Inside Big Oil’s Business as Usual: Failure on Climate and Profits from War

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Original article by Stella Levantesi republished from DeSmog.

A new report shows oil majors fall short of meeting Paris Agreement targets while fueling global military conflicts.

Oil majors are not on track to hit Paris Agreement climate targets that limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C, a new report reveals.

Eight fossil fuel giants – Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, TotalEnergies, BP, Eni, Equinor, and ConocoPhillips – are on course to use 30 percent of the world’s remaining carbon budget for that 1.5°C goal, according to the Big Oil Reality Check report by nonprofit Oil Change International (OCI).

Combined, the oil and gas companies’ extraction plans are consistent with a temperature rise of over 2.4°C, the report found.That level of warming, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, will reduce food security, risk irreversible loss of ecosystems, and increase heat waves, rainfall, and extreme weather events.

“We analyzed the climate promises and plans of the largest eight international oil and gas companies that are owned in North America and Europe. What would it take for an oil and gas producer to align their production with limiting warming to 1.5?” David Tong, global industry campaign manager at OCI and co-author of the report, told DeSmog. 

“If an oil and gas company were serious about transitioning its business model, the first step would be ending all new production and then setting a Paris-aligned phaseout plan,” he added.

‘No New Fossil’ Standard

recent paper by academics at University College London and the International Institute for Sustainable Development, published in Science in May, calls for stopping fossil fuel expansion and building a “No New Fossil” global norm. According to the authors, this would make it “easier to phase down fossil fuels” and achieve the Paris Agreement climate goals.

No new fossil fuel projects would be needed in a 1.5°C world, they wrote, because the “existing fossil fuel capital stock” is sufficient to meet energy demand. The authors also note that preventing new fossil fuel projects is, in general, more feasible than closing existing projects from an economic, political, and legal viewpoint.

In the face of continuing global pressure to stop fossil fuel expansion, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Equinor, Eni, ExxonMobil, and TotalEnergies have goals to increase oil and gas production within the next three years or beyond, the OCI report finds. While Shell does not quantify a target, the company plans to keep oil production steady while growing gas production in the near future, OCI said.

“None of those companies came anywhere close to alignment [with climate goals],” said Tong. “Six of the eight companies we analyzed have explicit plans to increase their oil and gas production in this critical decade when we need to be cutting our reliance on fossil fuels, cutting oil, gas, and oil production.”

Plateauing oil and expanding gas production, like some of these companies plan to do, is “grossly insufficient” compared with the action that’s needed, Tong added. Even commitments to make businesses more efficient aren’t going to cut it alone, he said.

“It’s like a cigarette company claiming that it will solve lung cancer by producing cigarettes more efficiently,” he noted. “That’s not just not a credible claim. It’s a promise to become a more efficient climate breaker.”

Big Oil and War

According to the OCI report, all the oil majors fail to meet basic criteria for just transition plans for workers and communities where they operate. 

“A number of these companies also face significant ongoing, unresolved allegations of human rights … and Indigenous people’s rights violations,” Tong told me.

A March 2024 investigation, commissioned by OCI and conducted by DataDesk, revealed that ExxonMobil, Chevron, TotalEnergies, BP, Shell, and Eni are “complicit in facilitating the supply of crude oil to Israel.” These findings are particularly noteworthy in the context of “Israel’s mounting evidence of war crimes” against Palestinians in Gaza, the OCI states in its new report. 

Diesel and gasoline for tanks and other military vehicles are supplied by Israel’s refineries, which rely on regular imports of crude oil by these companies and, since October 2023, supplies mainly from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan/Russia, Gabon, and Brazil, the research has found. 

The fossil fuel industry is “fueling war and military conflicts” in many regions of the world, said Svitlana Romanko, a prominent Ukrainian activist and founder and director of Razom We Stand, a Ukrainian organization campaigning to ban all imports of fossil fuels from Russia. 

According to Romanko, the OCI Big Oil Reality Check report “reinforces the importance of moving away from fossil fuels and investing into distributed renewable energy.”

