Alberta’s government and its oil companies are playing a bit of a shell game with GHG emissions. The story for the public is that the companies are shooting for net zero. They intend to effectively eliminate their carbon emissions. A commendable goal indeed.
The problem with that very optimistic story is that it is incomplete. In a big way. The companies are referring only to the emissions resulting from the production of their product and the energy they purchase such as electricity to power their business.
Omitted from the story is the emissions that result from the use of their product, principally combusting it in automobiles. Unfortunately this makes up over 80 percent of the total emissions from well through ultimate use.
Needless to say, they are reluctant to talk about this annoying aspect of the problem. Now they may have to. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is proposing that publicly listed companies be required to account for their total life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions. They will have to account for not just the carbon contribution of their process but also for the far more important carbon contribution of their product. Disclosing these numbers would massively increase the size of the carbon footprint companies must report to investors and the public.
The rules would apply to more than 230 Canadian companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges, including energy majors such as Enbridge, Suncor Energy, Imperial Oil and Canadian Natural Resources.
Companies have generally fallen back on the argument that what their customers do with their product is not their problem; it’s the customers’ problem. But in fact it’s everybody’s problem. We are all victims of global warming so we all deserve to know who is responsible for feeding it—at every level.
Certainly investors need to know. Astute investors view climate change as a business risk and emissions are a common metric in assessing companies’ exposure to global warming. What are a company’s plans? Is it transitioning to a renewable energy company or leaving all its eggs in the basket of fossil fuels? What kind of company will it be in 10 years? 25 years?
Oil and gas companies have been making record profits in the past year due to surging energy prices, in part as a result of Putin’s war. We all deserve to have clearly spelled out what environmental price we will all pay for their good fortune.