Chevron is an American multinational energy company, led by CEO Michael K. Wirth and headquartered in California. In 2020, Forbes listed its sales at $140.1 billion.
In 2019 Chevron’s disclosed emissions amounted to 697 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. It is estimated the company’s total planned emissions from 2018 to 2030 will account for 1.3% of the global 1.5C carbon budget. Currently, Chevron does not have a ‘net-zero’ commitment, or a commitment to align its activities with the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement.
The truth behind the greenwashing
The Climate Action 100+ Net Zero Company Benchmark finds that Chevron meets none of the Benchmark’s targets disclosure criteria – Chevron does not disclose either an ambition to reach ‘net zero’ or net zero-aligned short, medium and long-term GHG reduction targets which cover all its relevant emissions.
Chevron is also scored ‘No’ for failing to disclose an aim to align its capital allocation (investments) with its targets, let alone with the Paris Agreement goal to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
The Benchmark estimates that over $5.3 billion of Chevron’s 2019 capital expenditure on ‘upstream’ fossil fuel extraction and production, and 66% of the company’s future capital expenditure, conflict with the International Energy Agency’s ‘Beyond Two Degrees’ scenario. In this scenario, total temperature rise is limited to 1.75°C by 2100. More and quicker emissions reductions would be required to limit temperature rise to the Paris goal of 1.5°C and to avert more climate harms to people and to the environment.
But its ads tell a different story...
In 2019, Chevron announced plans to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions intensity of its upstream oil by 5-10% and of its upstream gas by 2-5% by 2023. The company said that the plans’ “timing is aligned with stocktake milestones set in the Paris Agreement on climate change” (underline added). Targeting the same year that countries will conduct a stocktake under the Paris Agreement means little given Chevron’s emissions targets themselves fall well short of what is needed to meet the Paris goals.
Chevron says it is investing in new technologies that will help lower emissions, including $100 million through the "Oil and Gas Climate Initiative", an organisation of large oil and gas companies. Chevron also established the Future Energy Fund in 2018 to “invest in breakthrough technologies that enable the ongoing energy transition”. The company has pledged an initial commitment of $100 million to the fund.
In 2021, the company added GHG emissions intensity targets of a 40% reduction in upstream oil and a 26% reduction in upstream gas by 2028. All of the company’s targets are set against a 2016 baseline. The company also says it is advancing opportunities to develop renewable energy and carbon offsets and will invest in low-carbon technologies.
Chevron has also set specific targets to reduce methane emissions released in the oil and gas extraction process due to leakage or intentional “venting” of unwanted gas by 20-25% by 2023 and 53% by 2028. Methane accounts for 5% of Chevron’s total emissions, and is about 86 times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide when measured over a 20-year time scale. Chevron also plans to reduce “flaring”, the burning of unwanted gas during the oil extraction process resulting in the emission of carbon dioxide, by 66% by the same date.
In May 2020, after a majority vote from its shareholders and despite its Board of directors’ opposition, Chevron became required to report on if, and how, its lobbying activities align with the target of limiting global temperature rise to well below 2°C.
On its website, in a page headed “we accept science and are part of the energy future”, the company says “what we do is good”, “what we do is essential”, “we aspire to deliver economic value while protecting the environment”, “we do it the right way”. Chevron’s lead director, Dr. Ronald D. Sugar says, “Like you, we at Chevron are committed to helping achieve a lower-carbon future”.
Chevron does not have a ‘net-zero’ commitment, or a commitment to align its activities with the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement, instead using the top-line message of a ‘lower-carbon future’, which does not mean net zero or Paris-aligned. Rather than talk about cutting oil and gas production, the company says “[t]o achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, direct air carbon dioxide capture and storage and carbon capture and storage (CCS) are required to be scaled up and globally deployed”.
The company’s ‘upstream’ scope 1 and scope 2 emissions reduction targets do not go beyond 2028 and are set on an intensity, not an absolute basis. This means that Chevron is still able to increase its fossil fuel production and increase its (absolute) emissions. Chevron’s plans to reduce venting and flaring by 20-30% fall short of the outright ban on venting and flaring which EU regulators are considering. Chevron’s 2020 oil, gas, methane and flaring intensity figures show that it had in fact achieved the majority of its targeted reductions in the four years since 2016 – the company does not seek to achieve equivalent reductions over the next eight years.
