Oil and gas industry offsetting could use land half the size of US

Oxfam flags 'greenwashing' net-zero targets and says safeguards are needed on how land is used for carbon removal

Oil and gas industry net-zero commitments that require offsetting their carbon emissions could use a land area half the size of the US, according to analysis by Oxfam.

The charity looked at the net-zero targets of four of the large oil and gas producers – Shell, BP, TotalEnergies and ENI – and found the plans would need an area twice the size of the UK.

Oxfam said if the rest of the oil and gas sector adopted similar net-zero targets to those of the four large companies named, an area of land half the size of the US – or a third of the world’s farmland – could be needed to meet the goals.

The analysis forms part of Oxfam’s report Tightening the Net: Net zero climate targets – implications for land and food equity, which covers the land requirements behind net-zero carbon emission targets being adopted by companies and governments across the world. Land-based carbon removal methods include planting forests and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage.

The report authors accused many of those adopting net-zero targets of greenwashing while carrying on business as usual. Oxfam called for more absolute emissions reductions: “What is needed is an immediate, dramatic and irreversible reduction in the billions of tonnes of carbon these countries and corporations are pumping into the atmosphere on a daily basis.”

The report also pointed to the fact that placing huge demands on Earth’s land use for carbon removal methods could negatively impact food security: “‘Net zero’ could end up being a dangerous distraction that could delay the rapid reductions in emissions that high-emitting countries and companies need to make if we are to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown.

“It could also lead to an explosion in demand for land which, if not subject to careful safeguards, might risk increasing hunger and fuelling land inequality.”

Investor action

Shell’s sustainability strategy has been in the spotlight since a ruling in The Hague in May stated the company must cut its global carbon emissions by 45% by the end of 2030 compared with 2019 levels.

Shell has stated its global target is to become a net-zero emissions business by 2050 and would reduce its carbon intensity 20% by 2030. The judge ruled these goals were insufficient, that Shell was “partly responsible” for climate change and needed to bring its strategy in line with the Paris Agreement.

ESG investment managers called the ruling “groundbreaking” and applauded the investor engagement efforts with the oil majors.

“Investors are no longer standing on the sidelines. This is a day of reckoning. The votes for change by Climate Action 100+ signatories show the sense of urgency across capital markets. Climate change is a financial risk and as fiduciaries, we need to ensure that boards are not just independent and diverse, but are climate competent,” said Anne Simpson, chair of Climate Action 100+ steering committee and managing investment director, board governance and sustainability at Calpers.