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BP declares net zero by 2050 ambition

Britain’s biggest oil firm, BP, has declared it will be a ‘net zero carbon’ company by 2050 – meaning it now has the most ambitious emissions target of any major fossil fuel producer worldwide. 

At a news conference in London on 12 February, the firm’s newly appointed CEO, Bernard Looney, said that the company was aiming to ‘earn back the trust of society’ following an increasing backlash from shareholders and environmental activists alike. 

Looney’s promise covers the emissions from BP’s global operations, which currently amount to some 55mn tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year, as well as the emissions from the combustion of the oil and gas it produces, totalling 360mn tonnes of CO2 annually. 

‘This is what we mean by making BP net zero. It directly addresses all the carbon we get out of the ground as well as all the greenhouse gases we emit from our operations,’ Looney said in a statement. ‘These will be absolute reductions, which is what the world needs.’ 

However, the oil major is not applying the same level of ambition to the oil and gas extracted by other companies that it then processes and resells. Instead, BP has vowed to reduce the carbon intensity of these products by 50% by mid-century. 

The company was vague about schedules – it said it will increase the proportion of its investments in non-oil revenue streams ‘in time’. Last year, BP allocated an estimated $500mn–$750mn for the acquisition of various clean and renewable technology start-ups. Meanwhile it spent over $14bn on its existing fossil fuel businesses. The company has also committed to cutting the methane intensity of operations at its major oil and gas processing sites by half. 

Over the next decade, BP is projected to invest $71bn in exploring for new oil and gas, but Greenpeace has warned that these resources cannot be burned if society hopes to keep planetary warming below 1.5°C. 

In a blog released ahead of Looney’s speech, the environmental organisation stated that production from existing oil and gas fields needs to be cut – by 9% and 6% respectively – if the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement is to be adhered to. This would mean leaving some resources, which have already been discovered, in the ground. 

Environmentalists also criticised BP’s announcement over its lack of a specified timeline for renewables investment and a dearth of information on changes it plans to make during this decade. BP has said it will reveal more detail when it unveils its new corporate strategy in September. 

‘This will certainly be a challenge, but also a tremendous opportunity,’ Looney said. ‘It is clear to me, and to our stakeholders, that for BP to play our part and serve our purpose, we have to change. And we want to change – this is the right thing for the world and for BP.’ 

The company will be reorganised into four new business groups, including one responsible for gas and low carbon energy. 

Earlier in February, Equinor also launched a ‘climate roadmap’ of its own. The Norwegian oil major, which is majority state-owned, has promised to halve the net carbon intensity of the energy it produces by 2050. In the meantime, it will also work to raise its renewable energy capacity tenfold by 2026, primarily through the expansion of its offshore wind portfolio. 

Spain’s Repsol is the only other oil and gas firm to have set a net zero target. Like BP, it is eyeing a 2050 deadline, though it has also set carbon intensity reduction goals at key dates along the way. The first is a 10% improvement by 2025. 

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