Seven Key Actions in Steering the Oil and Gas Sector to a Low-Carbon Future
As world leaders prepare to gather for the COP22 climate talks in Morocco, Ceres experts are blogging on low-carbon investor and company actions since the adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement and challenges that remain.
It is clearer than ever that the adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement was a major turning point for the global economy. The intense dedication and innovative thinking that led to that moment continues to gain momentum thanks to important actions from investors, businesses and policymakers. And later this week, the Paris Climate Agreement will go into effect early.
Achieving the agreement’s target of limiting global average temperature rise to well below two-degrees requires nothing less than a transformation of our energy systems, markets and industry towards low-carbon energy and away from high-carbon fossil fuels. With that in mind, it is encouraging to see how much has changed – especially in the massive oil and gas sector – in the last year.
Here are seven key actions taken since Paris by investors, businesses and policymakers focused on addressing the oil, gas and electric power sector’s tremendous exposure to climate and Carbon Asset Risk:
- A global coalition of investors worked together to push the world’s largest oil, gas and electric power companies to analyze and disclose how their business strategies fare against the two-degree scenario called for under the Paris Climate Agreement. Investors supported these efforts through unprecedented support for shareholder resolutions.
- Investors and asset managers representing more than $10 trillion in assets achieved record high voting support for resolutions filed with Exxon (38%) and Chevron (41%), calling on these oil and gas giants to perform two-degree scenario analysis. Despite strong opposition from management, half of Exxon’s 25 largest shareholders voted in favor of the resolution.
- The split between U.S. oil and gas companies and other global oil firms has continued to widen. Total and Suncor joined the ranks of other oil, gas, and mining majors heeding investor calls and endorsing the use of two-degree scenario analysis to adapt for low-carbon energy transition. After finishing its two-degree analysis, Total announced plans to exit the Arctic and shift 20 percent of its portfolio to renewable and clean energy investments by 2030.
- Leading investors and asset managers joined the Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, which is moving towards finalizing recommendations for enhanced climate disclosures in the next few months.
- All three major ratings agencies – Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch –now recognize that climate risk is a financial risk. Moody’s announced it will begin including climate scenario analysis in its ratings methodology.
- The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has opened an investigation into ExxonMobil’s reserves accounting practices and methods for valuing climate risk; less than a month after the investigation became public, Exxon announced that it may de-book (or writedown) as much as 4.6 billion barrels of oil sands reserves.
- Global oil and gas capital expenditures for new production are at their lowest levels since 2007, dropping from $690 billion in 2014 to an anticipated level of $410 billion in 2016. Spending is projected to go up, however, starting in 2017 and 2018.
As we prepare for the upcoming COP22 climate negotiations in Morocco, it is essential to reflect on the progress of the past year, but it is also critical to recognize that this next year presents a unique moment in history. The oil and gas industry and its investors and financiers are at a key inflection point. Oil prices appear to have stabilized, and oil companies are developing strategies for ramping up their spending once again.
This year could represent the moment that the energy industry shifts its capital and its strategy to thrive in the transition to a low-carbon economy, or it could represent the moment that it plowed capital into projects that may never see a return.
Leading investors, regulators, and ratings agencies are increasingly warning of the risks, and this year investors will yet again make the case directly to the companies that now is the time to pivot away from the high-carbon fuels of the past and towards the low-carbon fuels of the future. The companies that listen will gain a competitive advantage while those that continue to focus on the past may well be relegated to it.