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In the late 1990s when then BP chief executive John Browne claimed he was moving the oil company “Beyond Petroleum”, industry wags dubbed it “Beyond Parody”. They were entirely right. For the next 20 years, BP made only token investments in clean energy while buying other oil majors and expanding production relentlessly. Even the massive 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, which badly damaged BP’s reputation and cost it at least $30bn in fines and lost production, didn’t change their petroleum-first culture.

But that appears to have changed this week (Report, August 5) as BP pledged to increase low carbon investments tenfold to $5bn annually while reducing oil and gas production by 40 per cent over the next decade.

If enacted, this represents by far the most thoroughgoing transition by an oil major away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy. But it is hardly selfless. Many studies now find clean technologies are more profitable than gas and oil, as the cost of wind, solar, electric vehicles and other clean options have fallen dramatically, even absent inclusion of massive externality costs of climate change. If BP gets it right and becomes more profitable, the movement “beyond petroleum” for the entire oil industry will have truly begun.

Paul Bledsoe
Professorial Lecturer
Center for Environmental Policy
School of Public Affairs
American University
Washington, DC

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