To deflate the carbon bubble and protect investors, oil & gas companies must shrink

The world’s listed oil and gas majors must cut combined production by more than a third by 2040 to keep emissions within international climate targets and protect shareholder value.

The current requirements under the Paris Agreement are that nations limit warming to “well below” 2ºC and “pursue efforts” for 1.5ºC. For a 50% chance of success, carbon budgets for 1.5ºC and 1.75ºC, irrespective of the trajectory taken, equate to 13 and 24 years at current CO2 emissions levels.

Source: IPCC, Global Carbon Project, BP, CTI analysis

Company Carbon Budgets 

We translate the macro global carbon budget to the company level and define “company carbon budgets” to provide aggregate limits for individual oil and gas producers.

Source: Rystad Energy, IEA, CTI analysis

The majors need to significantly reduce emissions from oil and gas production over the next two decades by on average 40% by 2040 compared to 2019 levels.

Based on our analysis, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips are modelled as having to reduce emissions at the fastest rate to stay within their respective company carbon budgets. Shell’s portfolio is most aligned, but would still need cuts of 10%

Key Findings

The ‘carbon bubble’ remains: global proved reserves of fossil fuels still significantly exceed that which can be burned to stay within Paris limits.

We translate the macro global carbon budget to the company level and define “company carbon budgets to provide aggregate limits for individual oil and gas producers, factoring-in the relative emissions-intensity of different projects.

Production and emissions reductions to 2040 are presented alongside capex numbers from Breaking the Habit (Sept 2019) to give a holistic framework covering the entire oil and gas industry.

We estimate that as a group, the major oil and gas companies need to reduce production by 35% to 2040 to stay within their B2DS budgets. Within this decline there is significant variation, from Shell (-10%) to ConocoPhillips (-85%) reflecting current and future project mix.

Average carbon emissions reductions of 40% are required for the majors; this reflects that the analysis covers production from both oil and gas, with a relative ‘shift to gas’ already factored in for many.

Companies that continue to sanction higher-cost projects which do not fit with a lower demand scenario risk destroying significant shareholder value through the creation of stranded assets, as well as contributing to the failure to achieve climate goals.

Companies can pursue different trajectories to meet their production reduction to 2040, however those that delay taking action carry a greater risk of being caught out.

Current company targets leave much to be desired. They commonly only cover scope 1-2 emissions (accounting for ~15% of lifecycle emissions for fossil fuels), are on an intensity rather than absolute basis, or they often only cover operated assets (meaning that a substantial portion of a company’s production may be excluded).

We define the hallmarks of Paris compliance that a company target should incorporate as a pre-condition for it to be considered Paris compliant. No company currently meets these criteria.