OPINION: There is much to admire about UK supermajor BP’s commitment to tackle climate change and remain a leading light in the energy world.

After all, this is no ordinary oil company — it is one that has played a leading role in the development of the whole industry.

BP’s history goes way back to 1908 and the first big oil strike in the Middle East — what was then Persia and is now Iran.

Once partly state-owned, it went on to play pioneering roles in Alaska, the North Sea and then on to Russia and the former Soviet Union.

It has, however, built up one of the largest carbon footprints of any company, while also enduring the 2010 Deepwater Horizon tragedy in the US Gulf of Mexico.

Founder William D’Arcy, who led what was then the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, would have been astonished to hear his company is going to cut back its oil and gas business.

But that is what new chief executive Bernard Looney has said he will do as a commitment to net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.

Man on emission: Bernard Looney appears determined to change the course of oil and gas giant BP Photo: RYTIS DAUKANTAS/UPSTREAM

The man who took over from Bob Dudley two weeks ago aims not only to cut BP’s pollution, but also its customers’ emissions, to align itself with targets under the Paris Agreement on tackling climate change.

BP admits the exact roadmap for how this will all be achieved is not yet formulated, but as Looney has said: “Every journey has to begin with a destination.”

It is a bold statement of intent, which will no doubt put pressure on BP's rivals to follow suit.

Companies like Shell, Total and Equinor are already in transition mode, but many others — notably ExxonMobil and many national oil companies — have made no big concessions yet to low-carbon futures.

Looney will have to deliver on his commitment, and BP has in the past made promises that it did not keep.

In 2000, then-chief executive John Browne promised to take the company “beyond petroleum”, only for his successor Tony Hayward to row back hard.

To this day, BP remains almost completely dependent on fossil fuels for its profits and revenues.

Looney claims the company will continue in the oil and gas business “for a very long time” — even beyond 2050.

He is clearly banking on carbon capture technologies and possibly offsetting CO2 emissions, perhaps through reforestation.

But BP, once again, also intends to grow new low or zero-carbon businesses in addition to its US wind farms, biofuels and other renewable energy operations.

Environmentalists are torn between those who praise Looney’s new statement of intent and those who remain sceptical.

Looney can appear to be a modern man with his easy manner and liking for social media.

But the seemingly affable Irishman is a hard-nosed businessman who knows the credibility of BP and Big Oil is now on the line.

He sees the dangers of BP failing to deliver on his new vision but must balance this with appeasing shareholders.

We will hear more concrete plans and milestones, he promises, in September.

This is an exciting journey to see whether oil and gas companies can be as important to the 21st century as they were to the 20th.

Pessimists claim it is mission impossible, while even optimists see it as a massive challenge.

Either way, it is an opportunity. And Looney — much like founder D'Arcy — appears intent on using opportunity as a springboard for BP's future.

(This is an Upstream opinion article.)