ExxonMobil said it aims to reach net zero emissions from its own activities by 2050, in a move hailed as a big deal by the US oil supermajor but slammed by critics for ignoring the wider impact of its petroleum products.

The Irving, Texas-headquartered conglomerate on Tuesday set out an “aspiration” to reach net zero by mid-century for Scope 1 & 2 greenhouse gas emissions, covering those directly linked to its global operations and facilities where the group said it would increasingly look to tap into renewable power.

However, the US group’s plan came under immediate fire over its failure to include Scope 3 emissions – those resulting from the end use of the oil & gas the company pumps, which account for the vast majority of any fossil group's overall carbon footprint.

Environmental activists pointed to European supermajors such as Shell and BP, which have set out plans for tackling Scope 3 in their own net zero pathways that – while hardly making them paragons of green virtue – at least take the issue into account.

Mark Brownstein, senior vice president for energy at the Environmental Defense Fund, a US lobbying group, told the New York Times: “Fully addressing Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions is necessary but not sufficient given that the major impact of oil and gas is in the sale and use of the product.

“To be an energy solutions provider means that you are addressing the carbon footprint as well as energy content of the products you are providing.”

ExxonMobil said it would this year set out roadmaps for emissions reduction covering most of its operations.

Staying out of wind and solar

Unlike their European peers, ExxonMobil and fellow US supermajors Chevron and ConocoPhilips have so far steered clear of making major investments in renewable energy projects that are now considered mainstream, most notably wind and solar.

Their ‘green’ agendas have instead mostly focused on more speculative energy transition technologies such as direct-air carbon capture and nuclear fusion.

Recharge reported late last year how a study by Carbon Tracker labelled the US trio as the most exposed to suffering massive commercial damage from ‘stranded assets’ as their oil & gas operations become less investible and they shift capital too slowly into the energy transition.

'Committed to transition'

ExxonMobil itself – which until recently opposed a net zero target but last year came under pressure from activist investors to soften its line – hailed its announcement as proof that it is “committed to playing a leading role in the energy transition… and helping society reach a lower-emissions future.”

The supermajor said it would look to curtail methane emissions and gas flaring as part of the plans, under a wider strategy it claims is “resilient when tested against a range of Paris-aligned net-zero scenarios”, and will target investments in “carbon capture and storage, hydrogen and biofuels”.

ExxonMobil said it will spend $15bn by 2027 on the net zero push, while “policies further accelerating the development and deployment of lower-emission technologies could provide ExxonMobil with additional investment opportunities”.