Scope 3 emissions, comprising the vast majority of Chevron’s emissions, are not addressed by any of the company’s targets. Instead, it says it will develop a renewable energy business, invest in ‘low-carbon technologies’ and sell offsets “to our customers around the world to help them achieve their own lower-carbon goals”. There are increasing concerns that many carbon offsets projects do not deliver the climate benefits claimed, and scientists are clear that they are not an alternative to cutting fossil fuel emissions. In the first half of 2020, Chevron used offsets claiming to account for 2 million tonnes of CO2, a tiny amount of its overall emissions.
Chevron also does not provide any information about how – or whether – it will transition its business away from fossil fuels, and has no targets in place to facilitate such a transition. In fact, in a paper called ‘in search of an honest conversation about today’s energy transition’, Chevron projects that oil and gas’ share of total energy demand will decline by just 7% by 2040 and argues that “substantial investment is needed every year just to keep the same level of [oil] production, much less to meet growing demand”. Chevron’s projections are based on the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) disastrous Stated Policies Scenario, which is estimated to lead to a catastrophic 2.7ºC to 3.2ºC of global warming, and its Sustainable Development Scenario, which is criticised for assuming that ‘negative emissions technologies’ such as CCS will permit continued fossil fuel production. A leading climate scientist says that this assumption is “really problematic” and goes “well beyond sustainable limits”. Chevron says that “we don’t debate the science and we are part of the energy future”. However, the company also says that ‘peak oil’ demand “is unlikely in the near or intermediate future”.
Investment in oil and gas
While Chevron says it supports the Paris Agreement, the vast majority of its operations remain focused on continuing and growing its fossil fuels business. Between 2010 and 2018, Chevron is analysed to have dedicated only 0.2% of its long-term investments to sources of low-carbon energy like wind and solar. More recently, Chevron has pledged an initial commitment of $100 million to the Future Energy Fund and $100 million to the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, both of which would be spent over a number of years. It has spent a total of $1 billion in carbon capture research and development.
In its 2021 Climate Change Resilience report, Chevron outlined its spending pledges out to 2028. The company commits to lower-carbon capital allocation for the next seven years of $2 billion in “carbon reduction projects”, $750 million in renewables and offsets and $300 million investment on various “low-carbon technologies to enable commercial solutions” – including relating to ongoing oil and gas production and use. This amounts to a little over $3 billion over 7 years, or about $430 million per year.
To put these amounts into perspective, in 2020 alone Chevron spent $13.5 billion on capital and exploration expenditure, 81% of which went to upstream fossil fuel production. In 2020, the company also incurred $1.5 billion in exploration expenses in seeking to expand its fossil fuel reserves. In 2019, the company’s annual spend with ad agencies was estimated at between $65 and $150 million.
Responsibility to reduce fossil fuels
Chevron’s lead independent director says that the company’s strategy “to navigate the energy transition focuses on lowering its carbon intensity, increasing the use of renewables and investing in breakthrough technologies” – but not reducing fossil fuels, or even reducing carbon emissions in absolute terms. Instead, he claims that “[t]he solutions will come from multiple points of innovation”. Chevron does not disclose how much it has spent on renewables.
In fact, Chevron had established a renewables business previously, from 2000, but cut its renewables operations back in 2014. The company was reported to have shelved biofuels work in 2010.
Rather than Chevron taking full responsibility for reducing fossil fuels in line with the Paris Agreement goals, the company’s 2021 Climate Change Resilience report explains how it sees the world reaching net zero:
It is critical that markets incentivize the most efficient and least carbon-intensive producers to provide oil and gas. Such an approach may not result in each individual company reaching net zero, but it is, we believe, the most promising path toward the ultimate goal of global net zero.
The implication is that reductions in fossil fuel production should come from elsewhere.
Growing fossil fuel production
Chevron has not yet pledged to stop oil and gas exploration, and has not set out any plans to reduce the amount of oil and gas it produces by 2030, the date by which IPCC scenarios say emissions from oil, gas, and coal will need to be substantially reduced. A Carbon Tracker report from 2020 estimates that 60-70% of Chevron’s planned new projects from 2020-22 are inconsistent with keeping warming to an International Energy Agency scenario assessed to provide a 50% chance of keeping warming to 1.6°C. An analysis of Chevron’s asset portfolio by Oil Change International in September 2020 shows that the company was invested in significant growth in oil production out to 2030.
