Big Oil's net-zero pledges not aligned with climate science
The net-zero greenhouse gas emissions pledges touted by Canada’s oil and gas sector ring false as the industry continues its push to expand fossil fuel use and oppose climate policy, a new analysis states.
This “net-zero greenwashing” flies in the face of United Nations guidelines on what makes a credible net-zero pledge, according to new analysis by InfluenceMap, an independent think tank that maintains the world's leading database of corporate and industry association lobbying on climate policy.
InfluenceMap examined the climate-related policy messaging and engagement of Canada’s six largest oil and gas companies and the main industry group, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).
It found that CAPP — whose members collectively produce about 80 per cent of Canada’s oil and gas — is the most actively opposed to climate policy progress: pushing for oil and gas development and resisting emissions reduction policies.
Although CAPP received the lowest score when it came to climate policy engagement, none of the six companies analyzed managed to crack a D+. There has been broad opposition from industry to the federal government’s plan to cap oil and gas sector emissions as part of Canada’s 2030 emissions reduction plan.
Both CAPP and TC Energy told a government committee they are against the cap, while the CEOs of Cenovus, Canadian Natural, and Imperial Oil have publicly opposed the policy.
Fossil fuel-involved corporations make up the majority of organizations opposed to climate action, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) April 2022 report. It said “opposition from status quo interests that are exerting political influence” over the policymaking process is a key barrier to making global progress on climate policy.
Canada’s former environment minister, Catherine McKenna, is chair of the UN expert group that raised the bar for what makes a credible net-zero pledge with a November 2022 report aimed at combating greenwashing. She weighed in on InfluenceMaps findings.
“If you're gonna put up your hand and say you're a climate leader, that you're committed to net zero, you need to do that work,” McKenna told Canada’s National Observer in an interview. Aligning net-zero pledges with climate science requires targets for ending support for and use of fossil fuels, according to the UN expert group.
“We were very clear in the report I chaired for the secretary-general … you had to have targets aligned with the science, you had to have interim targets, you had to have a detailed transition plan, your emissions had to go down and you could not be increasing new fossil fuel infrastructure or lobbying against climate policy,” said McKenna.
“Canadian oil and gas companies — and trade associations like the Pathways Alliance and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers that represent them — continue to advertise that they're committed to net zero while lobbying against the climate action needed to make this goal possible,” said McKenna.
The oil and gas industry shouldn’t be demanding taxpayers — who are currently paying high prices for fossil fuels — subsidize technology and actions it needs to achieve emission reduction targets, particularly at a time when the oil and gas companies are making massive profits, said McKenna.
Instead of returning those profits to shareholders through buybacks and dividends, that money should be invested in clean tech, but “Canadians have yet to see any evidence of that,” she said.
The six companies and CAPP have all supported net zero as a policy goal but their actions and positions on climate policy include a push to expand the fossil fuel industry and advocacy for new oil and gas projects, according to InfluenceMap. These goals and actions stand in “stark contrast” with the IPCC and International Energy Agency’s 1.5 C net-zero scenarios that call for a rapid phaseout of fossil fuels, said the report.
The IPCC’s April 2022 report noted removing fossil fuel subsidies would reduce emissions and improve public revenue, among other environmental and sustainable development benefits.
The federal government has pledged to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies in 2023 — a task to be overseen by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson — a measure CAPP and Canadian Natural both opposed.
The report flags the oil and gas industry’s promotion of “clean” fossil fuels, particularly so-called natural gas and the use of carbon capture to continue and increase the use of fossil fuels as another clear misalignment with climate science.
InfluenceMap found a few instances where Suncor Energy indicated “more supportive positions” on policies offering alternatives to fossil fuel use. For example, a lobbying report in British Columbia last summer disclosed Suncor’s advocacy for investments in electric vehicle charging infrastructure and a different lobbying filing in Alberta appeared to support renewable energy development, according to the findings.
While the UN report is an important tool to crack down on greenwashing, McKenna said the next step is having stricter disclosure and regulation of net-zero commitments.
Natasha Bulowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer