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BP’s Net Zero Accounting Trick

February 14, 2020

By Paul Homewood


 BP has been in the news lately, with its announcement that it is going Net Zero by 2050:





And this is how they intend to do it:



Now, you may be puzzled how you can carry on producing oil and gas, but not emit any CO2 when you burn it.

And so are many others!

And if you believe that this is all just a bit of virtue signalling PR by BP, you may be right.

The BP presentation is hopelessly vague as to how it is going to achieve all of this. But Greenpeace have suspicions of their own. Here’s their take, which I suspect is not a million miles away from what will happen:



Update: Bernard Looney’s speech about BP’s net zero carbon ambition left the urgent questions unanswered. The handful of answers he did provide showed BP isn’t serious about tackling climate breakdown.

When you cut away the fat, here’s what’s left: Bernard Looney isn’t going to stop BP drilling for new oil and gas.

Reinventing BP – as the speech was titled – means a little bit less oil and gas, and a little bit more renewable energy. But the core business won’t change. “BP is going to be in the oil and gas business for a very long time,” he said. “That’s a fact.”

Does this meet the needs of the climate? Absolutely not.

BP has a problem. On the one hand, it wants to be seen as a responsible company, one that is taking the climate emergency with the seriousness it deserves. On the other, it still makes huge profits from digging up the very fossil fuels that caused the emergency in the first place.

Fortunately, BP has a solution. A change at the top will help reshape the company for this new, hotter world. Out goes the hard-nosed oil men of old, in comes someone more in tune with the sensibilities of our modern times. Someone who can deliver BP’s charm offensive to persuade the world that it’s serious about the climate crisis.

Bernard Looney is that person. Or is he? He says he understands the frustrations of people who feel BP is not moving quickly enough to cut its share of global emissions, and “shares their deep concern”. People like the Greenpeace activists who shut down BP’s head office in London on his first day in the job. But Looney was head of oil drilling at BP for years, and beneath the shiny green veneer lies someone who plans to keep drilling for oil for years to come.

BP’s net-zero carbon ambition needs to be: stop drilling oil

Looney will reveal just how much he gets it, as he delivers his maiden speech as BP CEO. He will lay out his vision of how the company will respond to the climate crisis.

In truth, Looney only needs to say one thing. That BP will stop drilling for new oil and gas, right now.

BP is projected to invest $71 billion over the next decade in finding new oil and gas. But this can’t be burnt if there’s to be any chance of keeping temperature increases below 1.5ºC. There’s a global agreement to meet this target and avoid climate breakdown, but it’s in jeopardy until BP decides to stop digging up more fossil fuels.

And Looney needs to go further. To stick to the 1.5ºC target, production from existing oil and gas fields needs to be cut – 9% for oil and 6% for gas. In other words, the oil and gas already discovered needs to be left in the ground. So not only is there no space for any new oil or gas, Looney needs to announce that BP will leave some of the oil and gas in its existing fields untouched.

BP’s plan will rely on net-zero carbon tricks

In reality, Looney’s speech won’t say anything like this. Instead, he will say that BP will become net zero carbon by 2050. At face value, this sounds great. But it’s a smokescreen, designed to draw attention from the fact that BP has no intention of ramping down the oil and gas investments.

Net zero carbon is an accounting trick, based on the idea that someone else will clean up any carbon emissions BP is responsible for. BP will continue with its $71 billion plan to release even more carbon into the atmosphere, but will ‘offset’ those emissions elsewhere or rely on new technologies that don’t exist.

That’s the theory. In practice, it doesn’t work like that.

Offsetting and carbon capture are false solutions

Offsetting means doing something that will cancel out BP’s emissions. Planting trees to draw down and store carbon is one example – expect Looney to talk a lot about trees. But this approach is fraught with problems.

Trees take a long time to grow. To be effective, BP would need to guarantee these trees would survive for decades. And while planting trees and restoring forests is good, BP would need a mind-boggling number of trees to take care of its emissions. Shell’s CEO has talked of planting “another Brazil in terms of rainforest” to meet the 1.5ºC target.

More trees are definitely needed, and forests need to be restored to tackle the climate crisis. But it’s a terrible idea to let BP pump out carbon emissions now in the hope that someone else will plant trillions of tree later to make up for it.