A new analysis by a group of climate experts estimates that the first two years of Russia’s war on Ukraine resulted in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to around 175 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. The estimated global cost of this warming in extreme weather impacts: $32 billion. 

After Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russia earned over 681 billion euros in revenue from fossil fuel exports. European Union countries purchased fossil fuels from Russia for more than 195 billion euros.

Big Oil, as well as Russia, is profiting from the war, Romanko said. After the invasion, BP, Chevron, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Shell, and TotalEnergies raked in $219 billion, more than double their profits compared to the previous year.

“Most [governments] subsidize fossil fuels, and these subsidies are accounting for trillions of U.S. dollars annually,” Romanko said. “This is a big part of fossil fuel profits, and the more fossil fuels are subsidized, [the] less investments are made available for renewable energies.”

She pointed out that the partnership between TotalEnergies and Russia’s largest private gas producer, Novatek, was also “instrumental” in helping Russia get access to technologies and engineering services to launch Novatek’s Yamal LNG and Arctic LNG 2 projects.

Romanko notes that fossil fuel infrastructure can also constitute a liability for military attacks and quickly become a target.

“Centralized infrastructure endangers energy supply and overall safety of the supply,” she said. In Ukraine, a massive effort to install solar power plants in schools and hospitals helped decentralize this key resource, Romanko explained. “Decentralized energy supply is essential to building true energy independence,” she added. “And this is the future.”

Pressure for Accountability

Some of the eight oil majors in OCI’s report have faced more international and national scrutiny than others. Such pressure can facilitate accountability, but that’s less likely when the fossil fuel company is closely intertwined with the institutional, political, and economic life of its country. 

A BP gas station sign. Credit: Mike Mozart (CC BY 2.0)

“We need to look at what has succeeded in putting so much pressure on companies like Shell and BP,” OCI’s Tong said. 

One factor: when communities in a company’s home country work closely in partnership with communities in fossil fuel-producing countries. Tong said that positive results also happen when campaigners use a range of strategies to expose producers, from nonviolent direct action to op-eds, research, and court action.

“This is particularly challenging with Eni, TotalEnergies, and Equinor in different ways because of the close interactions that each of the companies have with their home states,” he added.

Public, political, and legal pressure for accountability must also be coupled with industry regulation, according to Tong.

“We concluded that there is no evidence that the oil and gas sector will voluntarily transition to renewable energy, or voluntarily act to align their production with what’s needed for the Paris Agreement,” Tong said. Instead, governments must no longer license new production sites. 

The strong right-wing result in the latest EU Parliament elections could also affect Big Oil’s energy transition. 

“The more the links between the state and big polluters are overt, the more people get out in the streets and protest,” Tong said.

What is safe to say is that Big Oil’s business as usual will increase climate change effects.

“Floods, hurricanes, extreme weather events, and the millions of human lives affected and lost – this damage to nature, to human lives and to life on earth will only mount,” Romanko said. “What will be lost in a few more years will also mount if fossil fuel companies are allowed to continue with business as usual.”

Original article by Stella Levantesi republished from DeSmog.

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Rosebank shows the UK’s offshore oil regulator no longer serves the public good

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Igor Hotinsky / Shutterstock

Gisa Weszkalnys, London School of Economics and Political Science and Gavin Bridge, Durham University

In a four-line statement announcing the approval of the new Rosebank oil field 80 miles west of Shetland, the UK’s offshore oil and gas regulator showed its mission no longer serves the public good.

The announcement by the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), which regulates oil and gas extraction in the waters off the British coast, asserted that net zero considerations had been taken into account – a technical definition that makes it appear long-term oil production is compatible with climate goals. This has outraged and dismayed climate scientists, campaigners, and the many other people concerned about the UK’s faltering climate leadership.

The approval greenlights a process that is expected to produce first oil by 2026, and around 300 million barrels of oil (and a smaller amount of gas) over the next two decades. The project’s developers are Equinor, an oil company owned for the most part by the Norwegian state, and Ithaca Energy, owned by the Delek Group listed on the Tel Aviv stock exchange.

