BP Announces Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Target, but Offers No Details
British-based oil and gas giant BP set the most ambitious climate goal of any company in its industry yesterday when it announced that it will eliminate or offset all of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, according to The New York Times. Its ambitious plans included offsetting the burning of oil and gas it takes out of the ground.
The company's chief executive Bernard Looney, who stepped into the top job this month, said the 111-year-old company must "reinvent" itself, a strategy that will eventually include more investment in alternative energy, according to the BBC.
"The world's carbon budget is finite and running out fast," CEO Bernard Looney said in a statement, as CNN reported. "We need a rapid transition to net zero. We all want energy that is reliable and affordable, but that is no longer enough."
The pledge is a tacit acknowledgement of the pressure that fossil fuel producers face from the public and from investors who are either divesting or demanding action to stop the global climate crisis. While the move is significant, Looney did not detail a plan for how BP would hit its ambitious target, as The New York Times reported.
"We are aiming to earn back the trust of society," Looney said at a news conference in London, as The New York Times reported. "We have got to change, and change profoundly."
While the details are scant, Looney did acknowledge that much of BP's business model and its priorities will have to change in response to the climate crisis and to the changing demands of the market economy, which is looking for affordable renewable energy.
"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," Looney said as the BBC reported.
"Providing the world with clean, reliable affordable energy will require nothing less than reimagining energy, and today that becomes BP's new purpose," he added. "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."
Looney said that details would be revealed at a presentation in September. As CNN noted, the commitment is the most ambitious of any oil company. Shell set targets to rein in emissions while Chevron and ExxonMobil are still far behind.
"They really are setting a new standard for what leadership looks like in the industry," Andrew Logan, senior director of oil and gas at Ceres, a nonprofit that lobbies for companies to take action on climate change, said as CNN reported.
Logan noted how important it was that BP acknowledged that it needs to offset the oil and the gas that consumers use, as MarketWatch reported. "There is no reason that Exxon and Chevron can't follow suit," he said.
The carbon footprint of the oil and gas that BP and other companies sell is massive. In its own reporting, BP said that the company emits about 55 million tons of greenhouse gases each year directly from its extraction operations and refineries. However, an additional 360 million tons each year is released when their extracted oil and gas is burned in vehicles or to heat homes, as The New York Times reported.
The plans drew a tepid response from environmental groups and even criticism from some who see fossil fuel extraction as something that needs to stop immediately.
"Unless BP commits clearly to stop searching for more oil and gas, and to keep their existing reserves in the ground, we shouldn't take a word of their P.R. spin seriously," Ellen Gibson, a campaigner for fossil-fuel divestment with the environmental group 350.org in Britain, said as The New York Times reported.
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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