What about new technologies? Looney will no doubt refer to carbon capture and storage, sucking carbon out of the atmosphere and squirrelling it away. The problem is this technology is unproven and doesn’t exist at the scale BP would need to reach net zero carbon.

And above all, whatever magic tricks Looney relies on, BP will still be pumping out fossil fuels. Once burnt, that carbon will heat the planet further still and the climate crisis will only get escalate. The only solution is to cut those emissions at source, by burning less oil and gas.

BP’s net zero carbon ambition might sound impressive, but means little in practice. The truth lies in where BP puts its money – pumping billions of dollars into new oil and gas shows it’s not serious about climate change.

BP: switch to 100% renewable energy

BP’s net-zero carbon ambition won’t stop the climate emergency. The only choice BP has is to stop drilling for oil and gas, and go all out for clean, renewable energy instead.


When you drill into the detail, there are plenty of way BP can “cheat” the system, and not at a crippling cost.

Carbon offsets, for instance, are little more than a scam. The Energysage website, for instance, reckons that worldwide, the range of carbon offset prices in the voluntary offset market can be anywhere from $0.10 per tonne to $44.80 per tonne. Even at the top rate, BP could offset all of its 415 Mt of emissions for $18bn, a price worth paying if it allows them to carry on business as usual.

And I am perfectly sure there are many countries more than happy to provide dodgy offset schemes for much less.

And as Greenpeace point out, planting trees is not panacea it is made out to be.

Expect as well the buying up of renewable energy certificates, in the same way that “green energy companies” do now. Again, these have zero effect on emissions, as the renewable energy is already being produced. And I am sure there will be a burgeoning market abroad, which will be happy to sell them off cheap, no questions asked.

We can also expect BP to ramp up investments in renewable energy projects, where this can be profitable. Often this will simply involve buying up existing operations, which will have zero impact on global emissions but make BP’s balance sheet look a bit greener.

Even if they fund new renewable projects, this still won’t actually reduce emissions from the oil and gas they produce.

The final catch all is new technology. If CCS can be made to work, maybe BP will one day be able to produce all of the oil and gas it wants, safe in the knowledge that it can be burnt emission free.

But I suspect that is still a long way in the future. Until then the world still needs their product, with or without green accounting tricks.

  1. Peter F Gill permalink
    February 14, 2020 7:17 pm

    The statement at the top “BP’s Net Zero by 2050” may have been made by a looney. I looked it up. There is more than one spelling but it is clear that even a quite mild definition is “extremely or senselessly foolish”. I did find one that indicated the milder “foolish or ridiculous”.

  2. It doesn't add up... permalink
    February 14, 2020 7:35 pm

    Greenpeace do demonstrate in their analysis that the idea of zero carbon is….looney.

    • February 14, 2020 10:30 pm

      For net zero read not zero. But it’s all irrelevant anyway as the premise of a carbon dioxide problem is false – there is no greenhouse.

  3. Keith Holland permalink
    February 14, 2020 8:01 pm

    I have tried writing to Conservative H Q today asking them to spell out for everyone in the country exactly what will carbon neutral will mean and exactly what the impact will be on the lives of each one of us.
    Don’t hold your breath for any reply!

    • Adam Gallon permalink
      February 15, 2020 8:33 am

      You’ll get waffle, if anything at all.

    • cajwbroomhill permalink
      February 15, 2020 10:59 pm

      Why do sensible business people and industrialists take any notice of the zero carbon madness or the “green charities”?
      BP exist to make money by keeping the world going by providing vital energy, without which it’s us all, including the ER and suchlike nutters back to the stone age.
      It is time the politicos followed Donald Trump’s lead in this field.
      N.B., China and India believe the same good sense.

      • OldCynic permalink
        February 16, 2020 4:07 am

        cajwbroomhill Sensible question, sir. I think that the reason they do this is not because they believe that there is any sort of climate problem, rather they believe that there is a Marketing or Appearance problem. They don’t want to be targeted by climate activists and shareholder activists, so instead they pump out all sorts of “waffle”. BP shareholders – don’t worry! BP will spend some money on high profile “eco” projects and research, but behind the scenes they will carry on as before. They figure this strategy is the best way to preserve shareholder value.

