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The dark secrets behind big oil’s climate pledges

Oil companies and the banks that finance them are making empty promises – and getting credit for them too, including at this month's international climate negotiations. READ MORE

JPMorgan Chase won glowing headlines last year when the global investment bank unveiled a commitment to counter the climate crisis.

The press amplified JPMorgan’s message – sometimes in JPMorgan’s own words. Fortune published a commentary article trumpeting the bank’s plans to “tackle climate change”. Six paragraphs into the piece, the writers noted they worked for the investment firm. (They were actually its top executives.)


The bank waited months to detail its plans. In May, it finally outlined its goals: JPMorgan would not pressure oil companies to lower their emissions. Instead, the firm would encourage them to become more efficient. They would focus on their “carbon intensity”. That metric has become a favorite of banks, oil companies and other big businesses. They’ve balked at requirements to cut overall climate pollution. But “carbon intensity” pledges have given companies a framework to keep investing in dirty fuels, while also expanding into pollution-capturing technology and cleaner energy.

“They love the metric,” said Jeanne Martin, senior manager of banking standards at ShareAction, a non-profit focused on responsible investment.
“They have committed to reducing intensity and financing to the oil and gas sector. But that doesn’t ultimately mean they will reduce oil and gas activities. It may actually increase at a faster rate.”

Intensity goals aren't the only kind that can be misleading. In the run-up to this year’s international climate negotiations, oil companies have blitzed social media with advertisements about their climate pledges.

In a Facebook ad campaign launched this month, ExxonMobil promises to cut pollution from drilling. It plans to do that by reducing emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas much more potent than carbon over the short term. That will lower the “methane intensity” of its operations – but it ignores the emissions from customers burning the fuel itself.

Read more about how oil companies are able to greenwash with their climate goals.