The decision is out of step with demands for rapid action on climate change coming from a range of quarters. This includes shareholder activists demanding corporations accelerate decarbonisation, direct action groups such as Just Stop Oil, and financiers concerned about the risks of “asset stranding” as renewables become cheaper than fossil fuels.

Public protests and legal challenges to the NSTA spotlight the irrationality and recklessness in the government’s expressed support for issuing new licenses. Activists are not alone in making this point.

A welter of scientific studies and reports by international agencies confirm that new fossil fuel extraction is incompatible with keeping global temperature increases well below 2°C.

Rosebank has been a major focus for climate activism in the past couple of years, as science, international policy and campaigners turn their attention to stopping new extraction, rather than solely focusing on reducing emissions. Calls to end new licensing for oil and gas are in line with climate science.

But a climate politics focused on new licensing alone misses the point. The thing is, like other North Sea oil fields yet to be approved, Rosebank was licensed for oil and gas extraction years ago.

The NSTA approval process follows licensing, sometimes after considerable time has passed. And it is this approval process that locks the UK into hydrocarbon production for years to come.

End ‘maximising economic recovery’

The core objective of the NSTA is to maximise the economic recovery of UK petroleum – a principle shorthanded as MER – as set out in the 1998 Petroleum Act. In practice, this means the regulator’s primary mission is to facilitate the extraction of oil and gas.

A revised strategy in 2021 paired MER with an obligation to support the UK’s net zero commitments. And the former Oil and Gas Authority changed its name to include an explicit reference to the “transition” in 2022, underpinned by ambitions for emissions reduction and decarbonisation.

NSTA sees its job as effecting the industry’s alignment with these goals. It is now also in charge of licensing for carbon capture and storage and offshore hydrogen storage.

Rosebank’s approval therefore reveals a deeper truth: the regulator’s guiding objective fails the public good test. Regulation aims to avoid economic, environmental and social harms, and ensure the public good through delivering collective benefits and upholding socially-desirable ideals. The Rosebank decision arguably breaches this principle.

Supporters of Rosebank argue it will contribute to the UK’s energy security and deploy decarbonisation technologies that reduce CO₂ emissions overall. These arguments do not stand scrutiny, however: oil from Rosebank, like around 80% of North Sea oil production, will be sold directly into international markets and will not materially affect the price of petrol or diesel for UK motorists.

Much of the value of that oil will flow into the portfolios of Equinor and Ithaca. That value could be harnessed to speed up transition to renewables or ensure its benefits are widely distributed, but that’s largely down to Equinor and Ithaca – not the UK government.

The NSTA asserts that its decision has “tak[en] net zero considerations into account”, yet the sector’s own decarbonisation ambitions count only those emissions associated with producing a barrel of oil, and exclude those from burning it (70%-90% of its total impact).

Rewrite the Petroleum Act

A decade ago, a decision by NSTA would not have raised much attention. Now it highlights a significant problem in need of reform. Piecemeal adaptation has left MER and other core regulatory principles untouched, which is at odds with the climate emergency.

Existing licensed fields escape the weak scrutiny embodied in instruments such as the climate compatibility checkpoint, a series of tests to be applied in decisions about future licensing rounds. What’s more, as a litmus test for approval, Rosebank indicates other licensed projects may get the go-ahead, like Cambo.

Removing NSTA’s central objective to maximise economic recovery requires nothing less than a rewrite of the Petroleum Act. This would be an opportunity to fundamentally revise what the North Sea is for, and whether or how to exploit its resources in the future. A start would be to consider a reversal of direction – a “minimising” of economic recovery, for example – which redefines the “economic” in terms of what is socially necessary.

Such a move will inevitably entail reviewing licences already in place, and will likely generate challenges from the sector and other powerful incumbents. Rosebank exposes, however, how the new mission of the offshore regulator has to be about securing a new public good. This needs wider social debate, and should ultimately be decided through parliament.


