BP CEO defends spending plans as climate protesters block entrance to London energy conference

Climate activists light flares and hold banners during a protest outside the InterContinental London Park Lane hotel on the first day of the International Energy Week conference in London on February 28, 2023.

Justin Tallis | Afp | Getty Images

LONDON — BP CEO Bernard Looney on Tuesday sought to defend the firm’s fossil fuel spending plans, reaffirming the need for an “orderly” energy transition and highlighting the oil giant’s commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050.

His comments came shortly after dozens of protesters blocked an entrance to the InterContinental London Park Lane hotel on the first day of International Energy Week, a global energy conference that brings together senior figures from across the industry.

Holding banners reading “Climate Criminals Enter Here” and “No New Oil,” activists from climate action group Fossil Free London gathered outside the luxury hotel to protest BP’s continued fossil fuel investment. Their chants could be heard throughout the opening sessions of the conference.

“Energy is the lifeblood of society,” BP’s Looney said as he addressed those in attendance.

“An energy system that works is one that provides energy that is secure and affordable as well as lower carbon — what’s known as the energy trilemma,” Looney said.

“It is a complex and, indeed, it is a massive challenge,” he continued. “To solve it, action is clearly needed to accelerate the energy transition and at the same time, that transition has got to be orderly. We need to do both. We need to invest in the energy transition and — not or — we need to invest in today’s energy system, which is predominantly an oil and gas system.”

Holding banners reading “No New Oil,” activists from climate action group Fossil Free London blocked an entrance to the InterContinental London Park Lane hotel on the first day of International Energy Week.

Justin Tallis | Afp | Getty Images

Earlier this month, BP reported record 2022 earnings to join a profit bonanza for Big Oil. The company also prompted anger from activist investors and campaigners as it announced plans to scale back its climate ambitions.

The British energy major raked in net profit of $27.7 billion last year, more than double its 2021 total, as fossil fuel prices surged following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

BP’s Looney sought to defend the company from criticism at the time, saying the company was “leaning in” to its strategy to provide the world with the energy it needs.

He announced BP would spend up to $8 billion more investment into the energy transition this decade and up to $8 billion more on oil and gas in support of energy security and affordability this decade.

BP’s three objectives

BP, which was one of the first energy giants to announce an ambition to cut emissions to net zero “by 2050 or sooner,” had pledged emissions would be 35% to 40% lower by the end of the decade. It said on Feb. 7, however, that it was now targeting a 20% to 30% cut, saying it needed to keep investing in oil and gas to meet demand.

When asked on Tuesday what he would say to the activists chanting in protest over BP’s spending plans, Looney replied, “I think the way we see our role, it may not be perfect but it’s the way we see our role in life … is to do three things.”

“We invest our cashflows, we pay taxes and we return value to our shareholders. That’s kind of the three things that we do in this space,” Looney said.

The extraordinary scale of the oil and gas industry’s earnings has renewed criticism and sparked calls for higher taxes.

Sopa Images | Lightrocket | Getty Images

BP’s CEO said the company invested $16 billion last year and was prepared to increase investment into both today’s energy system and the energy transition. He added the energy major paid $15 billion in taxes in 2022, describing that as “the highest taxes BP has ever paid in its 113-year history.”

“And then finally … we have to take care of our shareholders,” Looney said. “I think there is a narrative that shareholders are somehow faceless institutions. They are far from it. Millions and millions of people around the world depend on BP’s shares and dividends … and companies like ours for their livelihoods.”

BP earlier this month boosted its dividend by 10% to 6.61 cents per ordinary share.

“That’s how we look at our role in life,” Looney said. “We have to listen to people. We have to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and try to understand their point of view. But at the end of the day, we have to boil down what we do into those three things.”



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