INEOS, which is majority owned by billionaire CEO James Ratcliffe, is an oil, gas and petrochemicals conglomerate, headquartered in London. It is one of the world’s largest petrochemicals companies, producing 22,300 tons of chemicals in 2019. INEOS says it generates about $60bn annually. The petrochemicals industry is highly carbon-intensive and has been called a “key blind spot in the global energy debate”.
INEOS does not disclose the overall emissions its business is responsible for, but Grangemouth in Scotland, INEOS’s largest facility, emitted over 3.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2019.
The truth behind the greenwashing
Plastic lifecycle emissions are predicted to grow exponentially. If present growth trajectories continue, it is estimated that emissions from just the production of plastics would consume at least 12% of the earth’s remaining carbon budget by 2050, seriously threatening the world’s chances of keeping global temperature rise below 1.5C. A future for plastics means a future for fossil fuels.
But its ads tell a different story…
Emissions are produced across the whole life-cycle of INEOS’ products. Greenhouse gases are emitted from extraction and transport of fossil fuels, from the use of fossil fuel as both raw material and power to produce plastics and other chemical products, and from the incineration and degradation of plastics waste. INEOS’ “science-based” net-zero commitment is limited to its expanding Antwerp operations and excludes certain stages of this chain of pollution – and the company commits only to switching to recycled or non-fossil fuel materials “where appropriate”. In 2020, the company operated 32 manufacturing sites.
INEOS has no ‘net zero’ emissions reduction target across its business and does not disclose any aim to reduce the overall amount of emissions it is responsible for by 2030, the date by which IPCC scenarios say emissions will need to have substantially reduced. It also does not disclose the overall lifecycle emissions that its business is responsible for, so it is not clear which emissions INEOS is counting, and which it is not, for its target to achieve 10% emissions reduction by 2025. According to Scottish Environment Agency figures, INEOS’ oil, chemical and power plants at Grangemouth produced over 3.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2019, making the company the largest source of emissions in Scotland.
The company has announced no business-wide targets to switch to renewable energy. INEOS does say that it is using wind power in Belgium, but also says that the saving of 2 million tonnes over 10 years amounts to just 1% emissions reduction per year.
In May 2020 the company announced a ‘demonstration’ project to study carbon capture and use, which it says might save 8,000 tonnes of CO2 every year. In March 2021, INEOS announced plans for a ‘green’ hydrogen plant in Norway, which it said will lead to a “minimum reduction of an estimated 22,000 tonnes of CO2 per year”. Compared to the 3.2 million tonnes of CO2e produced by INEOS’ Grangemouth facility alone in 2019, these projects do not appear to offer much prospect of ‘greening’ INEOS’ business.
Whilst INEOS says it has the “ambitious target” to use 325,000 tonnes per year of recycled material by 2025, this represents less than 1.5% of the 22.8 million tonnes of chemicals it produced in 2020. It is even less than the company’s increase in chemicals production in 2020 - 500,000 tonnes more than in 2019. In order for INEOS to move to a business model genuinely based on reuse and recycling, then the overall amount of ‘virgin’ fossil fuel material it consumes must decrease.
The company has also begun to make bio-polymers from wood feedstocks, promising “more than 100% Greenhouse Gas Saving”, but campaigners highlight the adverse climate and environmental consequences of bioplastic waste. The company does not disclose the amount it spends on these green initiatives, but it has been criticised by campaigners for spending $400 million on various sport enterprises to establish an image that has little to do with its inherently polluting business.
In January 2021, INEOS expanded its fossil fuel business even more, by buying BP’s global petrochemicals business (which produced 9.7 million tonnes of petrochemicals in 2019) for around $5 billion. The BP CEO, after announcing net-zero targets, called the decision to exit petrochemicals “another deliberate step in building a BP that can compete and succeed through the energy transition”. INEOS’ CEO, by contrast, called the deal “a logical development of our existing petrochemicals business”.
INEOS says it is aiming to cut its energy use, reuse waste energy and to use lower carbon sources of energy in its production processes. Through optimising its current operations, it aims to reduce emissions by 10% compared to 2019 by 2025. It has committed to achieving climate neutrality in emissions from its operations in Antwerp, Belgium. At its Runcorn site in the UK, INEOS says it has achieved energy savings of 18% over the last 10 years and saved 250,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.
Its website says the chemical industry has a central role to play in creating a more sustainable world and says the company is working to get “more for less” from plastic production to reduce the amount of oil and gas used.
INEOS has set 2025 targets to increase the recycled content of some of the plastics products it offers in Europe that are used in packaging, to ensure that all of its polymer products can be recycled, and to incorporate at least 325,000 tonnes of recycled material into products. It has also begun to develop bioplastics.
The company’s CEO and owner Jim Ratcliffe has pledged to “do all he can” about plastic waste, with INEOS joining the Operation Clean Sweep industry initiative.
INEOS also says that it “takes on the challenges of emissions reductions” by making petrochemicals products that lead to CO2 savings. It says that, for every tonne of CO2 produced during production of chemicals products, two tonnes of CO2 are saved during their use. Its website lists products including: “Efficient and effective biofuels to improve the sustainability of modern transport” and “Synthetic oils that help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from road transportation”.
Faced with criticism that the plastic industry should produce less, the company highlights plastic waste as “the real issue” and points to consumer demand for “Plastic Fantastic”. INEOS’ claims have been criticised for distracting from the need to reuse and reduce the use of plastics, whilst the company pushes to expand plastic production. Studies show that reuse and recycling could meet 60% of plastics demand by 2050, reducing CO2 emissions by half, provided companies invest properly in the circular economy.
Oil, gas and fracking
As well as petrochemicals and plastics, INEOS has grown a substantial oil and gas business since 2015 in the UK, Denmark, Norway and the US. In 2017, INEOS paid $250 million for the Forties Pipeline, which transports around 40% of the UK’s oil production from the North Sea to mainland Britain. In 2018, INEOS reached a daily oil and gas production of 95,000 barrels of oil equivalent and it invested US$80 million in extending the life of its Clipper South gas field. INEOS needs oil or gas as a raw material for producing plastics and NGOs warn that a future for plastics means a future for fossil fuels.
As well as its fracking expansion in the US, INEOS has a fracking exploration business, INEOS Shale, which holds exploration licences over large parts of northern England. Despite a UK government ban on fracking exploration, INEOS still claims that fracking can provide the UK with energy for the coming decades and would reduce the UK’s carbon footprint. Fracking is responsible for serious impacts on water supplies, air pollution, earthquakes and public health risks. It also leaks unknown amounts of methane - a powerful greenhouse gas.
INEOS’ Grangemouth site produces one-third of the entire UK plastics production, making an estimated 30-35 billion plastic pellets each day. A survey of one beach 14 miles away found around half a million washed up plastic pellets, despite INEOS’ statement that it “is obsessive about zero pellet loss". Studies show that plastic waste produces emissions as it degrades, and may also interfere with the largest natural carbon sink on the planet – our oceans.
In Belgium, INEOS has faced legal action for its plans for a huge €3 billion expansion called ‘Project One’ to its plastics manufacturing facilities in the Port of Antwerp, over concerns that the plant will add to plastic pollution in the area and produce over a million tons of CO2 every year. The company has nevertheless tried to move ahead in the meantime with deforestation to make room for its plastics industrial units.
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.