Carbon Footprint: More Transparency from Oil Companies?


The carbon footprint of individuals and businesses is a global concern. However, it is difficult to quantify. Oil companies have played on the concept by helping to set up footprint calculators such as VYVE. But environmental groups denounce the interest of these companies in blaming individuals. Not only are they asking for greater involvement in the energy transition. But they also expect more transparency about their carbon output.

Carbon footprint or environmental propaganda?

A hijacked concept to make individuals more responsible?

The term “carbon footprint” was coined in 1992 by William Rees, a professor of ecology at the University of British Columbia. Since its creation, it seems to be caught between the responsibilities of individuals and the duties of companies and governments. It is now significant of the issues related to global warming.

Indeed, in 2000, BP launched an advertising campaign called “Beyond Petroleum” on this concept. Four years later, BP unveiled its first carbon footprint calculator. The goal was to make BP an environmentally conscious company. In this sense, it recently expressed its willingness to involve its employees in its energy and ecological objectives.

In an article published on the news site Mashable, some communications experts denounced the term “carbon footprint.” The latter, they say, is a form of “propaganda” about fossil fuels. The emphasis on personal responsibility shifts the focus of climate change from governments and businesses to individuals.

The Covid-19 pandemic reveals the “negligible” impact of individuals

The Covid-19 pandemic has proven the minimal environmental impact of individuals.

Indeed, many international borders have been closed and populations have been confined. Consumption habits as well as the transport sector in particular have therefore naturally been impacted. In particular, the Global Carbon Project estimates that containment has reduced global emissions from the transportation sector by 7.5%.

In contrast, an analysis published in the journal Nature Climate Change in August 2020 called the overall effect “negligible.” There has been a marked decrease in global CO2 emissions (more than 25%) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) of 30% in April 2020. But the researchers found that this will impact global warming by only 0.01C° by 2030.

Carbon production: impact and initiative of the oil sector

2050 as an unattainable horizon?

While the concept of “carbon footprint” tends to weigh on individuals, many large corporations are committed to reducing their emissions. It is increasingly positioning itself as part of the solution.

Shell, for example, plans to reach net zero by 2050. Exxon, for its part, has first committed to disclose its emissions figures. The company then set short-term goals to reduce emissions, methane and gas flaring. Total has also committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050, and to that end, to develop more than 100 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2030.

Occidental Petrolum plans “carbon neutral oil

Some experts hope to use new technologies to reduce carbon emissions from large operations. They talk about sequestering CO2, capturing it. That’s whatOccidental Petroleum is planning to do with a huge facility in West Texas.

The goal is to draw carbon dioxide from the air and then pump it underground. The carbon would then be used to loosen the oil that might otherwise be too difficult to reach.

This process is called “enhanced oil recovery”. It was named by Nuñez-López, a researcher at the University of Texas Gulf Coast Carbon Center.

For environmentalists, this solution would only prolong the use of fossil fuels. Nuñez-López and other experts respond by explaining that the economy still needs these fuels for some time. The short-term objective is therefore to reduce their climate impact.

In addition, other less institutional actors are also seeking to invest in techniques to reduce, or at least exploit, carbon emissions. This is what Elon Musk is proposing, promising $100 million to anyone who, according to him, can find the best carbon capture technique.

Towards greater transparency in the oil sector?

BlackRock puts pressure on oil companies

BlackRock, the world’s largest investor, said oil companies and other polluting industries should disclose their carbon emissions. While also setting rigorous short, medium and long term objectives to reduce them.

Investors have long emphasized the need for improved ESG data to augment sustainable investment strategies. Today, over 85% of S&P 500 companies disclose ESG data. Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) disclosures have increased 288% since January 2020.

By positioning itself in this way, BlackBlock hopes to target net zero carbon emissions in its portfolio by 2050. It is also considering divesting from polluters who have failed to act.

The group emphasized that the UN-backed science-based target initiative is the best example of a verified and reliable emissions reduction program. Targets are set to align companies with the goals of the 2015Paris Agreement.

BP supports the development of the VYVE carbon footprint calculator

According to Capper, founder of VYVE, governments, businesses and individuals must all take action. Coupled with promises to reduce carbon emissions, VYVE wants to be seen as part of a serious global effort.

Carbon offsets will play a role in helping VYVE companies and users achieve net zero emissions. The app would help people do this through “benchmark offset projects.”

This new carbon tracking application is supported by a BP subsidiary called Launchpad. This venture capital type group funds low-carbon start-ups.

A criticized support

Because of this support, VYVE is facing a lot of criticism. By focusing on individuals, businesses would be likely to fail to fight to reduce their own carbon footprint. BP spokesman David Nicholas cited the company’s new targets as an indicator of good faith:

“Within a decade, it is likely that BP’s investment in low-carbon energy will increase 10-fold, with oil and gas production declining by one million barrels per day, or 40 percent.”

Today, the transparency of interests is a subject of debate. In response, Burke, president of the environmental think tank E3G and a former BP advisor, suggested that VYVE should be clearer. For example, by posting a list of BP board members on its website.

In short, a more responsible industry requires concrete guarantees from oil companies. This requires greater transparency of their carbon output. But the road ahead is still long, as the trade-off between environmental protection and economic profits is so difficult today.

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