Exxon's climate plan doesn't actually commit to reducing emissions

Its tricky language is just cover for the fossil fuel giant's real plan to increase oil and gas production.

Forty-three years after it first became aware of human-caused climate change, fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil on Monday released a new pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Sort of. Kind of. Well, not really.

Exxon, the 11th-biggest climate-polluting U.S. company, announced on Monday that it’s going to reduce the emissions intensity of its oil production by 15 to 20 percent by 2025, compared with 2016 levels. In a tweet, Exxon said this was “consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement” to stabilize warming at well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

It isn’t, though, and the reason lies in language. You’ll notice the plan isn’t for Exxon to reduce its overall emissions by 15 to 20 percent. It’s to reduce Exxon’s emissions intensity. That means Exxon isn’t actually promising to reduce its greenhouse emissions. It’s promising to make it less carbon-intensive to produce a barrel of oil.

In fact, because Exxon’s new climate plan does not include a commitment to reduce oil production, this could still result in the company increasing its overall carbon footprint over the next five years if it significantly ramps up oil production—which, it turns out, is exactly what Exxon plans to do.

While its rivals plot long-term strategies based on renewables, “Exxon’s response has been to double down on oil and gas, plotting another huge surge in output,” The Financial Times reported in October. “Exxon is making a huge bet on oil’s future.”

Exxon has already privately acknowledged that its long-term investment plans will result in more carbon emissions. As Bloomberg’s Kevin Crowley and Akshat Rathi revealed in October, “Exxon’s own assessment of its $210 billion investment strategy shows yearly emissions rising 17 percent by 2025, according to internal projections.”

But publicly, Exxon is now positioning itself as an ally in the fight against the climate crisis, with a fancy new corporate webpage and everything.

But Emily, wait, are you saying Exxon privately acknowledges they’re doing something to worsen the climate crisis, but now is releasing public materials claiming the opposite? Well that just seems terribly off-brand! Source: corporate.exxonmobil.com

Like all greenwashing efforts, Exxon’s climate plan is an attempt to boost its social license, which oil companies increasingly need as the public becomes more aware of their huge contribution to climate change—a crisis which is projected to cause massive human suffering, economic damage, and ecological collapse if not urgently addressed.

Indeed, just 20 companies are the source of one-third of all carbon emitted since the mid-1960s—and all the Big Oil majors are on that list. Chevron, Exxon, Shell and BP are the top four investor-owned polluters, and together have caused more than 10 percent of the world’s carbon emissions since 1965.

In summary: Exxon’s climate pledge is the weakest climate pledge of all the Big Oil six; does not commit to reducing oil and gas production, which is scientifically necessary for avoiding climate catastrophe; and does not actually commit to reducing emissions at all. But the company is already using it to make themselves look like they’re not one of the biggest contributors to the climate crisis itself, and one of the biggest contributors to the political culture of misinformation, denial and gaslighting that has allowed the crisis to thrive.

The extremely weak greenwashing is pretty funny though

Here’s just a collection of things I screen-shotted while going through the pledge that made me laugh:

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Catch of the day:

Fish is not affected by greenwashing. He is colorblind.

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