Exxon finally announces 2050 net-zero target, stops short of addressing indirect emissions

ExxonMobil has committed to reaching net-zero operational emissions by 2050, with full plans for delivery due in 2023. However, it has failed to update ambitions to reduce indirect emissions, which account for the majority of its footprint.

Exxon finally announces 2050 net-zero target, stops short of addressing indirect emissions

Image: Exxon

The US-based oil and gas major has today (18 January) published a new report on its emissions and its approach to the energy transition, containing the new 2050 target. The target covers Scope 1 (direct) and Scope 2 (power-related) emissions.

Detailed in the report are more than 150 possible actions that Exxon could take to reduce its Scope 1 and 2 emissions in line with the new targets, including methane reduction, phasing-out flaring and accelerating investment in renewable electricity and low-carbon hydrogen.

Exxon has pledged to draw up specific roadmaps for at least 90% of the required emissions reductions this year, with the remainder to come in 2023. The plans will outline, also, the extent to which Exxon plans to use carbon offsetting.

Additionally, the plans will outline how Exxon will deliver net-zero by 2030 for its operations in the Permian Basin, which accounts for 40% of its oil and gas extraction in the US – its largest market. The basin was first drilled in 1920 and has, to date, had more than 30 billion barrels of crude oil extracted.

“We are developing comprehensive roadmaps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our operated assets around the world, and where we are not the operator, we are working with our partners to achieve similar emission-reduction results,” said Exxon’s chairman and chief executive Darren Woods.

Less than a month ago, UBS Asset Management and the UK’s largest pension scheme, Nest, divested from ExxonMobil and Canadian refining firm Imperial oil, in which ExxonMobil has a majority stake. The firms cited poor engagement on climate-related topics as the reason for their divestment.

Science or greenwash?

Green groups have been quick to criticise Exxon’s new operational emissions targets as non-science-based. Their interim ambitions remain unchanged from updated targets first published last month, entailing a 20% reduction by 2030. Climate scientists have repeatedly called for a 50% cut in global net emissions by 2030 to allow the best chance of capping global heating to 1.5C.

Additionally, the new targets do not change Exxon’s ambitions around reducing its indirect (Scope 3) emissions. As is the case for most big fossil fuel firms, the end-use of fuels and other products sold generates far more emissions than operations. Exxon disclosed 730 million metric tonnes of CO2 from petroleum product sales in 2019 and has calculated 650 million metric tonnes in 2020.

Despite these clear discrepancies, Exxon maintains that it has tested its strategy against net-zero scenarios including those published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Commenting on today’s announcement, InfluenceMap’s director Ed Collins said: “The scope of Exxon’s net-zero announcement appears to focus on its direct operational emissions rather than emissions generated by using its oil and gas products.  It also fails to properly address the impact of its anti-climate policy lobbying.

“Exxon says it will be relying on ‘sound government policies’ to achieve its net-zero goal. But our analysis has shown that the company has lobbied to block or weaken climate policies designed to achieve cuts to emissions in line with the Paris Agreement’s goals.”

This week, the company is applying to the Texas supreme court for new powers that would enable it to restrict criticism and legal action from claimants in California, reports the Guardian.

Sarah George

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