  4. David permalink
    February 14, 2020 8:22 pm

    Planting trees can be quite nice in some places but surely any land will grow some plants that will absorb CO2. Farmland does. Grass and weeds do. Surely to grow all these forests will take useful agricultural land which will make us even more dependent on food imports. And once these forests have matured, how are we going to be sure they will not decay and produce ever more CO2? They will have to be made into furniture and wooden houses that must last forever!

    • Gerry, England permalink
      February 15, 2020 1:10 pm

      Most forest clearance is for farming or housing – or ridiculously expensive white elephant rail lines – or for growing other trees like palms for their oil.

      • Peter F Gill permalink
        February 15, 2020 2:12 pm

        Incisive comments Gerry. I guess this whole area is a diversification exercise from your more normal gerrymandering activities?

    • dennisambler permalink
      February 15, 2020 5:37 pm

      While trees provide carbon storage, forestry is not a permanent solution because trees and soil also “breathe” — that is, burn oxygen and release carbon dioxide back into the air. Eventually, all of the carbon finds its way back into the atmosphere when trees die or burn.

      Moreover, it is a myth that photosynthesis controls the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere.

      Even if all photosynthesis on the planet were shut down, the atmosphere’s oxygen content would change by less than 1 percent.

      The Amazon rain forest is often perceived as the lungs of the planet.

      In fact, almost all the oxygen the Amazon produces during the day remains there and is reabsorbed by the forest at night.

      In other words, the Amazon rain forest is a closed system that uses all its own oxygen and carbon dioxide.”

      Amazon River CO2 outgassing equals Rainforest sequestration:
      “Evaluation of Primary Production in the Lower Amazon River Based on a Dissolved Oxygen Stable Isotopic Mass Balance”

      “The Amazon River outgasses nearly an equivalent amount of CO2 as the rainforest sequesters on an annual basis due to microbial decomposition of terrigenous and aquatic organic matter.

      The Amazon River is a major source of CO2 to the atmosphere, but understanding the interplay between photosynthesis and respiration is critical for understanding the fundamental mechanisms driving these fluxes and the overall productivity of the ecosystem.”

  5. Stuart Brown permalink
    February 14, 2020 8:27 pm

    Doesn’t this just say that BP intend to emit less CO2 digging up oil and gas? (with a hopeful target of tending to zero by 2050) That is, not counting the CO2 emitted by burning their product? If they were producing copper or clay for bricks there would be no confusion.

    And what does ‘reduce the carbon intensity of our products by 50%’ mean anyway? Methane is 20% carbon by number of atoms, oil a lot more. Selling more gas would help by that measure.

    Maybe ‘increase the investment in non-oil and gas’ means sell more wind turbines until they reach 50% of products don’t have carbon in them? Maybe 50% of the value since a ton of wind turbines is probably more expensive than 20% of a ton of gas?

    Bonkers, except for brownie points and for diversifying in an uncertain market…

  6. February 14, 2020 8:32 pm

    “BP’s plan will rely on net-zero carbon tricks” As does all the lying scumbags in the environmental movement. IT’S ALL A LIE and always was. So stop complaining about an oil company using the EXACT SAME tricks you enviros and activists have been beating people over the head with for decades.

  7. markl permalink
    February 14, 2020 8:46 pm

    BP has fallen into the scam and is being played by the Ecoloons and the UN. All this means is BP will fork over money to their extortioners and in return get a free pass on CO2. There will be no reduction in CO2 but there will be an increase in fuel prices paid by the people. This is how gangs work. Pay or fall prey to unimaginable consequences that wouldn’t be there anyway.

  8. Harry Passfield permalink
    February 14, 2020 9:09 pm

    My God! Can’t they quarantine idiots like these and stop them infecting so many of the rest of the world with their diseased brain-farts? The man should at least be sectioned.

  9. Harry Passfield permalink
    February 14, 2020 9:34 pm

    It occurs to me that Looney, and the many politicians and the glitterati, who are virtue-signalling an end to FF in 25-30 years’ time are banking on either, they won’t be here to see the havoc they have caused, or, they think that the scam will have been sussed before then and it will all be BAU.
    Of course, the green loonies of this world today, having already called for a ‘Nuremberg’ trial for ‘deniers’, should beware that it is not they who will stand trial for totally wrecking the democracies of the West.
    I don’t know about the present but my grandson is going to live in very interesting times.