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Gisa Weszkalnys, Associate Professor of Anthropology, London School of Economics and Political Science and Gavin Bridge, Professor of Geography and Fellow of the Durham Energy Institute, Durham University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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BP and Shell Funded Group Was Sunak Government’s Most Popular Think Tank in 2023

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Original article by Andrew Kersley republished from DeSmog.

An Onward event at the 2022 Conservative Party conference featuring Cabinet minister Michael Gove. Credit: PA Images / Alamy

Ministers met with Onward, accused of being “a fossil fuel dinosaur in new clothing”, more than any other think tank last year.

An oil and gas funded group had the most registered meetings with government ministers among all think tanks last year, DeSmog can reveal.

Onward describes itself as a think tank bringing “bold and practical ideas for the centre right”. Since its launch in 2018 it has gone through a meteoric rise, quickly becoming one of Westminster’s most influential think tanks.

DeSmog analysed the meetings of every government department in 2023 and found that ministers met with the group on 17 occasions across the year, an average of well over once a month and more than any other think tank.

Onward doesn’t disclose full details of its funding but unlike many think tanks it publicly shares the list of organisations that have donated “more than £5,000 twice a year” to the group.

Its list of funders in the first half of 2023 included several oil and gas giants, including Shell, BP, and Equinor. These three companies are also listed as members of Onward’s ‘Business Network’, which is open to those who donate £12,000 a year. In exchange, Onward says that it offers its members quarterly “invitations to private roundtables with senior policymakers and opinion formers”.

Onward offers other perks to its Business Network members, including the opportunity to see its reports before they are published, though it insists that donors are precluded from influencing the contents of its publications.

In the second half of the year, Onward also received funding from Lord Michael Spencer, a Tory mega-donor and former party treasurer who holds shares in oil and gas companies.

Onward’s corporate supporters included Drax, the UK’s largest single source of CO2 emissions. Drax is the operator of a major wood pellet burning power station in Yorkshire that receives billions of pounds in government environmental subsidies despite producing millions of tonnes of carbon emissions a year while burning trees from historic woodlands.

“Onward might sound progressive, but it looks suspiciously like a fossil fuel dinosaur in new clothing,” Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer told DeSmog.

“With so much fossil fuel money oiling the wheels of Westminster it is small wonder the Tories are maxing out oil and gas licences and have granted approval for Rosebank, the largest undeveloped oilfield in the North Sea.

“It’s time to break the links between government and fossil fuel funded think tanks and engage instead in a bit of blue sky thinking.”

Onward’s meetings in 2023 included two with ministers from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ), which is responsible for the government’s climate policies. 

One of those meetings, held in June with Net Zero Minister Andrew Bowie, was to discuss the role of hydrogen in the transition to net zero.

Though it’s widely acknowledged that hydrogen will have a role in decarbonising some industrial processes, it has become the subject of growing controversy. Experts have warned that exaggerating the potential of the technology risks delaying climate action by distracting from the transition to renewable energies. Hydrogen is favoured by gas companies, as it is often made using natural gas and deploys existing infrastructure. 

As a result, hydrogen continues to be the subject of a major lobbying effort in Westminster.

Vested interests, including oil and gas companies, have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds in recent years sponsoring political party conferences and parliamentary advocacy groups, advocating for the role of hydrogen in the clean energy transition. 

UK gas infrastructure operator National Gas hosted an Onward event at the 2023 Conservative conference on the UK’s “need” for hydrogen, entitled “Gassed up”.

An Onward spokesperson said that as a not-for-profit organisation the group relies “entirely on the generosity of our network to support our research programme”, which allows the group to “routinely meet and share our research with government and shadow ministers”.

They stressed that they “do not take commissions from companies or government for specific pieces of research” giving the group “complete editorial control over our priorities and conclusions”.

Onward and Tufton Street

Onward is currently led by former Financial Times journalist Sebastian Payne, who is attempting to become a Conservative parliamentary candidate. 

