The global oil major with the longest history and the deepest pockets in covertly seeking to discredit climate science has apparently come in from the cold, – or perhaps, from the heat.

ExxonMobil announced yesterday that it eliminate all Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions from its operations by mid-century. It promises to publish details over the next 12 months.   The extent of its intended use of financial tools like carbon offsetting to compensate for, rather than to reduce, its continuing fossil fuel extraction, will then be revealed.

ExxonMobil outlined its intentions yesterday in a new statement of intent, ‘Advancing Climate Solutions 2022‘.

The company’s emission reduction plans for the decade to 2030 are consistent, the document claims, with Paris-aligned pathways, with the U.S. and European Union’s Global Methane Pledge and with the US’s Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan.

All against a 2016 benchmark, Exxon expects its plans announced thus far to achieve by 2030:

  • a 20 to 30% reduction in corporate-wide greenhouse gas intensity and an absolute reduction of approximately 20% (or approximately 23 million metric tons)
  • a 40 to 50% reduction in upstream greenhouse gas intensity and an absolute reduction of approximately 30% (or approximately 15 million metric tons).
  • a 70 to 80% reduction in corporate-wide methane intensity
  • a 60 to 70% reduction in corporate-wide flaring intensity

Absent from yesterday’s undertakings, however, is any mention of Exxon’s Scope 3 emissions. Indirect carbon pollution arising from clients’ usage of hydrocarbon products, dwarfs any oil company’s direct emissions. Competitor extractors Shell & BP have recognised as much in their announcements preceding the US giant.

Bad boy Lee Raymond

In 2017, researchers for the Carbon Majors Report ranked ExxonMobil as fifth among all companies responsible for around 71% of global carbon emissions since 1988.  Excluding state-owned oil companies, Exxon came top.

Institutional investors are increasingly worried at what they see as continuing inadequate mitigation by the world’s biggest non-state oilco of its involvement in imperilling the world’s climate.

Citing this reason Legal and General in 2019 dropped in 2019 Exxon from its Future World funds. Last month Britain’s biggest pension fund Nest divested its Exxon holding for the same reason.

Before its 1999 union with Mobil, then the biggest corporate merger ever, in the 1960s and 1970s Exxon pioneered and sponsored research into hydrocarbon combustion’s effects on the atmosphere.   It sent its scientists to academic conferences on climate science. In August 1979 Exxon also fitted out a supertanker with purpose-built instruments, designed to gather data on ocean acidification and other fossil fuel impacts, including on voyages between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Mexico.

Under the leadership of Lee Raymond starting in 1993, Exxon’s policy of scientific openness was reversed.  The Texan joined other oilcos in the Global Climate Coalition, a lobby group set up opposition to emerging climate science.  It also covertly funding attempts to cloud public knowledge of the emerging discipline.

Raymond stepped down in 2005 to be replaced by Rex Tillerson.   Researchers including academics and NGOs with campaigning organisation ExxonKnew allege that the firm spent $ 30 million under Raymond’s leadership in funding groups or promoting scientists opposed to linking fossil fuel dependence with global warming.

As he retired in September 2002 after nine years as the US government’s chief scientist on climate research, Michael MacCracken wrote personally to Raymond, telling him “you are on the wrong side of history, and you need to find a way to change your position.”


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