Oil and gas giants overstating net-zero ambitions, study finds

Recent announcements from European oil and gas majors such as Total, Shell and BP to commit to net-zero aren't actually aligned to the required, science-based cuts to emissions to reach net-zero or the 1.5C target of the Paris Agreement, new research has found.

Oil and gas giants overstating net-zero ambitions, study finds

The companies studied have all made recent commitments to combatting climate change

New analysis from the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI) – an investor initiative backed by over $19trn of global capital – has revealed that new carbon goals set by Shell, Eni, Total and Repsol are aligned with the required reductions to meet the Paris Agreement, while BP and OMV are the only firms in the European sector that have targets in place that fail to align to the Paris Agreement.

However, the analysis states that none of the companies are aligned with the 1.5C pathway of the Paris Agreement, or the net-zero movement.

Adam Matthews, Co-Chair of TPI, and Director of Ethics and Engagement for the Church of England Pensions Board, said: “The European integrated oil and gas sector is changing rapidly. Three years ago, no company had set targets to reduce the carbon intensity of the energy they supply. Today all six oil and gas majors assessed by TPI have set such targets and we have seen significant progress in the past months, with companies engaging with the concept of net-zero, adopting longer-term perspectives and setting more ambitious goals to accelerate the low-carbon transition.

“TPI’s analysis underlines that these commitments are not all equal in ambition or in scope and deeper decarbonisation is needed to align with a 1.5°C or even a 2°C scenario. Shell and Eni are leaders and Shell have introduced a new concept of not selling energy to customers that are not also aligned to net-zero pathways in key sectors such as aviation, shipping and freight.  This warrants further analysis to quantify the emissions reductions of such an approach.”

TPI estimates that European oil and gas companies are required to cut emissions intensity by 70% between 2018 and 2050 to align with a 2C climate scenario – which some are – but that none have set genuine net-zero targets, which would require a 100% cut in absolute emissions.  

The companies studied have all made recent commitments to combatting climate change, with some badging their new strategies as net-zero.


Total has committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 across its operations and products, covering Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions.

The energy company will target a 60% reduction at least in the carbon intensity of its energy products used by customers. Oil and gas capex allocation will also be assessed and scrutinised to ensure that projects and spending are aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Total’s targets will be revisited every five years with scope for change based on policy and market trends, and the company will advocate for policies that support the net-zero transition across all countries and sectors.

Total agreed to the commitment following extensive conversations with the Climate Action 100+ coalition consisting of more than 450 investors with more than $40trn in assets under management. 


Shell has confirmed its intention to align its energy business with the net-zero trajectory of the Paris Agreement to limit global heating to a 1.5C increase. The energy giant’s net-zero plans will cover scope one, two and three emissions.

Specifically, Shell will aim to deliver net-zero emissions from the manufacture of all of its products (covering scope one and two) by 2050. However, the company has said that this ambition could be reached sooner.

Shell, which is the seventh-largest corporate emitter of carbon dioxide equivalent in the world, is also reducing the net carbon footprint of the energy products it sells to customers. Shell is targeting a 65% reduction in emissions across those products by 2050, with an interim target of 30% set for 2035.


The TPI claims that Eni has the most comprehensive carbon strategy. Eni is the only company to have set an absolute target, aiming to reduce emissions (including Scope 3) by 80% by 2050.

The company is also aiming to reduce its emissions intensity by 55% and it is already 10% lower than its peers. Eni is also one of the only firms in the sector to disclose the amount of carbon it expects to

To meet this ambition, upwards of €3bn will be invested into renewable energy, energy efficiency projects and a major forestry offsetting programme.


BP has set an ambition to shrink its carbon footprint to net-zero by 2050 and will also aim to cut the carbon intensity of the energy it sells by 50% over the same period.

The oil giant said it also plans to clean up the methane leaks from its existing oil and gas projects, and play a more active role in lobbying for policies that would spur climate action.

However, BP’s targets are less ambitious than those from Shell, Total and Eni, according to the TPI, which claims they fail to align with the Paris pledges and are far from alignment with 2°C or net zero.

As of December 2019, just 10% of the world’s largest 132 coal, electricity and oil and gas companies have set time-based commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050 – the deadline by which the IPCC believes net global emissions must reach zero for a 1.5C trajectory to be realised.

Matt Mace

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