Oil giant BP has announced an “ambition” to become a net-zero emissions company by 2050 or sooner, the first of the majors to make such a pledge.

Unlike other oil & gas companies that have made commitments to become greener, BP says its target will include emissions from its oil & gas products.

How BP plans to achieve its aim is not yet clear, although a statement revealed that a new Gas & Low Carbon Energy business unit will "pursue opportunities in decarbonisation and new value chains such as hydrogen and CCUS [carbon capture, utilisation and storage]".

Another clue is that last month the company named offshore wind at the top of a list of key technologies ready for commercial lift-off, alongside green hydrogen, solar and electric mobility. Its renewable energy strategy has so far mainly focused on its BP Lightsource PV development joint venture, although it does have a portfolio of US wind farms that add up to more than 1GW.

New chief executive Bernard Looney, who took on the role last week, stated: “We expect to invest more in low carbon businesses — and less in oil and gas — over time. The goal is to invest wisely, into businesses where we can add value, develop at scale, and deliver competitive returns.”

The statement makes it clear that BP intends to continue delivering strong returns to investors while making its energy transition.

Looney explained: “The world’s carbon budget is finite and running out fast; we need a rapid transition to net zero.

“We all want energy that is reliable and affordable, but that is no longer enough. It must also be cleaner. To deliver that, trillions of dollars will need to be invested in replumbing and rewiring the world’s energy system. It will require nothing short of reimagining energy as we know it.

“This will certainly be a challenge, but also a tremendous opportunity. It is clear to me, and to our stakeholders, that for BP to play our part and serve our purpose, we have to change. And we want to change — this is the right thing for the world and for BP.”

Chairman Helge Lund added: “As we embark on this ambitious agenda, we will maintain a strong focus on safe, reliable and efficient operations and on delivering the promises we have made to our investors.”

The pledge has already been met with skepticism by climate groups, who point out that BP plans to increase its production of oil & gas by about a fifth between 2018 and 2030, even though such a move would increase the chances of runaway global heating.

Ellen Gibson, a campaigner for climate group 350.org, said: “It is not possible to keep to a 2°C warming limit — let alone 1.5°C — while continuing to dig up and burn fossil fuels. Unless BP commits clearly to stop searching for more oil and gas, and to keep their existing reserves in the ground, we shouldn’t take a word of their PR spin seriously.”

Greenpeace oil advisor Charlie Kronick added: “BP’s ‘ambitions’ and ‘aims’ all seem to apply to Looney’s successors, and leave the urgent questions unanswered. How will they reach net zero? Will it be through offsetting? When will they stop wasting billions on drilling for new oil and gas we can’t burn? What is the scale and schedule for the renewables investment they barely mention? And what are they going to do this decade, when the battle to protect our climate will be won or lost?”

BP says it will "set out more information" on its strategy and short-term plans at a capital markets day in September.