The think tank’s advisory board and board of directors are manned by Conservative MPs and peers, former Conservative Party treasurers, and business figures. Current Net Zero Secretary Claire Coutinho was a member of the Onward advisory board prior to her appointment to the Cabinet. 

When Rishi Sunak became prime minister in October 2022, it was reported that Onward alumni had taken up several advisory posts in his government – the second highest number of any think tank. Sunak’s deputy chief of staff Will Tanner, who leads on policy, is the co-founder and former director of Onward. 

Onward alumni were only outnumbered by former staff members of Policy Exchange, a right-wing think tank that formerly employed Sunak. Policy Exchange has received funding from fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil, and has been credited by Sunak for helping to draft laws that have cracked down on climate protests. DeSmog has also revealed that Shell and BP were allowed “ample opportunity” to shape a Policy Exchange report on carbon taxes that was later endorsed by Sunak’s government. 

Over the last year, the prime minister has also overseen a row-back of several key climate pledges. In July, Sunak confirmed that his government planned to issue hundreds of new oil and gas licences, a move condemned by opposition MPs and charities. Oxfam’s climate policy adviser Lyndsay Walsh said the move “will send a wrecking ball through the UK’s climate commitments”.

Sunak has said his government intends to “max out” the UK’s oil and gas reserves, and has legislated to introduce annual North Sea licensing rounds. This is despite the International Energy Agency stating that new fossil fuel exploration is “incompatible” with the Paris Agreement target of limiting global heating to 1.5C. 

Regulators also approved government plans for the development of the controversial Rosebank oil field, operated by Equinor, even though the project has been dubbed a “carbon bomb” by environmental law charity ClientEarth.

In September, the government scrapped a number of net zero pledges, including pushing back a ban on the sale of combustion engine vehicles, and weakening plans to phase out gas boilers.

Sunak’s predecessor Liz Truss had close ties to a number of “free market” think tanks based in and around 55 Tufton Street, Westminster. This included the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), a think tank that was funded by BP for at least 50 years. Former IEA director general Mark Littlewood said that Truss had spoken at IEA events more than “any other politician over the past 12 years”, and the pair have now launched the group Popular Conservatism to lobby for more libertarian policies.

DeSmog found that the IEA met with ministers on nine occasions in 2023, almost half as many as Onward.

Original article by Andrew Kersley republished from DeSmog.

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‘Climate Arsonists’: 8 Major Oil Companies Fail to Align With Paris Agreement

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Original article by OLIVIA ROSANE republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

An ExxonMobil oil refinery is pictured in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo: Barry Lewis/InPictures via Getty Images)

“We cannot trust fossil fuel corporations to do anything but line the pockets of their CEOs and investors at the cost of our climate and communities,” one campaigner said.

The eight largest U.S. and Europe-based oil and gas producing companies are failing to align their plans with the Paris agreement goal of limiting global heating to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels and avoiding ever more catastrophic climate impacts.

Oil Change International’s Big Oil Reality Check report, released Tuesday, concludes that the plans of BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Eni, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Shell, and TotalEnergies would actually put the world on track for more than 2.4°C of warming and burn through nearly one-third of the global carbon budget for hitting the 1.5°C target.

“It’s clearer than ever that oil and gas companies—the climate arsonists fueling climate chaos—cannot be trusted to put out the fire,” David Tong, report author and global industry campaign manager at Oil Change Internationalsaid in a statement. “There is no evidence that big oil and gas companies are acting seriously to be part of the energy transition.”

The Big Oil Reality Check report reveals that oil and gas corporations are more interested in looking like they are acting on climate change than actually acting on climate change.”

For its fourth annual Big Oil Reality Check, Oil Change International judged the oil companies’ climate plans and pledges against a set of minimum standards for alignment with the Paris agreement. The standards were divided into three main categories: ambition, integrity, and people-centered transitions.

Under ambition, the companies were assessed on whether they had plans to stop oil and gas exploration, stop approving new extraction projects, decrease production every year through 2030, and stop extraction on a certain date while outlining a long-term plan to end production.

