Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search


BP Plans To Keep It In The Ground, Sort Of

The climate justice movement has created conditions that make it harder for companies like BP to explore and extract fossil fuels.

by Robin Tress

Greenpeace activists delivered 500 solar panels with a total area of over 800 square meters to BP's London headquarters in St. James Square Feb. 5, 2020. Activists locked to oil barrels blocked all six office doors around the building. (Photo:Suzanne Plunkett/Greenpeace)

British fossil fuel giant and sixth biggest polluter of all time, BP, is making a move away from continued fossil fuel extraction. BP has announced plans to cut extraction of fossil fuels to 40 per cent below 2019 rates by the year 2030. This, as Oil Change International notes, is the first commitment “from a Big Oil and Gas company to recognize that significant reductions in oil and gas production must occur within this decade.”

BP board chairman Helge Lund says, “Energy markets are fundamentally changing, shifting towards low carbon, driven by societal expectations, technology and changes in consumer preferences.”

I understand these “societal expectations” to be pressures from social movements around the world, and I feel a deep sense of gratitude to everyone who has put decades of work into these movements.

What BP has committed to:

BP has announced that it will cut extraction by 40 per cent compared to 2019 levels by 2030 and that it will reduce upstream emissions and “carbon intensity” of their products by 15-30 per cent. This is the first time a fossil fuel giant has laid out a clear plan to reduce extraction on a clear and short timeline.

It is significant that BP is taking action on a 2030 timeline. Scientists are calling for global emissions to be cut in half by 2030 and to reach net zero by 2050 in order to have a chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, and yet most governments and corporations refuse to acknowledge this 2030 imperative in policy. For example, Trudeau continues to focus on net zero carbon by 2050, but aiming so far in the future without seriously planning for cuts of at least 65 per cent by 2030 is reckless. BP’s 2030 timeline is unusually bold and may set a new bar for others to live up to.

Part of BP’s plan to focus on “low carbon energy” includes investment in carbon capture use and storage (CCUS) and bioenergy. CCUS technology attempts to pull carbon from the atmosphere, either ambiently or from a point source of pollution. Unfortunately, CCUS is a false solution to the climate crisis. It does not stop fossil fuels from being used, does not disrupt the systems that led to the climate crisis, and it does not work. Bioenergy, also known as biofuel, is not much better – while biofuels tend to produce fewer associated emissions than typical fossil fuels, they are far from carbon neutral.

What BP has not committed to:

Even with this new move, BP is not doing its fair share to keep the global climate from warming more than 1.5 degrees.

Cutting their extraction by 40 per cent below 2019 levels does not put BP’s oil and gas production in line with a 1.5 degree warming scenario. One big problem with BP’s announcement is that the company will continue to hold a 20 per cent stake in Rosneft, a Russian oil company with no climate plan and numerous active fossil fuel projects.

BP is also leaving the door open to exploration in countries where BP already has operations (like Canada). This, plus BP’s continued partnership with Rosneft, mean the company could continue extracting fossil fuels for decades to come.

Reducing extraction and producing more low-carbon energy does not change the nature of BP’s operations – they are private, they are non-democratic, and they are massive.

In BP’s announcement they talk about a plan to partner with 10 cities around the world on “decarbonization efforts,” but in the same breath they talk about “doubling customer interactions to 20 million per day.” This is not a surprise, as we know the core function of corporations is to turn a profit but serves as a helpful reminder that BP’s primary motivation is (of course) profit, not sustainability or justice.

It’s unclear at this time exactly what BP’s partnership with 10 cities would look like, but we know what happens when corporations partner with public entities around utilities – rates go up, and quality of service goes down. The Council of Canadians has always called for community owned and managed renewable energy systems, publicly owned utilities, and energy democracy.

BP in Nova Scotia’s offshore

BP holds seven leases for offshore oil and gas exploration in Nova Scotia. After drilling one well in one of these lease areas, BP spilled 136 000 L of toxic drilling mud onto the bottom of the ocean and was never required to clean it up. The company still holds these leases and could continue exploration if they so choose.

While BP is cutting back on exploration, its announcement says nothing about dropping exploration leases or projects in countries they already operate in, and the company has made no moves towards dropping the leases in Nova Scotia.

More than business as usual

What I’m taking away from this news is that corporations are just corporations – profit is their primary motivation, and they will try everything within the landscape of the market to make that profit. In this case, BP is recognizing major market shifts and trying to make a profit within these new conditions.

The climate justice movement has created conditions that make it harder for companies like BP to explore and extract fossil fuels including economic and social disruptions like blockades, court cases, holding fossil fuel corporations accountable for their human rights violations, campaigns for fossil fuel divestment, policy advocacy, community resistance and more. Our movement has created the “societal expectations” and “consumer preferences” that force BP and other corporations to change.

And now, we’re demanding more than business as usual.

I am impressed by this announcement – but not by some clever economists at one of the world’s largest, dirtiest and richest oil companies. I’m proud and impressed that more than a decade of intense organizing around the world has created a movement that knows a fundamental step towards climate justice is to keep the oil in the ground.

Robin Tress is a climate and social justice campaigner with the Council of Canadians.

© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Reese Erlich: Foreign Correspondent: Trump Plays Both Sides Against The Middle

Is he a hawk? Is he a peacenik? The President keeps us guessing . By Reese Erlich President Donald Trump has convinced Republican isolationists and hawks that he supports their views. That’s a neat trick, since the two groups hold opposing positions. ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Waiting For The Old Bailey: Julian Assange And Britain’s Judicial Establishment

On September 7, Julian Assange will be facing another round of gruelling extradition proceedings, in the Old Bailey, part of a process that has become a form of gradual state-sanctioned torture. The US Department of Justice hungers for their man. The More>>

Gordon Campbell: On The Sorry Plight Of The International Education Sector

Tourism and international education have been two of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. They’re both key export industries. Yet the government response to them has been strikingly different. There has been nothing beyond a few words of ministerial condolence and a $51.6 million package (details below) to get the sector through the pandemic...

Binoy Kampmark: Google’s Open Letter: Fighting Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code

Tech giants tend to cast thin veils over threats regarding government regulations. They are also particularly concerned by those more public spirited ones, the sort supposedly made for the broader interest. Google has given us an example of this ... More>>

Gordon Campbell: On Trump’s Current Chances Of Re-Election

By now it seems clear that National have no fresh ideas to offer for how New Zealand could avoid the Covid-19 economic crisis. As in the past, National has set an arbitrary 30% ratio of government debt to GDP that it aims to achieve “in a decade or so,” ... More>>

The Conversation: Rogue Poll Or Not, All The Signs Point To A Tectonic Shift In New Zealand Politics

Richard Shaw AAP(various)/NZ Greens (CC-BY-SA)/The Conversation Strong team. More jobs. Better economy. So say the National Party’s campaign hoardings. Only thing is, last Sunday’s Newshub-Reid Research poll – which had support for the Labour ... More>>

The Coronavirus Republic: Three Million Infections And Rising

The United States is famed for doing things, not to scale, but off it. Size is the be-all and end-all, and the coronavirus is now doing its bit to assure that the country remains unrivalled in the charts of infection . In time, other unfortunates may well ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Altars Of Hypocrisy: George Floyd, Protest And Black Face

Be wary what you protest about. The modern moral constabulary are out, and they are assisted by their Silicon Valley friends in the Social Media club. Should you dare take a stand on anything, especially in a dramatic way, you will be found out ... More>>