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‘Near zero’ by 2050: Equinor outlines new long-term emissions targets

Norwegian oil and gas giant Equinor has pledged to bringing the greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint of its onshore plants and offshore fields to “near zero” by 2050.

Pictured: Equinor's Sleipner oil field. Image: Øyvind Gravås and Bo B. Randulff

Pictured: Equinor’s Sleipner oil field. Image: Øyvind Gravås and Bo B. Randulff

Announced today (6 January), the firm’s new long-term ambition is bolstered by interim targets of a 40% emissions reduction by 2030 and a 70% reduction by 2040. All targets are set against a baseline of 2018, when Equinor’s fields and plants emitted 13 million tonnes of CO2e.

In order to meet the 2030 target, Equinor has earmarked 50 billion NOK (£4.33bn) to invest in energy efficiency and electrification projects at selected locations.

Meeting the 2040 and 2050 targets, the company claims, will require a broader approach to electrification; infrastructure consolidation and increased investment in hydrogen, offshore wind and carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Norway currently emits around 50 million tonnes of CO2e annually, meaning that Equinor’s aim to reduce its annual emissions by five million tonnes by 2030 is notable.

However, the company has not set any time-bound numerical targets for shifting from fossil fuels to renewables and is planning to extend the lifespan of existing projects – and to break ground on new fields – during the 2020s. Indeed, Equinor’s chief executive Eldar Sætre expects the business to generate 3000 billion NOK (£259bn) of income for the Norwegian state between 2020 and 2030, largely through fossil fuels.

This approach has received widespread criticism among the green economy, with Nature and Youth board member Andreas Radoey calling it “too little, too late”.  “In 2050, there can’t be any oil extraction from Norway’s continental shelf,” she Tweeted.

Equinor maintains that its approach has been developed to deliver “high value with low emissions” and claims it is planning for Norwegian oil and gas production levels to halve by mid-century.

“Equinor supports the Paris agreement and a net-zero target for society,” Sætre said. “We have already brought CO2-emissions in the production process down to industry-leading levels.”

Fossil fools?

The move from Equinor comes after Norway’s $1tn oil fund, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, made its first investments in renewable energy projects that are not listed on stock markets. Unlisted projects make up more than two-thirds of the whole renewable infrastructure market.

The fund is doing away with its investments in pure-play fossil fuel companies at the same time – but is retaining stakes in oil and gas firms which have renewable energy divisions, such as Shell and BP.

Across the global finance space, many other investors are taking similar moves – putting pressure on the power companies held in their portfolios over climate-related disclosures, or divesting from them entirely.

But action in the finance space has not, to date, proven widespread, rapid or far-reaching enough to change the face of the global oil and gas sector in line with global climate targets. The sector’s 24 largest publicly listed firms spend just 1.3% of their combined capital expenditure (CAPEX) into low-carbon technologies and projects between January and October 2018, according to CDP, for example.

Moreover, Carbon Tracker research recently found that no large corporates within the global oil and gas sector are currently providing “anything close to an ideal level of disclosure” around climate-related risks and opportunities.

At last month’s COP25 talks in Madrid, observers largely attributed delegates’ inability to reach agreements around issues such as carbon markets and loss and damage compensation to the influence of fossil fuel lobbying.

Sarah George

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