Exxon Mobil Corp. XOM 1.76% said it has set a goal to reduce or offset greenhouse-gas emissions from its operations to zero by 2050, as investor and public pressure mounts on oil producers to respond to climate change.
The oil giant said Tuesday it had developed detailed emission-reduction plans for major facilities and assets and can profitably navigate the nascent transition to greener energy sources. In a bruising proxy fight last year, an activist hedge fund elected three new members to the company’s board after criticizing its transition strategy.
Exxon’s new goal doesn’t cover emissions from use of its products, such as gasoline and other fuels made from refined oil, or natural gas burned in homes, which make up most of the emissions connected to the company. It also doesn’t apply to oil fields or other assets it is invested in but doesn’t operate.
“We are developing comprehensive road maps to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from our operated assets around the world, and where we are not the operator, we are working with our partners to achieve similar emission-reduction results,” Exxon Chief Executive Darren Woods said.
Exxon lost three seats on its board of directors at its annual shareholder meeting last May to the hedge fund Engine No. 1, which argued that the energy company needs to act faster to remake itself and invest in clean energy. After the defeat, Exxon’s board began serious consideration of a net-zero commitment, The Wall Street Journal previously reported.
There is no standard definition for net zero, and specifics vary company to company, which has led some to dismiss the pledges as exercises in image management.
Generally a company sets a goal of shrinking its carbon footprint to neutral in the future, by reducing emissions and using tools such as carbon offsets to counterbalance those that continue. Some analysts say there aren’t enough carbon offsets to allow every company to achieve its goal, and that without significant technological advances, net zero is implausible for many.
Mr. Woods previously said net-zero commitments amount to a “beauty competition,” if companies only seek to achieve them by selling oil reserves to peers, so shifting the resulting carbon emissions from one set of books to another.
Environmental groups and others have criticized oil companies for not pledging to zero out greenhouse gases from their products, known as “scope 3” emissions. Some companies have argued that they can’t be held responsible for reducing consumer use of gasoline and other fuels.