When BP Plc announced its historic exit from Alaska, Chief Executive Officer Bob Dudley pointed to an extra perk from the $5.6 billion sale: a significantly lower carbon footprint.

Cutting emissions is important for Dudley, partly because influential shareholders are forcing BP to align its spending with climate goals. But there’s a catch.

Hilcorp Energy Co., the buyer of the Alaska assets, plans to pour more money to boost production there than BP would have, according to Dudley. That could end up making the carbon problem worse than it was.

The BP boss and his counterparts at the world’s biggest oil companies are caught in a dilemma. Investors are demanding they adhere to the goals of the Paris climate accord, while continuing to generate the mounds of cash that make them among the biggest and most consistent dividend payers.

To strike a balance, one of the strategies for the executives is to sell high-cost and high-carbon projects. But that may only offload the emissions problem on to another company.

“If one asset just passes to another and still operates at its maximum capacity, OK that may have helped the profile of that individual company, but does that actually do anything on a net effect of reduced emissions?” said Adam Matthews, the director of ethics and engagement at the Church of England Pensions Board. “That’s a legitimate question.”

Oil Sands, Coal

BP is not the only one passing on the responsibility. Royal Dutch Shell Plc divested its carbon-intensive Canadian oil-sands business in 2017 that is now operating under a new owner. Total SA sold its interest in a similar project, which was dormant, to a buyer looking to revive it. Miner Rio Tinto Plc exited coal by selling some of its assets to Glencore Plc, which plans to keep running them for years.

The companies’ actions will be discussed when hundreds of executives gather this week at the Oil & Money conference. The event, which saw noisy protests from pressure group Extinction Rebellion outside its London venue on Tuesday, will change its name to Energy Intelligence Forum next year in a nod to climate change and the energy transition.

While the asset sales help reduce costs, Dudley, Shell’s CEO Ben van Beurden and Total’s Patrick Pouyanne will also need to show they’re committed to the environment and not just offloading their responsibility.

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