Oil And Coal Firms Guilty Of ‘Great Deception’ Through Greenwashing, Say Climate Lawyers
A team of U.K. lawyers today released what they say is new evidence showing that the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies are systematically “greenwashing” their image to make the public believe they are taking concrete steps to combat climate change. In reality, the lawyers say, the firms are committed to increasing the sale of fossil fuels, which will inevitably generate more greenhouse gas emissions.
Environmental law organization ClientEarth compared adverts from some of the world’s largest fossil fuel firms—namely ExxonMobil, Aramco, Chevron, Shell, Equinor, Total, RWE, Drax and Ineos—with their actual activities and business models.
The NGO compiled the results into what it calls ‘The Greenwashing Files’: a set of profiles of each firm, laying out their advertised climate-friendly claims alongside data points that illustrate the companies’ actual climate impacts. The results, ClientEarth said, present a strong case for the banning of advertising by fossil fuel companies.
Among the findings, ClientEarth said Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil and gas company, is responsible for more than 4% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1965. In spite of claiming to take climate change seriously, the lawyers said, Aramco continues to open up new oil and gas fields, and is forecast to sell the equivalent of 27 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide between 2018 and 2030. That amounts to some 4.7% of the global carbon budget, as defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Despite running large-scale media campaigns about its environmental credentials, U.S. oil firm Chevron was found to have put only 0.2% of its long-term investments into low-carbon energy sources like wind and solar.
Meanwhile, Shell oil dedicated “just 1% of its long-term investments to sources of low-carbon energy like wind and solar,” ClientEarth claimed, while Shell’s emissions between 2018 and 2030 could account for up to 1.6% of the global carbon budget.
ClientEarth lawyer Johnny White, who wrote the report, said: “We’re currently witnessing a great deception, where the companies most responsible for catastrophically heating the planet are spending millions on advertising campaigns about how their business plans are focused on sustainability.”
“Up until now it has been difficult for the public, shareholders and investors to be confident that such advertising is in fact misleading and amounts to greenwashing,” White explained. “By showing advertising claims alongside the reality of their activities, our research shows these adverts are misrepresenting the true nature of companies’ businesses, of their contribution to climate change, and of their transition plans.”
In response to the claims from ClientEarth, a spokesperson for Shell reached out to Forbes.com, saying: “Our target is to become a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050, in step with society’s progress towards the goal of the Paris Agreement on climate change. It is at the heart of our strategy. That means continuing to reduce our total absolute emissions to net zero by 2050 by working with our customers to change the energy mix used. Our short, medium and long term intensity and absolute targets are fully consistent with the more ambitious 1.5 goal of the Paris Agreement. And our targets cover the full range of our own emissions and our customers emissions, not just from the energy we produce but also all the energy we sell.”
It is not the first time that ClientEarth has gone up against the fossil fuel industry. In 2019 the lawyers submitted a complaint about a clean energy advertising campaign from oil company BP, which they said would mislead the public. The oil firm withdrew the campaign.
On the back of these new findings, ClientEarth called for a ban on fossil fuel advertising, similar to bans that were imposed on tobacco companies in the 1990s and early 2000s.
“Ideally all fossil fuel advertising should be banned unless it comes with a tobacco-style health warning about the risks of climate change, including the dangers of continuing to extract and burn fossil fuels,” White said. “The public should not be misled, and fossil fuel companies must be accountable for the damage they do.”
The Greenwash Files follow a report last year from financial think tank Carbon Tracker that found oil companies had set climate ambitions that would “leave them free to increase production or ignore the full impact of burning their future oil and gas.”
Carbon Tracker oil and gas analyst Mike Coffin emphasized that “climate targets need to recognise the absolute limits of a global carbon budget and incorporate interim emissions reductions. Policies which fall short will fail to satisfy both environmental and financial concerns from investors, and risk being perceived as greenwashing.”
In spite of growing investment in renewable energy and low-carbon technologies worldwide, global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. Earlier this month the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that atmospheric carbon dioxide had passed 420 parts per million for the first time in recorded history. Around the same time, scientists revealed that 2020 had seen a record rise in emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas 28 times more potent than CO2 in its contribution to global warming.