On Tuesday, oil giant Exxon Mobil announced that it aims to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Specifically, it has an “ambition” to achieve net zero emissions from its operations during of the next 28 years. “We have a line of sight,” Exxon Chief Executive Darren Woods said in an interview with The New York Times. “By the end of this year, 90% of our assets will have roadmaps to reduce emissions and achieve that net zero future.” The plan builds on an announcement Exxon made last month that the company is targeting net-zero emissions from its operations in the Permian Basin by 2030.
Exxon is following in the footsteps of Shell, BP and Total – the European oil companies that announced net zero climate plans in 2020 – and US firm Chevron, which unveiled a net zero plan last year. With the exception of Shell, which was ordered by a Dutch court to cut its global emissions by 45% by 2030, oil companies are voluntarily committing to become cleaner in response to public and investor pressure and to market forces that have made renewables generally cheaper than fossil fuels. Exxon, which covered up evidence that its products caused climate change in the 1970s, was slow to jump on the net zero bandwagon. Internal documents leaked to Bloomberg Green in 2020 showed the company expected its operational emissions to increase through 2025.
Now the company has changed its tune, saying it has compiled a list of 150 changes to its business practices that would reduce emissions, such as transitioning its operations to renewable energy.
But experts say Exxon’s net zero plan has a major blind spot: It only covers Scope 1 and 2 emissions – emissions the company produces directly, by digging for oil, for example, and emissions produced by the utilities from which it purchases its electricity. . The plan does not expand to cover Exxon’s biggest contributions to climate change. These are referred to as Scope 3 emissions, greenhouse gases produced by companies clustered along Exxon’s supply chain and emissions produced by customers who buy and burn the company’s oil and gas. .
“It’s not the best plan because it only targets a small portion of the company’s overall emissions,” Paasha Mahdavi, an assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told Grist. Additionally, the plan does not match similar net-zero plans of Exxon’s competitors, as Exxon has not promised new investments in non-oil businesses. Mahdavi, who has worked on an analysis of the decarbonization plans of the top 10 oil and gas companies, said even Chevron, which has a plan much like Exxon’s, has pledged someinvestments in renewable energy and other non-oil projects. Exxon’s plan is primarily to make its existing oil and gas operations slightly greener.
“Exxon is the only one that hasn’t made any meaningful investment in solar, wind, electric vehicles, renewables, anything,” Mahdavi said. “This announcement fits into that vision of what the future transition holds. From their perspective, it’s oil and gas.”
There’s a silver lining to Exxon’s announcement: it takes methane more seriously. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years it spends in the atmosphere. Recent analyzes show that methane leaking from active and abandoned oil and gas operations, as well as methane deliberately emitted by gas operators in a practice known as venting, accounts for a much larger share of warming than we didn’t think so before. Exxon’s plan includes resources dedicated specifically to reducing methane emissions and methane flaring. “It’s something they should have done a long time ago,” Mahdavi said, “but at least they’re targeting him, right?”