BP’s new chief executive Bernard Looney struck a conciliatory figure on Wednesday as he laid out the company’s ambition to eliminate its net emissions by the middle of the century.
“We are seen by many as the source as the problem, and worse still, the cause of it,” Mr Looney told a room full of investors, analysts and BP grandees, including its former chief executive Baron John Browne who launched the company’s Beyond Petroleum campaign in 2010.
We hear you, seemed to be the message to BP’s critics, as the newly appointed boss walked on to the stage while two big screens showed pictures of protesters and mean tweets about the company’s climate change record.
But Mr Looney insisted he is not just trying to placate protesters.
“This is more than having to change, we want to change,” he told onlookers in London whose travel BP said it had carbon offset.
“I get the huge frustration, I get the anxiety, I get the anger, and I get that people want cleaner energy,” Mr Looney said.
It was a speech of broad ambitions, but very little detail, as Mr Looney set out his aims, but not his plans.
“Today is about a vision, it is about a direction of travel,” he told an audience in London. “What I will not talk to today is a lot of the detail on the next month, the next year, or the next five years,” he added.
“Details have to come, you have to judge us by our actions, not by what I say here today.”
Quizzed by reporters and analysts, Mr Looney took to the whiteboard to literally draw the change he wants.
It is undoubtedly a big challenge for a company whose raison d’etre has been to take oil out of the ground for more than a century.
Mr Looney’s ambition would mean cutting BP’s emissions by as much as the UK emits every year.
But Mr Looney still kept one eye on his investors, promising that BP will be “performing while transforming”.
This will include focusing on margins, rather than quantity of production, and keeping dividends high.
The company will invest more in non-oil and gas businesses, and – in time – hydrocarbon production will start to decline.
But “BP is going to be in the oil and gas business for a very long time. We pay a… dividend every year, not paying that is a way to ensure that we’re not around,” Mr Looney said, adding that oil money can help fund the transition.
The company’s commitment was welcomed by some climate change-aware investors, but many non-governmental organisations criticised the lack of detail in the announcement.