  10. bluecat57 permalink
    February 14, 2020 9:35 pm

    Isn’t “net zero” the same thing as “trick?

  11. Adamsson permalink
    February 14, 2020 10:56 pm

    Looney by name looney by nature

  12. February 14, 2020 11:41 pm

    Another way to net zero is to buy blue carbon credits or invest in the blue carbon initiative.

  13. Athelstan. permalink
    February 14, 2020 11:49 pm

    Big Oil is cue canned laughter going green! This farcical climate scam circus and virtue signalling advertising: just gets dafter.

    A scramble it is, the great greem scam and purchasing indulgences ‘carbon credits’ truly we have entered a loonytoons world. A mad, bad world where, the investment banksters rub their hands, they are the middlemen, skimming on the scam, all the way along ‘the pipeline’ as it were.

    Don’t take my word for it, follow the money and ask, who has the most to gain and who are the losers – and er no prizes for guessing the latter.

  14. Broadlands permalink
    February 15, 2020 12:40 am

    A simple observation is that ‘renewables’ do not transport people and the goods and services they need. World-wide transportation needs carbon fuels. Moving to net zero by lowering carbon fuel emissions doesn’t even lower the billions of tons of CO2 that have already been added. In fact, that cannot be done instantly, so that every year on the way to this net-zero goal “we” must add a little bit more. In the end (2050?) the atmosphere could contain as much as 500 ppm, if not more. A totally silly ‘trick’ that will be very costly if followed very far. Fuel shortages, rationing and skyrocketing costs. There are no winners.

  15. Stephen Lord permalink
    February 15, 2020 12:47 am

    Good plan to push the time frame out to where it will be obvious there is no global warming

    • mem permalink
      February 15, 2020 8:06 am

      And a time frame to where you will no longer be personally responsible having taken up residence in the so-called carbon neutral home for the aged which bases its credits on the number of people it removes from the planet more quickly than others.

    • Stonyground permalink
      February 15, 2020 12:15 pm

      It is already obvious that there is no global warming. The much touted record temperatures are always spurious and are records by a few hundredths of a degree. If there really were a problem these records would be tumbling always and everywhere, and by significant amounts.

  16. Iain Reid permalink
    February 15, 2020 8:40 am

    My feeling is that planned actions that BP aim for is playing into the hands of the Green Blob by agreeing with them. They should be making it clear that their activities are essential to sustaining our way of life and well being and the very positive gains from fossil fuels etc.
    While we know that the greens want us to change our life for the worse I don’t believe the general public do but are not really aware what is planned for them. By the time that happens it could be too late
    It doesn’t help that this current government seems intent on the same route, which I find both dissapointing and illogical. A repeal of the Climate Change Act would be beneficial for most even if the greens would go crazy. It certainly would be good for Britain post Brexit, so who will have the courage to do it?

  17. Stonyground permalink
    February 15, 2020 12:18 pm

    Recently there have been ads on the radio urging us all to go carbon neutral with Shell. Same bullshit presumably.

  18. Gamecock permalink
    February 15, 2020 1:10 pm

    The companies recognize the environment they live in.

    They aren’t the problem. It is GOVERNMENT that said Net Zero 2050.

    Old story about testing the intelligence of a puppy. You tease it with a stick. If it bites at the stick, it’s dumb. The intelligent ones bite you. Attacking BP, Shell, is dumb.

  19. Gerry, England permalink
    February 15, 2020 1:14 pm

    Well as long as the dividends keep rolling in I will stay invested in BP, as will most people’s pension funds. No doubt BP have seen the taxpayer cash dished out for renewables and will take that. For all the eco talk remember that Shell dumped a CCS scheme as soon as the taxpayer cash stopped – you couldn’t help but smile as they said they were sure it would be a great thing but obviously not great enough to waste their own – and mine – on pursuing.

  20. Vernon E permalink
    February 15, 2020 2:32 pm

    Maybe BP intends to go into nuclear – they are one of the few companies big enough. But if they do, they had better start now! From physical chemistry considerations there is more chance that fusion can be made to work than CCS.

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