The oil giant BP announced on Wednesday morning that it plans to become a net-zero company by 2050, meaning it would only generate as much climate pollution as it can pull out of the atmosphere.
“The world’s carbon budget is finite and running out fast; we need a rapid transition to net zero,” BP CEO Bernard Looney, who started the job this month, announced in a statement. “We all want energy that is reliable and affordable, but that is no longer enough. It must also be cleaner. To deliver that, trillions of dollars will need to be invested in replumbing and rewiring the world’s energy system. It will require nothing short of reimagining energy as we know it.”
BP, the London-based multinational company, is the largest oil and gas company to pledge to go carbon-neutral by mid-century. The Spanish energy company Repsol announced a similar goal in December 2019. The 2050 commitment is in line with a target world leaders agreed to in the Paris climate agreement to cut global emissions to net-zero by the second half of the century.
The company’s new climate announcement comes as fossil fuel companies face increasing pressure from activists, stakeholders, and city and state officials looking to hold them accountable for a warming planet. BP is one of several companies being sued by multiple US cities and states for climate impacts.
BP reported profits of $10 billion in 2019, a decrease from the previous year due to lower oil and gas prices.
Activists expressed caution on whether to celebrate the oil giant’s announcement before knowing specifics on how they planned to achieve such a massive change.
“The oil industry writ large is struggling for social license right now,” Kert Davies, climate activist and founder of Climate Investigations Center, told BuzzFeed News. “Any move like this has to be looked at with a critical eye to see if it’s greenwashing or if it’s real.”
As part of its new climate strategy, BP says it will install equipment at all major oil and gas processing sites to measure emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, by 2023. The company did not define what constitutes a major processing site.
BP also pledged to “reduce methane intensity of operations by 50%,” but did not offer an exact timeline.
Perhaps the most encouraging part of BP’s announcement is its plan to make cuts to the emissions associated with consumers using the company’s products, such as the burning of fossil fuels to drive cars, according to Andrew Logan, senior director of oil and gas at the sustainability nonprofit Ceres. These product emissions, called “Scope 3” in industry lingo, make up the lion’s share of the company’s total climate pollution footprint.
BP emits about 55 million tonnes of emissions from operations and 360 million from the oil and gas the company produced by the company and sold to consumers, Looney said in the announcement. He said those emissions will be fully covered by the new net zero goal. But BP also buys oil from other producers that it uses for refining, as well as fuels produced by others, and the significant emissions tied to that oil and gas won’t be cut as dramatically under the new strategy.
In an email with BuzzFeed News, company spokesman David Nicholas estimated BP’s total product emissions, including oil and gas bought from other producers, was about 1 billion tonnes.
Additionally, the oil company has vowed to increase its investment in non-oil and gas business over time, to advocate for pro-climate policies, such as carbon pricing, to be more transparent in its climate reporting, and more.
BP America, a subsidiary of BP, contributed nearly $13 million to a group opposing a 2018 Washington state ballot initiative that proposed charging companies for their climate pollution. The climate initiative was defeated.
The new announcement offered few details on how exactly the company, whose business is currently reliant on the production and burning of fossil fuels, a major contributor to climate change, will meet these bold goals. BP said it will set out its strategy and near-term plans in September.
According to Logan, BP’s climate efforts laid out today represent a “raising of the bar in the oil industry about what a strong climate strategy could look like.” But right now, he said, “it’s just a vision and a lot will depend on the details.”
“Looney deserves support and credit for starting BP on the journey towards carbon neutrality and policy leadership. The direction is good, and we look forward to hearing more about the specifics,” Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement. “Time will tell if he gets BP where it needs to go. It’s real actions and verifiable emissions reductions that will be the measure of success.”