Environmental leaders have dismissed BP’s new low-carbon strategy as “greenwash” and a lightweight response to climate change and the energy market’s rapid switch to renewables.
In a strategy published on Monday, BP said there would be no increase in its carbon footprint over the next seven years because it will cut emissions from its oil and gas rigs, and offset the rest.
The UK oil firm said it would achieve a saving of 3.5m tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2025. That is equal to about 7% of its current operational emissions.
However, it still has no target for its biggest contribution to global warming, which is the burning of its main products, oil and gas, unlike rivals such as Shell.
Tom Burke, the chairman of environmental thinktank E3G and a former BP adviser, said: “Who cares about operational emissions? The problem is they have nothing to say on their product. This is a 20th century response to a 21st century problem.”
The former UK government adviser characterised the plan as “lightweight PR” and “greenwash”. He said BP had “wasted 20 years” since the former chief executive John Browne tried to reinvent the firm as Beyond Petroleum in 2000.
The criticism was echoed by Carbon Tracker, a thinktank that has analysed the risk of big oil being left with stranded assets by action on climate change, a danger that the Bank of England has also warned of.
“Improvements in BP’s operational emissions, while welcome, are too small to move the needle to prevent runaway climate change or reduce BP’s exposure to carbon risk,” Luke Sussams, the senior researcher at Carbon Tracker, said.
Bob Dudley, BP’s chief executive since 2010, said the company had ventured into clean energy too early last time.
“Some of our investments worked out – others did not. We were early but I don’t think we were wrong because we learned valuable lessons along the way,” he said.
Due to the $65bn bill the company faced in the aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, it was only recently that it had been able to afford to move more into greener energy, he said.
“I think it’s only been the last year or so that financially can we go into it deeper,” he said.
He said the company’s low-carbon plan rests on cutting its own emissions, helping customers cut theirs and growing green energy businesses.
Lord Browne, who led BP between 1995 and 2007, said the strategy was a “great reset for BP” and because of Deepwater Horizon it was understandable that clean energy had not been a recent focus for the firm.
“There’s only so many things you can focus on at once at a company,” he said.
As part of its emissions target, BP pledged to hold leaks of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, to today’s levels, even as it targets more “leaky” production, such as shale in the US.
The group spends about $500m (£351m) on biofuels, wind and solar power, about 3% of its annual $15bn-$16bn capital expenditure. Those low-carbon business units have the “potential to make a real contribution to our future,” according to the strategy.
The company hinted that it plans to make further moves into electric vehicle infrastructure, such as rapid charging points.