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The most ambitious climate pledges from Big Oil are still weak

Leaning on natural gas isn’t enough

View of a gas equipment of Italy’s main Photo by Paco Serinelli / AFP via Getty Images

Another day, another oil giant pledging to fight climate change. Eni, one of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies, announced today that its oil and gas production will peak in 2025. Earlier this month, BP said that it wants to virtually eliminate its greenhouse gases by 2050. Royal Dutch Shell and Spanish petroleum company Repsol have made promises to cut down on how much planet-heating pollution they put out, too. Yes, we now live in a world where corporations that make an extremely opulent living out of dredging up fossil fuels are competing with each other for green credentials. They’re somehow doing so without actually quitting the fossil fuels that are responsible for bringing about the climate crisis in the first place.

Eni plans to cut down its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. That includes reining in emissions from the company’s operations and from the fossil fuel products it makes and sells. It says it will continue to up its production of oil and gas by 3.5 percent each year until 2025. After that, it will wind down how much oil it pumps out — but build up its gas output to 85 percent of its total production by 2050. Even though Eni also plans to generate renewable energy, that’s still a whole lot of fossil fuels it plans to dig up and sell.

Eni’s commitment has been hailed as “among the most ambitious” pledges yet to take action on climate change from Big Oil and Gas. “Italian Giant Eni Sees Oil Peak Just Six Years Away,” reads a Bloomberg headline.

Let’s put that timeline into context. The world is supposed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions nearly in half in less than 10 years if it wants to avoid catastrophic climate change. By catastrophic, we’re talking changes that would essentially wipe out coral reefs and inundate a majority of the world’s coastlines. But we’re supposed to be relieved that in “just six years” Eni will begin to ramp down its fossil fuel output?

Once its planned shift takes place in 2025, it will primarily be a transition from one fossil fuel to another. Eni’s biggest business by 2050 will be natural gas, which does let out less carbon dioxide than coal and oil when burned. But there’s more evidence than ever that methane leaks along the natural gas supply chain might cancel out much of those perceived climate gains.

Natural gas is like the e-cigarette of fossil fuels. Its proponents call it a “bridge fuel” that can help wean humans off their fossil fuel addiction while societies build the infrastructure for a future that runs on renewable energy. Good intentions aside, turning to natural gas, like e-cigarettes, can be habit-forming. And if it makes up 85 percent of Eni’s production by 2050, natural gas is looking less like a bridge to a renewable future and more like… just the future.

Never mind that by 2050, the world is supposed to have figured out how to get its greenhouse gas emissions to nearly zero in order to avoid that disastrous case climate scenario stated above, according to the United Nations panel of leading climate scientists.

So while we may be seeing a domino effect when it comes to environmental promises from Big Oil and Gas, this is not the fall of fossil fuels science shows is necessary to stop the crisis they put us in.