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National oil companies (NOCs) produce about half of the world’s oil, hold more than half of its refining capacity, and own the bulk of oil and gas reserves. Most of these companies come from emerging markets and depend heavily on international capital to finance their operations. As financial institutions consider more carefully environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks in their investment decisions, an accurate assessment of the ESG performance of NOCs will be vital. Assessment of ESG risks in NOCs is currently hobbled by both the considerable divergence in ESG ratings for any given company and the complex nature of NOCs’ state ownership structure, which isn’t always readily encapsulated in ESG scores. A clearer picture of these companies’ ESG performance could be useful to investors.
This paper, part of the Financing the Energy Transition initiative at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University SIPA, aims to provide a better understanding of what impacts the ESG performance of NOCs in emerging markets. The authors survey ESG ratings of the largest national oil and gas companies in emerging markets for which such ratings are available, alongside the scores of some of the largest integrated oil and gas companies from advanced countries. The authors find a significant divergence in ESG scores for each single company, which raises questions about their individual stand-alone value in assessing the relative ESG performance of companies in the integrated oil and gas space.
An analysis of average NOC ESG ratings—imperfect as they are—against those of international oil companies (IOCs), however, indicates much lower performance of NOCs on governance specifically (i.e., the G in ESG). Ownership by a state creates unique governance challenges—which, in turn, affect environmental and even social efforts—and deserves further exploration to determine which factors within state-owned companies can improve or impair ESG performance, to facilitate a more reliable understanding of NOCs’ ESG risks.
Additional takeaways from the report include the following:
Earlier this month, OPEC+ leaders Saudi Arabia and Russia announced further voluntary production and export cuts, with the former alone accounting for nearly half of the OPEC+ aggregate.
Achieving the goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 requires a substantial reduction in the share of high-emitting fossil fuels in primary energy consumption.