The need for the world to take action on climate change is well understood, although the path to get there is uncertain and constantly evolving. What is clear however, is that the energy system needs to rapidly transition to net zero to meet the goals of the Paris agreement. Countries are taking action and many companies are announcing their plans to take action towards net zero too.
Also well understood, but not always attracting as much attention on the global stage, are the many other global challenges that we face, such as: biodiversity loss, water scarcity, human rights, poverty and diversity, equity and inclusion. We can’t respond to climate change in isolation without tackling all these challenges together because they are interconnected. There’s a good reason why there are 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) across these challenges and why actions like educating women and reducing food waste feature near the top of Project Drawdown’s list of climate solutions. Creating an energy system for a better future requires interconnected action on carbon, environmental and social challenges.
So far, so obvious, perhaps.
The less obvious piece may come from where to look for that transformation. An international oil company may not be an immediate choice. But at bp this is what we’re aiming to do – transitioning into an international energy company and transforming the energy system through tackling carbon, environmental and social challenges together. We launched our new purpose early last year: “reimagining energy for people and our planet” and set ten aims to help us get to net zero by 2050 or sooner, and to help the world do the same. We also announced a new strategy, which includes aims to develop 50 GW of renewable generating capacity and to install 70,000 electric vehicle charging points by 2030. We also expect our oil and gas production to reduce by 40% in the same timeframe. We have made progress during 2020: moving into offshore wind, growing in solar and reducing our operational greenhouse gas emissions (scope 1 and 2) by 16%, driven by divestments and emission reduction activities, and reducing the estimated end-use emissions from the carbon in our upstream oil and gas production by ~9% (scope 3).
The other part of our purpose “for people and our planet” shows that we recognise the need to do more than decarbonising the energy system. Last month we announced ten additional aims: five to care for our planet and five to improve people’s lives. These aims will help us contribute to a better future and energy system by taking action in both our existing operations and in how we build new businesses. Our new aims are built on our previous environmental and social management practices and the lessons we learnt. We have looked at the UN SDGs and what’s expected by many different stakeholders – partners, customers, civil society, investors and employees – and focused on the areas where we can have the biggest impact. We have developed our aims in close collaboration and consultation with a wide number of these stakeholders.
Here are two examples to illustrate what tackling these challenges together could look like:
Our biodiversity aim has three parts, covering both new and existing operations: aiming for a net positive impact for new projects, enhancing biodiversity at our existing major operating sites, and supporting biodiversity restoration in the countries where we operate. We are also working with our partners to promote collective action on biodiversity. For example, whilst solar PV projects based on the ground (rather than on a roof) present a potential risk or opportunity for biodiversity, Lightsource bp see them as an opportunity to implement dual land use strategies that support biodiversity. Together with stakeholders, Lightsource bp are creating long-term land management and ecosystem enhancement strategies through the development of site-specific environmental management plans to help improve and maintain the local ecosystem. One example of this is the 260MW Impact Solar project in Texas, where biodiversity will be boosted around the site by planting wildflowers to support bees and other pollinator species, creating bird and bat shelters, and providing habitats for reptiles and amphibians.
We also have an aim to become water positive by 2035, which means we will replenish more freshwater than we consume in our operations globally. We’ll do this through two types of actions. Firstly, by becoming more efficient in freshwater use both in our existing operations, such as refineries, and in how we design our new businesses, such as blue and green hydrogen. Secondly, by collaborating with others to replenish water in stressed and scarce catchment areas where we operate, for example restoring wetlands. These actions can be expected to care for other people, organisms, and organisations in the catchment who also rely on the freshwater. It’s good for business too. By becoming more efficient, we will buy and treat less water, which is likely to reduce our costs and our operational risks, making us more resilient to water scarcity and resulting increases in the price of water in the future – which brings us back full circle to the interlinkages between issues. As we think about how to be more operationally efficient with freshwater usage, we need to consider GHG emissions inherent in potential solutions. Recycling water at the end of the process may reduce our water usage but it could increase our GHG emissions. Considering the social aspects of our catchment projects will also be important to ensure access to water, whilst also enabling us to support sustainable livelihoods. Systems-based thinking will be critical for us to deliver all our aims.
This is just a brief summary of bp’s journey to address the interconnected challenges where we can make the most difference. We don’t have all the answers yet, and we will be working with many partners to help us find those answers. But setting out our aims is important – we want to be clear on our intent, report on our progress, and align our organisation to action. That way we will deliver value and contribute to creating an energy system that supports a better future.
Meryl Wingfield is the Vice President of Environmental Sustainability at bp. In this role she is responsible for ensuring that bp delivers on its goals to make a positive difference to the environment in which it operates as a part of the sustainability frame. She is also a trustee of Farnham Repair Café, putting the circular economy into action in her local community.