Under integrity, the companies were assessed on whether their emissions-reduction plans included their entire supply chain, whether they relied on carbon capture or offsets, whether their methane-reduction plans were really in line with climate goals, and whether they lobbied or advertised against climate action.

For people-centered transitions, they were assessed on whether they had just transition plans for employees and members of frontline communities and whether they respected human rights overall and the rights of Indigenous peoples, including to free, prior, or informed consent to any fossil fuel activities.

The companies were then rated from “fully aligned” to “grossly insufficient” for how well their plans complied with the Paris goals within the assessment’s framework, but all eight companies scored “insufficient” or “grossly insufficient” for a majority of the criteria.

Only one company—Eni—scored above “insufficient” in any category, earning a ranking of “partially aligned” for having greenhouse gas-reduction plans that included its supply chains. The three U.S.-based companies—Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil—scored “grossly insufficient” for all 10 criteria.

“American fossil fuel corporations are the worst of the worst,” Oil Change International’s U.S. program manager Allie Rosenbluth said. “Chevron, ExxonMobil, and ConocoPhillips perpetuate harm in frontline communities not only across the U.S. but worldwide.”

Oil Change found that six out of the eight companies have official plans to increase oil and gas production. The only two that did not were BP and Shell; however, these companies employ a misleading strategy. They compensate for new oil and gas projects by selling off polluting assets. While the emissions from the sold operations no longer count toward company emissions, they still count toward the planet’s total. This practice is out of line with the GHG Protocol on corporate emissions accounting and may violate the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Four of the companies assessed in the report—BP, Shell, Exxon, and Chevron—were also the subject of a recent U.S. House investigation and Senate hearing detailing how the fossil fuel industry playbook has shifted from outright denial of climate science to greenwashing its activities by presenting itself as part of the solution to the climate crisis while its day-to-day operations continue to raise global temperatures.

“The efforts of climate and social movements have forced oil and gas companies to acknowledge that fossil fuels are dirty and dangerous, leading to a variety of climate pledges and ‘plans,'” said Oil Change campaigner Myriam Douo. The Big Oil Reality Check report reveals that oil and gas corporations are more interested in looking like they are acting on climate change than actually acting on climate change.”

“They spend billions on smoke and mirrors to try to fool us into believing they have solutions for a livable planet when, in reality, they are perpetuating harm to the climate and local communities while trying to suck every last ounce of profit out of their dirty fossil fuel business,” Douo concluded.

All told, Rystand energy data suggests that the combined production of the eight companies will be 17% by 2030 than they were last year.

“Such an increase in production on a global scale would put the world on a path towards global heating well beyond 2°C, locking in destruction of vulnerable communities and ecosystems,” the report authors wrote.

The report finds that all of the companies intend to rely on unproven carbon capture technology or offsets schemes to meet their claimed emission-reduction goals and have continued to spend money on lobbying against climate action and greenwashing their own activities since the agreement in Paris.

Further, no company has plans consistent with ensuring a just transition or protecting human rights. In one recent and urgent example, ExxonMobil, Chevron, TotalEnergies, BP, Shell, and Eni all continue to provide Israel with crude oil despite “the Israeli military’s ongoing assault on Palestinian civilians, ecosystems, and infrastructure in Gaza and mounting evidence of war crimes,” a March Oil Change investigation found.

The report comes nearly half a year after world leaders agreed to contribute to “transitioning away from fossil fuels” at the COP28 U.N. climate change conference in Dubai. In light of its conclusions, Oil Change called on governments to take action to further a just transition:

  1. Stop permitting or approving new fossil fuel projects or infrastructure;
  2. Set a Paris-aligned date for phasing out fossil fuel production;
  3. End subsidies and financing for fossil fuels and false solutions like carbon capture;
  4. Use tax policy to incentivize against investing in fossil fuels;
  5. Craft a just transition, including by making polluters pay for cleanup and reparations; and
  6. Passing laws to protect human rights and Indigenous rights and giving communities a legal mechanism to seek redress from corporate polluters.

