shows the lengths oil and gas companies are willing to go to mislead citizens and protect their own interests. But protecting the environment from their harmful actions is in all of our interests. We urgently need change — more transparency, flagging and fact checking, and real consequences for repeat offenders. — Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, member of the European Parliament.

“Investors can already see there is a disconnect between companies’ climate pledges and their actions, most notably their capital expenditure towards decarbonization. This research from InfluenceMap provides further proof that companies are not putting their money where their mouth is. Investors want to see companies genuinely commit to and plan for the transition to net zero emissions — not more greenwash. It’s past time for companies’ actions to match their statements.” — Laura Hillis, director of corporate engagement at the Investor Group on Climate Change

Predictably, the fossil fuel companies have reacted negatively to the report.  Shell contested the findings, saying InfluenceMap had failed to take into account low carbon businesses included in its marketing division. Those include EV charging and low carbon fuels, and a joint venture in Brazil with a producer of bioethanol. The company has previously said more than 35% of capital expenditure in 2022 would go towards lowcarbon energy as well as “non-energy products.”

“We are already investing billions of dollars in lower carbon energy,” a spokesperson told The Guardian. “To help alter the mix of energy Shell sells, we need to grow these new businesses rapidly. That means letting our customers know through advertising or social media what lower-carbon solutions we offer now or are developing, so they can switch when the time is right for them.

“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.”

A spokeperson from TotalEnergies told The Guardian, “Our public announcements policy reflects the transformation of TotalEnergies in a multi-energy company. As an 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.”

A spokesperson for ExxonMobil said, “ExxonMobil continues to mitigate emissions from its operations and 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. ExxonMobil is investing more than $15 billion between now and 2027 on lower emission initiatives and we anticipate a tripling of investment by 2025.”

Sharp-eyed readers will note it is the Scope 3 emissions that result from burning fossil fuels that are largely responsible for an overheating planet and Exxon conveniently fails to address them. In addition, so-called low carbon fuels are not the panacea the fossil fuel industry likes to paint them as being.

The Fossil Fuel Takeaway

The archives at CleanTechnica are replete with articles that explain how the fossil fuel industry likes to talk out of both sides of its mouth. One of the most troubling describes how the industry has plans for 195 so-called “carbon bomb” projects that would rapidly exceed the remaining carbon budget climate scientists say the Earth must adhere to in order to avoid catastrophic changes that will endanger the entire human race.

Yesterday, we reported on the sudden rise of misinformation online about charging electric cars and the grid. Shell, Exxon, and others may not be funding such nonsense directly, but they are doing so indirectly by funding such pressure groups as the American Petroleum Institute, the US Chamber of Commerce, and others.

It is clear they are paying lip service to the idea of a zero emissions world while stuffing their pockets full of money from selling their climate killing products. They are never going to change. The only way to defeat them is to make them financially irrelevant by transitioning as quickly as possible to zero emissions transportation and electricity generation.

The “Kodak moment” for the fossil fuel industry cannot happen soon enough for the Earth and all its people.

Have a tip for CleanTechnica? Want to advertise? Want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

Latest CleanTechnica TV Video

I don't like paywalls. You don't like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it!! So, we've decided to completely nix paywalls here at CleanTechnica. But...
Like other media companies, we need reader support! If you support us, please chip in a bit monthly to help our team write, edit, and publish 15 cleantech stories a day!
Thank you!

CleanTechnica uses affiliate links. See our policy here.

Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

Steve Hanley has 5400 posts and counting. See all posts by Steve Hanley