BP's brand new CEO says he “understands the frustration and anger of protestors in London”. Are activists convinced?
On a frosty midweek morning, the UK branch of the environmentally focused NGO Greenpeace made a delivery to the BP headquarters. At 3am they unloaded, or at least wanted to unload, 500 solar panels. The plan was to arrange the panels in front of and around the corner of the office, which is in St. James’s Square near Piccadilly Circus.
“We tried to put up 500 solar panels in a kind of nice wave-like installation to go around the corner surrounding the peace officers,” says Richard George, head of Greenpeace UK’s oil campaign. “Police got there very early so it wasn't really possible for us to get that all up, so we just sort of delivered them and then the people who were involved in that occupied the road for a while. We took a decision to pull a few of them out to avoid them being arrested.”
“We started with about 75 to 80 people at 3am, now down to the last eight people who're still locked on to the barrels.”
At around 10:30am, police arrive with the requisite equipment to detach the protestors from their respective barrels, which are genuine old oil barrels. Some are chained to them, others have their whole arms stuffed inside, so as to turn the task of prizing them from it into a quirky puzzle.
Greenpeace’s presence here is a welcoming party for the company’s new CEO, Bernard Looney. The Irish businessman takes over from Mississippian oil lifer Bob Dudley. Looney, Richard tells me, is at least on the face of it trying to distance himself from the actions of Dudley’s tenure.
“He's very, very keen to draw a line between the actions of their previous CEO, who came in after BP was involved in spilling massive amounts of oil in the Gulf of Mexico (Deepwater Horizon). Dudley came in to lead the company and basically solve that problem for them, which he did by getting ever further into oil and gas. The new guy is keen to present himself as a really different sort of CEO and says he ‘gets’ climate change. They put a statement up this morning [about what we’re doing], which is hilarious.”
The statement read that Looney, who was visiting employees in Germany, “understands the frustration and anger of protestors in London”.
“He shares their deep concern about climate change and will set out his low carbon ambition for the company next week. He hopes that what he has to say then will give people a sense that we get it and are very serious about working to address the problem.” BP pointed us to this statement when asked for further comment on Richard George’s claims.
Looney’s new statement setting out the low-carbon vision arrived today, claiming the company has “set a new ambition to become a net zero company by 2050 or sooner, and to help the world get to net zero”. It includes pledges such as to “Increase the proportion of investment into non-oil and gas businesses over time” and to support “More active advocacy for policies that support net zero, including carbon pricing”.
Commentators have pointed out that the aim does not include emissions which come from customers burning fossil fuels in BP products, which—according to Bloomberg's Akshat Rathi—accounts for 89% of BP’s emissions. On these, the company says it will reduce carbon emissions by 50%.
The PR battle has been won, but not quite the war
“BP is planning to spend $71 billion [£54 billion] over the next 10 years drilling new oil and gas,” Richard said at the early morning protest. “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)… have said we have more than enough oil already in production. So although we don't need to phase out overnight, we need to be running it down rapidly and that means no new oil and gas, so you can share people's frustration and anger, but we're frustrated, angry because he's not doing anything.”
Like their bastard child Extinction Rebellion, Greenpeace believe activism is the way forward, putting pressure on big oil to turn the heads of the public. In Richard’s view, the PR battle has been won, but not quite the war.
“We need oil companies to phase out fossil fuels. We need them to not be oil companies anymore, stop drilling for oil and gas, and start investing heavily in renewables. And we need to say to them, ‘if they're not prepared to do that they need to get out of the way’... There is no scenario in which they continue with business as usual, and we need to make sure they get that message.”