Big oil and gas companies are spending tens of millions publicising their environmental work, while only about a 10th of their investment goes into low-carbon development, a report claims.
A comprehensive study of public communications from five oil and gas firms by InfluenceMap, a climate finance thinktank, found that 60% of the publicity made at least one claim highlighting the companies’ positive climate actions. But on average, the five companies devoted only 12% of capital expenditure to low-carbon activities – and this included some gas projects.
Less than a quarter of the publicity material highlighted the companies’ fossil fuel activities, InfluenceMap said, which suggested that the companies were spending about $750m a year on communications aimed at burnishing their climate credentials.
Researchers looked at 3,421 public communications materials published by BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell and TotalEnergies in 2021, including articles and blogposts on corporate websites, press releases, reports, speeches and company and CEO social media accounts.
The researchers did not look at adverts as it was not possible for them to obtain a full data set of any company’s global advertising
They found that 60% of the publicity meterial made at least one green claim, with the most popular being centred on efforts to “transition the energy mix”. However, analysis of the capital expenditure of the five companies found that all were forecast to increase their oil and gas production, with the exception of BP, which was expected to have similar levels in 2026 as in 2021.
“Essentially, we found that big oil is spending millions of dollars on this green PR, and it is a really systematic campaign to portray themselves as pro-climate,” said Faye Holder, program manager at InfluenceMap. “But at the same time, they are still lobbying to lock in fossil fuels and investing in a really unsustainable energy future with high levels of oil and gas, and very low spend on low-carbon activities.”
None of the “About us” pages on the firms’ websites described them as oil and gas companies, Holder said. “The best instance, in my mind, was BP – on their ‘Who we are’ page, they only mention the word ‘oil’ twice. And it’s at the bottom of the page, under a section called ‘Our history’, where they describe how they have always been a transitioning energy company, from coal to oil to gas to this lower-carbon future.
“So it’s really clear they want to dissociate themselves from oil and gas, and attach themselves to this climate agenda.”
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