Last year it was influence ads to promote BP’s plan to “transition to net zero” by gradually reducing oil and gas production and investing more in “low carbon” and renewable energy sources. Now the financial projections are in, and BP’s oil and gas investments for 2023 will at least double renewable energy investments. BP greenwashing continues to be rampant, cloaked in a lofty façade of net zero fluffy promises.
The London-based fossil fuel behemoth has targeted up to $7.5 billion for oil and gas projects for the coming year, compared to $3-$5 billion set aside for so-called “low carbon” initiatives. BP reported $8.2 billion in profits in the third quarter of 2022, doubling its total from the same time in 2021, driven by global energy market havoc due to Russia’s war on Ukraine. “This focused and disciplined capital frame together with a deep hopper of attractive investment opportunities in oil and gas is expected to maximize returns,” the company said in a 2021 annual report, subtitled “Performing while Transforming.”
Instead of helping to solve Europe’s climate emergency, BP is planning to invest billions on planet-warming fossil fuels rather than on clean, green renewables. BP expects to increase spending on “resilient hydrocarbons” — oil and gas, refining and bioenergy projects — by up to $1 billion in 2023.
A Mirage: Transitioning From Fossil Fuels To Renewables
It’s clear that decarbonizing the global economy by 2050 to avoid dangerous climate change cannot occur without a profound transformation of fossil fuel-based business models. The tension between continued investment in high-profit fossil fuel infrastructure versus transitioning to wind, solar, hydro, and other renewables is palpable among oil and gas majors.
BP is hardly the only oil giant investing heavily in fossil fuel projects, even as scientists say rich countries must end oil and gas production completely over the next decade for the world to have a chance of meeting key warming targets. A recent analysis led by the German nonprofit group Urgewald found that “512 oil and gas companies are taking active steps to bring 230 billion barrels of oil equivalent of untapped resources into production before 2030.”
A May, 2022 investigation revealed that, despite an array of new net zero pledges released over two years, the climate promises of major US and European oil and gas companies failed to meet the bare minimum for alignment with the Paris Agreement. The analysts deduced that “the companies that have collectively done the most to fuel the climate crisis cannot be trusted to confront it meaningfully.”
Instead, as a conscious corporate strategy to hold off the institutional changes required to transition to renewables, majors are discussing clean energy and climate change, pledging decarbonization strategies, and weakly investing in alternative energies. Some even claim to be transforming into clean energy companies.
“Greenwashing” like this takes place when a company’s emphasis on green/clean/renewable energy sources leans more toward marketing and less on the actual investments to create sustainable products. In this way, companies use greenwashing to appeal to consumers who care about the environment, yet the companies don’t actually have to implement meaningful, sustainable changes in their business practices. It’s typical for greenwashing companies to spend far more time and money marketing the eco-friendliness of their products than on working to ensure they are reducing climate pollution.
A fascinating 2022 research study comparatively examined majors’ extent of decarbonization and clean energy transition activity from 3 perspectives:
- keyword use in annual reports (discourse)
- business strategies (pledges and actions)
- production, expenditures, and earnings for fossil fuels along with line items for clean energy (investments)
The results? A strong increase was evident in discourse related to “climate,” “low-carbon,” and “transition,” especially by BP. There were also increased tendencies toward strategies related to decarbonization and clean energy, yet these were dominated by pledges rather than concrete actions.
Moreover, the financial analysis revealed a continuing business model dependence on fossil fuels along with insignificant and opaque spending on clean energy. The authors concluded that the transition to clean energy business models is not occurring, since the magnitude of investments and actions does not match discourse. Until actions and investment behavior are brought into alignment with discourse, accusations of greenwashing appear well-founded.
BP Greenwashing Galore
The legendary photographer Ansel Adams said that there is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept. BP has carefully crafted a public image as a fossil fuel company that’s seen the proverbial light. They’re “reimagining” their company’s future — they claim they’ve “set ambitious aims to reduce emissions, scale up renewables, and invest more in low carbon.”
BP spent nearly a million dollars in 2022 on social media influence ads in the UK that celebrate the company’s investments in green energy.
In August, 2022 BP announced a 14-year high profit for its second quarter. In the 8 days prior to the announcement, the company paid about $700,000 to Facebook and Instagram for influence ads that reached tens of millions of viewers in the UK. “These ads are intended to create a clean warm glow about the companies concerned, giving them more social licence to operate,” said Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace UK. The influence ads also emphasized BP’s contributions to UK energy security at a time when Russia’s attacks on Ukraine threatened European energy stability.
Meanwhile, in October, 2022, BP bought the US biogas company Archaea Energy for $3.3 billion plus $800 million of debt.
Check out this BP greenwashing tweet below. Talk about cognitive dissonance! “Renewable” diesel? What’s the iconography of the US flag supposed to signify? How can Big Oil BP actually say that it’s fostering “a great example of our transformation?” Where is the evidence of “producing lower carbon products,” anyway?
2x more #Renewable diesel is flowing from our Cherry Point refinery today thanks to a massive $50m upgrade 🇺🇸. It's a great example of our transformation – continuing to provide the energy our customers need & producing lower carbon products that help us get closer to #NetZero.
— bp (@bp_plc) November 23, 2022
A recent article in The Guardian related how BP has previously touted its “clean energy” investments as evidence that it is helping to lead the global transition to renewables. “Where you spend your money says a lot about your priorities,” Mike Childs, the head of policy at Friends of the Earth, told The Guardian. “It’s astounding that in the middle of a climate emergency BP is planning to invest billions more dollars on planet-warming fossil fuels than on clean, green renewables.”
A spokesperson for BP insisted, “Our adverts highlight the specifics, range and scale of the things we plan to do here — including offshore wind, North Sea oil and gas, hydrogen and carbon capture, and EV charging.”
BP outlines that it anticipates its non-oil and gas projects — including renewables, hydrogen, and bioenergy investments — to grow to more than 40% of its total investment by 2025 and to about 50% by 2030.
We won’t hold our breath.
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