Fossil fuel companies are a “marginal force” in global clean energy investments

Washington D.C. Correspondent
Source: International Energy Agency, The Oil and Gas Industry in Net Zero Transitions 2023. • Annual average clean energy spending from 2019 to 2022. CCUS refers to carbon capture, utilization and storage technologies.

Oil and gas companies are responsible for a tiny portion of the world’s clean energy investments, according to a new International Energy Agency report. The record profits these companies have earned in recent years have gone largely back into fossil fuels instead of powering the energy transition, the agency finds.

“The fossil fuel sector must make tough decisions now, and their choices will have consequences for decades to come,” IEA executive director Fatih Birol said in a statement.

The report is setting the stakes high for the United Nations climate talks, known as COP28, getting underway this week in Dubai, where countries are expected to debate whether to phase out or phase down fossil fuels.

For these companies, investing in clean energy may be in their best interest in the long run, the report authors write. Based on IEA’s own projections, demand for oil and gas products is expected to peak by 2030, as consumers opt for cleaner technologies like electric vehicles, wind and solar. Moreover, IEA said the sector will be impacted by any mandated emission reductions that would reduce demand for fossil fuels.

Yet, the industry continues to sit on the sidelines of the clean energy talks, a “marginal force” at best when it ought to be reducing emissions from its operations, the agency writes in its report.

Oil and gas companies invested roughly $20 billion in clean energy technologies in 2022, reflecting 2.6% of their overall expenditures that year, the IEA found. That investment represented 1.5% of all global clean energy spending last year.

To the degree the oil companies are investing in cleaner technologies, they’re choosing to focus on those closer to their expertise burning molecules (i.e., biofuels, hydrogen and carbon capture tech), as opposed to powering electrons (like wind and solar), as the above chart shows.

That said, the report cautioned against what it called “excessive expectations and reliance” on carbon capture and storage by the oil industry. This tech, the report states, should be used for “certain sectors and circumstances, but it is not a way to retain the status quo.”