The think tank analyzed 3,421 pieces of public communications material for 2021 across the five companies and found that 60% of their messages contained at least one “green” claim.
InfluenceMap then calculated how much energy companies expected to spend on green investments last year and found that on average only 12% of their investment budgets were spent on what the companies themselves consider as low-carbon or renewable activities.
In some cases, these numbers are on the rise. Shell, for example, says it plans to spend 12% of its capital expenditure on renewable energy this year, up from 10% in 2021. And the company noted that the InfluenceMap analysis does not account for investments outside of its Renewables and Energy Solutions division — investments such as electric vehicle charging, biofuels and sustainable aviation fuel, which climate scientists say are important in the effort to wean ourselves off fossil fuels.
Still, InfluenceMap says the business imbalance between “green” messaging and investment is stark.
It appears to be part of a “systematic campaign to portray ourselves as pro-climate to the public,” InfluenceMap program manager Faye Holder told CNN. “In the meantime, what we are seeing is continued investment in this unsustainable energy system – primarily for fossil fuels.”
InfluenceMap also estimated that companies spend around $750 million each year cumulatively on climate-related communications activities, based on the number of communications employees companies employ. The think tank said in a statement that this figure does not include the cost of external advertising or PR agencies, so the actual amount is likely “significantly higher”.
“It appears to be just an evolution of the tactics used by Big Oil to try to delay action on climate change,” Holder said.
Overemphasis on green messages
The big five oil companies “distort their core business activities” by “overemphasizing energy transition technologies” and green campaigns in their public relations, InfluenceMap said.
The report revealed several types of “green” claims used by oil and gas companies in their 2021 public communications, the most popular of which emphasized their support for the effort to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. The second most popular type of claim focused on support for emission reductions.
Of the five companies, Shell had the biggest disconnect between pro-climate messages and investments in “low-carbon” activities, according to InfluenceMap, followed by ExxonMobil.
The analysis found that Shell used “green” claims in 70% of messaging, while only 10% of its spend was on low-carbon investments. Shell says it expects that figure to rise to 12% in 2022.
Meanwhile, Exxon had green claims in 65% of posts, compared to 8% of green investment spending. ExxonMobil told CNN it is “investing more than $15 billion by 2027 in low-emissions initiatives” and the company expects its green investments to triple by 2025.
Lobbying reveals focus on fossil fuels
InfluenceMap also noted that these five companies continue to lobby policymakers to lock fossil fuels into climate policy.
The report notes that InfluenceMap “found evidence that every company except TotalEnergies was directly engaging decision makers to advocate for policies encouraging new oil and gas development in 2021-22.”
“We urge all companies to re-examine their lobbying, political spending and participation in trade associations to ensure that their actions are fully aligned with their public statements on climate change,” the WRI said in a 2021 statement. .
“API member companies continue to invest in innovation, research and best practices to further reduce GHG emissions and address the climate challenge,” said API’s Senior Vice President of Communications. , Megan Bloomgren, to CNN in a statement.
In a statement to CNN, a Shell spokesperson said the company was “already investing billions of dollars in low-carbon energy.”
“To help change the energy mix sold by Shell, we need to rapidly develop these new businesses,” the spokesperson said. “That means informing our customers through advertising or social media of the low-carbon solutions we currently offer or are developing, so they can switch when the time is right.”
An Exxon spokesperson told CNN the company is aiming for net-zero emissions in its operations by 2050, and noted that it had met its 2025 emissions reduction goal four years early.
“ExxonMobil is investing more than $15 billion by 2027 in low-emissions initiatives, and we expect investments to triple by 2025,” the spokesperson said in an email. “This reflects our commitment to reducing our own emissions and our confidence in market adoption of low-emission solutions, such as [carbon capture and storage]hydrogen and biofuels.”
A TotalEnergies spokesperson said: “Our public announcements policy reflects the transformation of TotalEnergies into a multi-energy company.” TotalEnergies also noted that the report shows it has the largest planned renewable energy capacity among the oil companies analyzed.
CNN also asked BP and Chevron for comment but did not receive a response.
“The world will still need oil and gas for many years to come,” the Shell spokesman added. “Investing in these will ensure we can deliver the energy people will still need to rely on, while low-carbon alternatives are brought to scale.”
Yet the United Nations Environment Program has noted that current global levels of oil and gas production will not meet the climate ambitions of the Paris Agreement.
Soaring energy prices
The InfluenceMap report, which highlights relatively low levels of business spending on green investments, comes as energy prices are soaring in Europe, while major oil companies continue to post strong profits.
Exxon made nearly $17.9 billion in profit between April and June, nearly four times what it earned in the same period in 2021. Chevron posted a profit of $11.6 billion , while Shell earned $11.5 billion.
This story has been updated to include a statement from the American Petroleum Institute.
CNN’s Anna Cooban and Julia Horowitz contributed to this report.
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