BP boss plans to ‘reinvent’ oil giant for green era

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Bernard Looney

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BP chief executive Bernard Looney has set out a vision to reduce the oil giant’s carbon footprint

New BP boss Bernard Looney has said he wants the company to sharply cut net carbon emissions by 2050 or sooner.

Mr Looney said the 111-year-old company needed to “reinvent” itself, a strategy that will eventually include more investment in alternative energy.

BP will have to fundamentally reorganise itself to help make those changes, said Mr Looney, who took over as chief executive last week.

It follows similar moves by rivals, including Royal Dutch Shell and Total.

Mr Looney said: “The world’s carbon budget is finite and running out fast; we need a rapid transition to net zero.

“Trillions of dollars will need to be invested in re-plumbing and rewiring the world’s energy system.”

“This will certainly be a challenge, but also a tremendous opportunity. It is clear to me, and to our stakeholders, that for BP to play our part and serve our purpose, we have to change. And we want to change – this is the right thing for the world and for BP.”

He outlined his plans in a keynote speech on Wednesday.

“Providing the world with clean, reliable affordable energy will require nothing less than reimagining energy, and today that becomes BP’s new purpose,” he said. “Reimagining energy for people and our planet.”

“We’ll still be an energy company, but a very different kind of energy company: leaner, faster moving, lower carbon, and more valuable.”

BP’s announcement that it intends to become a zero carbon emissions company by 2050 was not short of fanfare. It’s new boss, 49-year-old Irishman Bernard Looney, delivered what the company described as a landmark speech in front of hundreds of journalists and investors.

But while he was clear what he wanted and why, he was less clear on how and when. There was a commitment to reduce the company’s investments in oil and gas exploration, and increase investment in zero and low-carbon energy over time.

But there were no commitments to specific targets in the intervening 30 years. Indeed he said that BP would still be in the oil and gas business three decades from now but in a sustainable way.

Ultimately, it will fall to his successors to make good on promises made today. But Mr Looney said in order to start a journey you need a destination. His critics would say you need a more detailed map on how to get there.

On Instagram, which Mr Looney recently signed up to, he said: “Rest assured – a lot of time – and listening – has gone into this.”

“All of the anxiety and frustration of the world at the pace of change is a big deal. I want you to know we are listening. Both as a company – and myself as an individual.”In the longer term, BP’s plans will involve less investment in oil and gas, and more investment in low carbon businesses.

The company said it wanted to be “net zero” by 2050 – that is, it wants the greenhouse gas emissions from its operations, and from the oil and gas it produces, to make no addition to the amount of greenhouse gases in the world’s atmosphere by that date.

It also wants to halve the amount of carbon in its products by 2050.

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Mr Looney did not set out in detail how it intended to reach its “net zero” target, something that drew criticism from environmental campaign organisation Greenpeace.

Charlie Kronick, oil advisor from Greenpeace UK, said there were many unanswered questions. “How will they reach net zero? Will it be through offsetting? When will they stop wasting billions on drilling for new oil and gas we can’t burn?

“What is the scale and schedule for the renewables investment they barely mention? And what are they going to do this decade, when the battle to protect our climate will be won or lost?”

Mr Looney addressed this criticism after his speech, saying: “We want a rapid transition. A transition that is delayed, and then suddenly is a right-angle change that disrupts the world, would be destructive to our company.”

“We’re starting with a destination. The details will come,” he said.

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A BP oil refinery

When asked whether that meant it’s oil and gas business would cease to grow, Mr Looney said: “BP is going to be in the oil and gas business for a very long time. That’s a fact. We pay an $8bn in dividends [to shareholders] every year. Not paying that is one way to make sure that we’re not around to enable the transition that we want.”

However, he said the existing oil and gas business would shrink over time. Any remaining carbon produced by the use of BP products would have to be captured or offset, he said.

Investor pressure

Climate Action 100+, a group of large investors that is trying to put pressure on major greenhouse gas emitters to clean up their act, said the BP announcement was “welcome”.

“We need to see a wholesale shift to a net zero economy by 2050,” said Stephanie Pfeifer, a member of the action group’s steering committee.

“This must include oil and gas companies if we are to have any chance of successfully tackling the climate crisis,” said Ms Pfeifer, who is also chief executive of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change.

She said that Climate Action 100+ investors, which have already been putting pressure on BP, will continue to look for progress from the company in addressing climate change.

“This includes how it will invest more in non-oil and gas businesses, and ensuring its lobbying activity supports delivery of the Paris Agreement,” she said.

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