BP CEO advocates for shareholder returns while navigating green goals, sparking contentious debate amongst environmental activists. Here’s the full story.
Won’t Somebody Think of the Oil Companies?
As humanity finds itself on a planet whose rapid overuse of scant resources leads to an impending climate catastrophe, few companies can claim as much blame as the giant oil and gas corporations.
The Pushback Begins
As these mega polluters come under increasing pressure to align their operations with global sustainability goals, the pushback from the companies in question has begun.
The Wheel Turns
In particular, BP, under the new leadership of Murray Auchincloss, has this week begun the slow push of public perception against sustainability targets in favor of shareholder returns.
Redefining the English Language
Auchincloss has already begun to row back on previous emission reduction goals set by the company, marking a distinction between “aims” and “targets.”
BP had aspired to reduce oil and gas emissions by 20-30% from 2019 levels by the end of the decade, already a less concrete statement of intent.
When Is a Target Not a Target?
However, Auchincloss has now moved the goalposts on this “aim” – not to be confused with a “target” – which is not dependent on previous statements from the company but instead on investment decisions for the future.
Despite this ambiguity, the company claims to remain steadfast in its vision to transition into a net-zero carbon energy company by 2050.
The World as a Cost/Benefit Analysis
BP can hardly claim poverty, as the company has been remarkably resilient in recent turbulent times. In 2022, the company earned $27.7 billion, followed by a meager $13.8 billion in 2023.
Half as Much Money Is Still a Lot of Money
Despite this halving of profits from the previous year, where the Ukraine war drove up the price of oil and gas, BP still brought in almost unimaginable sums of money.
The drop from the record high in 2022, however, is a convenient excuse for BP to begin, ever so slowly, to row back on its environmental goals.
Adding Fuel to the Fire
Unsurprisingly, for those of us who don’t sleep atop a hoard of gold like a dragon in a fantasy story, Auchincloss’s strategy to forever increase the company’s value to shareholders in favor of its environmental objectives has sparked controversy.
One Little Spark
BP has oiled the fire of controversy surrounding its recent statements by announcing $3.5 billion in share buybacks, with activists arguing that BP’s payouts should instead be directed towards green initiatives.
Despite the furor around BP’s questionable allocation of its massive resources, the market responded positively to its financial performance, with a 5% increase in share value following its latest earnings report.
Shareholders vs Activists
This upward trajectory shows that the investors have confidence in the company’s direction following Auchincloss’s statements, much to the dismay of environmental activists.
Meet the New Boss
Auchincloss took over the role of CEO following the departure of his predecessor, Bernard Looney, who resigned amidst revelations regarding past relationships with colleagues.
Same as the Old Boss
Following Looney’s departure from the role, many of the company’s environmental goals have suffered a similar fall from grace.
Hurting the Bottom Line
BP’s recent change of heart regarding its professed commitment to sustainability is emblematic of broader industry shifts as they, and the world on the brink of climate catastrophe they have helped to create, attempt to grapple with the necessary transition to renewable energy sources.
Diversifying Energy Sources
While the company has made extraordinary claims that it has diversified its energy portfolio through investments in solar, battery storage, and electric vehicle infrastructure, the question remains on how focused the company will be on committing to these changes when it starts to hurt its profitability.
Money, Money, Money
While BP and other oil and gas companies like it have made extraordinary claims about their commitment to decarbonization and helping to fix the environmental problems created and, for many of them, worked in the 1970s and 80’s to cover up, this most recent news further encapsulates the issues that arise when companies lofty goals meet the real world of shareholder interests.
Fixing the Problem You Created
Under Auchincloss’s leadership, it seems that one of the companies that gifted the world the current dire situation we find ourselves in, pragmatic leadership is the order of the day.
At the same time, environmental interests fall by the wayside. The outcome this change of heart will have on the planet remains to be seen.
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