Oil Change also argued that governments in the Global North should hold companies headquartered within their borders accountable for harm abroad and put money into funds to enable the Global South to transition to renewable energy, adapt to climate change, and pay for inevitable loss and damage.

“This year’s Big Oil Reality Check makes it clearer than ever—we cannot trust fossil fuel corporations to do anything but line the pockets of their CEOs and investors at the cost of our climate and communities,” Rosenbluth said. “People around the world are rising up to end the era of fossil fuels and build a just energy system that puts climate and communities first.”

Original article by OLIVIA ROSANE republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

Continue Reading‘Climate Arsonists’: 8 Major Oil Companies Fail to Align With Paris Agreement
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BP and Shell Funded Group Was Sunak Government’s Most Popular Think Tank in 2023

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Original article by Andrew Kersley republished from DeSmog

An Onward event at the 2022 Conservative Party conference featuring Cabinet minister Michael Gove. Credit: PA Images / Alamy

Ministers met with Onward, accused of being “a fossil fuel dinosaur in new clothing”, more than any other think tank last year.

An oil and gas funded group had the most registered meetings with government ministers among all think tanks last year, DeSmog can reveal.

Onward describes itself as a think tank bringing “bold and practical ideas for the centre right”. Since its launch in 2018 it has gone through a meteoric rise, quickly becoming one of Westminster’s most influential think tanks.

DeSmog analysed the meetings of every government department in 2023 and found that ministers met with the group on 17 occasions across the year, an average of well over once a month and more than any other think tank.

Onward doesn’t disclose full details of its funding but unlike many think tanks it publicly shares the list of organisations that have donated “more than £5,000 twice a year” to the group.

Its list of funders in the first half of 2023 included several oil and gas giants, including Shell, BP, and Equinor. These three companies are also listed as members of Onward’s ‘Business Network’, which is open to those who donate £12,000 a year. In exchange, Onward says that it offers its members quarterly “invitations to private roundtables with senior policymakers and opinion formers”.

Onward offers other perks to its Business Network members, including the opportunity to see its reports before they are published, though it insists that donors are precluded from influencing the contents of its publications.

In the second half of the year, Onward also received funding from Lord Michael Spencer, a Tory mega-donor and former party treasurer who holds shares in oil and gas companies.

Onward’s corporate supporters included Drax, the UK’s largest single source of CO2 emissions. Drax is the operator of a major wood pellet burning power station in Yorkshire that receives billions of pounds in government environmental subsidies despite producing millions of tonnes of carbon emissions a year while burning trees from historic woodlands.

“Onward might sound progressive, but it looks suspiciously like a fossil fuel dinosaur in new clothing,” Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer told DeSmog.

“With so much fossil fuel money oiling the wheels of Westminster it is small wonder the Tories are maxing out oil and gas licences and have granted approval for Rosebank, the largest undeveloped oilfield in the North Sea.

“It’s time to break the links between government and fossil fuel funded think tanks and engage instead in a bit of blue sky thinking.”

Onward’s meetings in 2023 included two with ministers from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ), which is responsible for the government’s climate policies. 

One of those meetings, held in June with Net Zero Minister Andrew Bowie, was to discuss the role of hydrogen in the transition to net zero.

Though it’s widely acknowledged that hydrogen will have a role in decarbonising some industrial processes, it has become the subject of growing controversy. Experts have warned that exaggerating the potential of the technology risks delaying climate action by distracting from the transition to renewable energies. Hydrogen is favoured by gas companies, as it is often made using natural gas and deploys existing infrastructure. 

As a result, hydrogen continues to be the subject of a major lobbying effort in Westminster.

Vested interests, including oil and gas companies, have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds in recent years sponsoring political party conferences and parliamentary advocacy groups, advocating for the role of hydrogen in the clean energy transition. 

UK gas infrastructure operator National Gas hosted an Onward event at the 2023 Conservative conference on the UK’s “need” for hydrogen, entitled “Gassed up”.

