Through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the governments of 195 nations have declared that global heating represents nothing less than a “code red for humanity” — as if the latest apocalyptic fires and floods devastating communities from north-eastern North America to southeast Asia weren’t signal enough of the threat posed to civilisation.

Days after the panel’s most recent report, launched by UN secretary general António Guterres with the statement that it “must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels... and end all new fossil fuel exploration and production”, came the distillate. Global greenhouse gas emissions needs to peak by 2025 — that’s four years — for the world to escape complete climate breakdown.

Yet at one of the world’s biggest annual gatherings of the oil & gas industry — the Offshore Technology Conference, held in the petro-capital of Houston since 1969 — there was more fiddling while the planet burns: oil giants including Shell, BP and Chevron, and independents such as Talos Energy talked up “managing the carbon intensity” of their hydrocarbon production, “emissions-lowering optimisation of operations” and the role of existing oil & gas infrastructure in a “lower carbon” future (italics mine).

‘Abrogation of duty’ is one of many phrases that come to mind

‘Abrogation of duty’ is one of many phrases that come to mind. Big Oil has turned the planet on hydrocarbons for 150-plus years. It has buried evidence of the coming baleful effects of its operations for decades. And it has the financial wherewithal to accelerate the shift to renewables in time to avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

Yet, today, the oil industry is greenwashing gas-fired blue hydrogen, lobbying in the backrooms of Washington, Brussels and Moscow for expensive and inefficient carbon capture as “a beacon of opportunity”; pushing fossil gas as an energy transition “bridging technology”; and dirtifying floating wind power to help shrink the carbon footprint of offshore oil platforms and extend their producing lives.

In Britain, where the last-chance saloon COP26 conference is being held in November, drilling kit for the Cambo project in the West of Shetlands is apparently being loaded out before getting government go-ahead, despite the fact that development of the 170-million-barrel oil field would de facto scupper the UK’s emissions-reduction pledges.

The call in May by the International Energy Agency — set up as a watchdog to manage global petroleum supply during the 1973 Oil Crisis — to halt all hydrocarbon exploration and production “immediately”, it would seem, be damned. Guterres, at the briefing for the IPCC report, said: “The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning... are putting billions of people at immediate risk.”

As it stands, the first of these statements looks to be drowning out the second. At least, in the boardrooms of international oil companies.