As a century drew to a close and a whole new millennium approached, people around the world turned their thoughts to the future.
Scientists did the same, naturally, and many of them didn’t like what they saw. Climate change, they said, posed a genuine and growing threat to the earth.
We are all citizens of one world, and we must take shared responsibility for its future.
- John Browne, Addressing Global Climate Change, 1997
BP was looking forward, too. The 20th century had drawn much of its immense energy from oil, and all signs were that the same would be true of the 21st. With major, long-term projects in Russia, the Gulf of Mexico, North America, Azerbaijan, Indonesia and elsewhere, BP had a lot of oil and gas in the proverbial pipeline. Furthermore, technology, including discoveries from BP’s own research facilities, was opening up new frontiers in the search for fossil fuels.
These developments were not brushed over lightly in a speech Lord Browne, then BP's group chief executive, gave in California in 1997.
He called for “a balance between the needs of development and the need for environmental protection.” But a different statement took the headlines. Lord Browne had become the first CEO of a major energy company to acknowledge the near consensus among scientists about the global threat posed by climate change. And BP, he said, had a share in the responsibility for addressing the problem.
Energy in all its many forms
As the millennium turned, BP people threw themselves into finding new forms of low-carbon energy while reducing BP’s own contributions to carbon in the atmosphere.
BP got involved in a Clean Cities campaign in Europe, launched an emissions trading scheme and expanded its solar power business, which now also included Amoco’s solar assets.
In 2000, after a period in which the group grew to include Amoco and ARCO and Castrol (with Aral soon to follow) BP unveiled a new, unified global brand. Its identifier was a green, yellow and white sunburst, symbolizing energy in all its dynamic forms.
Under this new banner BP took bigger and bigger steps towards addressing climate change. It installed solar panels at its service stations, brought solar power to remote villages in the Philippines, helped bring hydrogen-fuelled buses to London and introduced new, cleaner types of motor fuel. It created a unit, BP Alternative Energy, devoted to making from all the various types of low-carbon energy – solar, wind, natural gas, biofuels – a viable, large-scale and profitable business.
Mindful also of the more immediate demands of the world economy, BP people watched as the presidents of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey inaugurated the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which would transport one million barrels of oil a day from the Caspian. Projects in Angola, Russia and the Gulf of Mexico also came on stream.
From that first, uncertain search for oil in Persia, BP had grown to become a global energy company, providing large quantities of oil while also making strides along a promising path towards oil’s alternatives. Some might say BP had become (and perhaps always had been) an organization that embodied energy in all its many forms.