Chevron is actively engaged in growing its fossil fuels business. The company’s 2020 Annual Report highlights say that through exploration it “added approximately 5 billion barrels of potentially recoverable oil-equivalent resources” and grew its fossil fuels portfolio with 36 exploration ‘blocks’ in the US Gulf of Mexico, Egypt, Canada, Colombia and Cyprus in 2020 and early 2021. Chevron’s 2020 oil and gas production of 3.08 million net oil-equivalent barrels per day is approximately 1% higher than its 2019 figures.
Chevron has a 20% stake in the Athabasca oil sands in Canada, the largest oil sands in the world. The fuel extracted from the sands produces about 15% more carbon dioxide emissions than from conventional oil, using (and contaminating) about three times as much fresh water, and the process is highly polluting to the surrounding environment.
Chevron is also heavily involved in controversial hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of what it calls shale and ‘tight’ resources), with current sites in the USA, Canada and Argentina and previous operations in Eastern Europe. In 2020, the company said it achieved “[c]ontinued development of the company’s significant shale and tight resource position” which is a “key focus area for Chevron”. Fracking is linked to a range of environmental harms and risks to communities, including contaminated water scandals, air pollution and earthquakes.
Carbon capture innovation in perspective
The company says that four million tonnes of CO2 emissions from the Athabasca oil sands production process have been captured by the Quest CCS facility in the last four years – one million tonnes per year.
The Quest CCS project is also operated and part-owned by Shell, who also appear to claim the benefit of “access to” emissions reductions from the Quest project in calculating their carbon footprint. Scientists estimate that CO2e emissions (operational emissions only) from Canadian oil sands production are actually under-reported by 17 million tonnes per year and amount to over 70 million tonnes per year.
Chevron says that its carbon capture and storage projects are expected to reduce GHG emissions by “nearly 5 million tonnes per year”. To put this into perspective, in 2019 Chevron disclosed its annual emissions at 697 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent – over 130 times larger than its plans for capturing CO2.
Obstructive lobbying practices
Chevron is a member of a number of trade associations and lobby groups which have sought to block a transition away from fossil fuels. These include the American Petroleum Institute (API), the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Studies show how these trade associations have been responsible over recent years for obstructive lobbying practices against urgently needed climate policies and laws, and there are concerns that Chevron continues to fight climate measures, including behind closed doors. Chevron’s website says that it “believes in taking prudent, practical and cost-effective actions to address climate change risks”, but economists point out that it is less costly to take early action on carbon to conserve nature than to try to restore it later.
As a result of the shareholder resolution adopted at Chevron’s 2020 AGM, Chevron must conduct an evaluation and issue a report on its lobbying activities by May 2021. This report must consider whether Chevron’s lobbying practices align with the goal of limiting average global warming to well below 2C. It remains to be seen whether the report will lead Chevron to suspend or revoke its membership of any trade associations.
More to explore
We’ve put together explainers of some of the key terms and phrases used in these Greenwashing Files.
What are GHGs?
GHGs stands for greenhouse gases - this is the group of seven gases generally seen as contributing to global warming, including carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4).
What are the Paris goals?
The goals which countries agreed on in Article 2(1) of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, to hold the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
What is CO2e?
CO2e stands for carbon dioxide equivalent, a measure of greenhouse gases. Other non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gases are converted to the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide on the basis of their global warming potential in order to produce a single greenhouse gases measure.
What are Scope 1-3 emissions?
Scope 1-3 emissions are the most widely used international carbon accounting tool. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol categorises a company’s GHG emissions into three groups:
- Scope 1 covers direct emissions from the company’s owned or controlled sources (e.g. burning fuel, company vehicles, emissions from the company’s own industrial processes).
- Scope 2 covers indirect emissions from the generation of electricity, steam, heating and cooling consumed by the company.
- Scope 3 includes all other indirect emissions that occur in a company’s value chain, including emissions from the use of its products.
Is gas clean?
Many fossil fuel companies make questionable claims about the sustainability of fossil fuel 'natural' gas, frequently marketed as ‘the cleanest-burning’ fossil fuel. Burning gas may produce less CO2 than burning coal or oil, but it is still carbon intensive, and not a viable long-term energy source – unlike renewable energy. Climate goals mean that gas use must be reduced, not increased.
On a full ‘lifecycle’ basis, generating electricity by burning gas produces on average more than 10 times the emissions of real low-carbon electricity sources like solar, and more than 40 times the emissions from wind power. As well as emitting significant CO2 when burnt, extracting, transporting and storing fossil fuel gas leaks methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. How much is leaked is critical - if leakage isn’t kept to low enough levels, the overall climate impact of gas can be worse than coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. Measuring leakage is challenging, and significant advances in reducing leakage are needed.