An Onward spokesperson said that as a not-for-profit organisation the group relies “entirely on the generosity of our network to support our research programme”, which allows the group to “routinely meet and share our research with government and shadow ministers”.

They stressed that they “do not take commissions from companies or government for specific pieces of research” giving the group “complete editorial control over our priorities and conclusions”.

Onward and Tufton Street

Onward is currently led by former Financial Times journalist Sebastian Payne, who is attempting to become a Conservative parliamentary candidate. 

The think tank’s advisory board and board of directors are manned by Conservative MPs and peers, former Conservative Party treasurers, and business figures. Current Net Zero Secretary Claire Coutinho was a member of the Onward advisory board prior to her appointment to the Cabinet. 

When Rishi Sunak became prime minister in October 2022, it was reported that Onward alumni had taken up several advisory posts in his government – the second highest number of any think tank. Sunak’s deputy chief of staff Will Tanner, who leads on policy, is the co-founder and former director of Onward. 

Onward alumni were only outnumbered by former staff members of Policy Exchange, a right-wing think tank that formerly employed Sunak. Policy Exchange has received funding from fossil fuel giant ExxonMobil, and has been credited by Sunak for helping to draft laws that have cracked down on climate protests. DeSmog has also revealed that Shell and BP were allowed “ample opportunity” to shape a Policy Exchange report on carbon taxes that was later endorsed by Sunak’s government. 

Over the last year, the prime minister has also overseen a row-back of several key climate pledges. In July, Sunak confirmed that his government planned to issue hundreds of new oil and gas licences, a move condemned by opposition MPs and charities. Oxfam’s climate policy adviser Lyndsay Walsh said the move “will send a wrecking ball through the UK’s climate commitments”.

Sunak has said his government intends to “max out” the UK’s oil and gas reserves, and has legislated to introduce annual North Sea licensing rounds. This is despite the International Energy Agency stating that new fossil fuel exploration is “incompatible” with the Paris Agreement target of limiting global heating to 1.5C. 

Regulators also approved government plans for the development of the controversial Rosebank oil field, operated by Equinor, even though the project has been dubbed a “carbon bomb” by environmental law charity ClientEarth.

In September, the government scrapped a number of net zero pledges, including pushing back a ban on the sale of combustion engine vehicles, and weakening plans to phase out gas boilers.

Sunak’s predecessor Liz Truss had close ties to a number of “free market” think tanks based in and around 55 Tufton Street, Westminster. This included the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), a think tank that was funded by BP for at least 50 years. Former IEA director general Mark Littlewood said that Truss had spoken at IEA events more than “any other politician over the past 12 years”, and the pair have now launched the group Popular Conservatism to lobby for more libertarian policies.

DeSmog found that the IEA met with ministers on nine occasions in 2023, almost half as many as Onward.

Original article by Andrew Kersley republished from DeSmog

Rishi Sunak on stopping Rosebank says that any chancellor can stop his huge 91% subsidy to build Rosebank, that Keir Starmer is as bad as him for sucking up to Murdoch and other plutocrats and that we (the plebs) need to get organised to elect MPs that will stop Rosebank.
Rishi Sunak on stopping Rosebank says that any chancellor can stop his huge 91% subsidy to build Rosebank, that Keir Starmer is as bad as him for sucking up to Murdoch and other plutocrats and that we (the plebs) need to get organised to elect MPs that will stop Rosebank.
Image of InBedWithBigOil by Not Here To Be Liked + Hex Prints from Just Stop Oil's You May Find Yourself... art auction. Featuring Rishi Sunak, Fossil Fuels and Rupert Murdoch.
Image of InBedWithBigOil by Not Here To Be Liked + Hex Prints from Just Stop Oil’s You May Find Yourself… art auction. Featuring Rishi Sunak, Fossil Fuels and Rupert Murdoch.
Continue ReadingBP and Shell Funded Group Was Sunak Government’s Most Popular Think Tank in 2023
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