Is gas a backup for renewables?
Currently gas power is not typically limited to a ‘backup’ function when variable wind and solar renewable energy drops off. Instead, gas is a significant source of regular electricity generation globally, providing electricity that could be replaced by increasingly cheaper renewables. Meanwhile, investments in new gas infrastructure with decades-long operating lifetimes are set to 'lock in' unsustainable greenhouse gas emissions.
Is carbon offsetting the answer to fossil fuels?
Companies’ climate plans increasingly rely on vague talk of huge ‘offsets’ or ‘nature-based solutions’ schemes instead of near-term reductions in fossil fuel production. These plans, even if costed and scalable, can in practice often involve vast commercial monoculture tree plantations, which can cause negative impacts on biodiversity and communities, and struggle to guarantee carbon storage for the hundreds of years which fossil fuel emissions will remain in the atmosphere. Some companies plan to claim the carbon ‘credits’ from existing forests by relying on questionable claims that the corporate offset schemes are the only way to stop deforestation. Carbon removals and offsetting schemes like this can be a part of tackling climate change. But they are not an alternative to prioritising cutting emissions for any sector, let alone for the fossil fuel industry.
Can we rely on carbon capture technology?
Analysis shows that reaching climate targets whilst continuing with today’s oil and gas projects would require a rapid and massive acceleration in carbon capture and storage (CCS). Despite long-running talk of big plans for CCS, companies have never operated it at anything like sufficient scale.
Today, global operational CCS capacity accounts for about 0.1% of global fossil fuel emissions, and the technology cannot capture 100% of emissions. Some companies plan to use, rather than store, captured CO2, often to extract yet more oil. CCS also does not avoid upstream methane emissions and may even increase these due to the additional energy required to run the technology.
There is a history of repeated failures to scale-up CCS, and plans for economically viable CCS have been called ‘wishful thinking’. Experts highlight numerous problems and barriers to short-term deployment and consider that any future development of CCS will now be too little, too late for urgent pathways to a safe climate.
Is biomass sustainable?
Some companies are now turning from fossil fuels to forest biomass energy. Wood biomass is treated as ‘renewable’ under EU and UK law, based on a carbon accounting rule where the GHG emissions from burning biomass are counted as ‘zero’.
However, in reality, burning wood biomass can produce even more CO2 emissions than burning fossil fuels. Sourcing the fuel for biomass through logging is also linked to deforestation - degrading the natural carbon sinks we need for a safe climate. The carbon accounting rule is highly controversial, and does not mean that biomass is in reality ‘low-carbon’ or ‘carbon-neutral’. Because of this, scientists warn that burning wood biomass for energy creates a double climate problem - because it is a false solution to climate change that is replacing real solutions.
What are carbon emissions targets?
Emissions intensity targets – An intensity target is relative to product output, for example the amount of GHGs per barrel of oil produced.
Absolute emissions targets - An absolute target simply refers to the overall amount of GHG emissions attributable to the company. Under many intensity targets, a company can maintain or even increase its overall GHG emissions, provided it increases production enough.
What does CCUS mean?
CCS stands for carbon capture and storage. This is the process of trapping carbon dioxide produced, for example, by burning fossil fuels and then storing it permanently so that it will not contribute to global heating. CCUS, or carbon capture, use or storage, additionally refers to the use of trapped carbon dioxide for some other process.
How do you define capital expenditure?
Capital expenditure is investment by a company on major fixed assets such as buildings, vehicles, equipment or land. This is different from operating expenditure, which represents day-to-day recurring costs like salaries or rent.
The Greenwashing Files have been produced and published by ClientEarth, an environmental law charity registered in England and Wales, with research assistance from DeSmog. For more details, please refer to the registration details in the footer of our website. The information included in the Greenwashing Files is as of 25 March 2021.
The Greenwashing Files have been written for general information purposes and do not constitute legal, professional, financial, investment, shareholder voting or other advice. Specialist advice should be taken in relation to specific circumstances. Action should not be taken on the basis of this publication alone. ClientEarth endeavours to ensure that the information it provides is correct, but no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and ClientEarth does not accept responsibility for any decisions made in reliance on this document. The Greenwashing Files contain hyperlinks to other websites as a convenience to the reader. Because ClientEarth has no control over these sites or their content, it is not responsible for their availability, and ClientEarth is not responsible or liable for any such sites or content.