AMID the noise generated by COP26, revealing comments by oil majors about renewables and related markets were drowned out by demands for simple solutions to the climate change challenge fuelled by Greta Thunberg and her many admirers.

In advance of the summit in Glasgow oil and gas firms faced a barrage of criticism from campaigners for whom they provided an easy target. As burning fossil fuel has contributed to global warming the production of oil and gas should be stopped. Simple.

Calls for curbs on North Sea activity intensified from June after Siccar Point Energy and Royal Dutch Shell applied to develop the Cambo field off Shetland.

The development concerned could generate many jobs in the supply chain and valuable tax revenues while helping to reduce the UK’s reliance on imports but opponents seem unmoved by any such considerations. They focus on the emissions that will be generated by the use of the oil that will be produced from Cambo. Arguments that if the field is not developed the UK may have to rely on overseas sources of oil that entail higher emissions leave them unmoved.

READ MORE: Shell boss defends Cambo plan as he declares North Sea is an 'outstanding' basin

Nicola Sturgeon has stoked opposition to Cambo by calling for the original licence to be reviewed, without saying the development should be banned. She appeared delighted to get a photo-opportunity with Ms Thunberg in Glasgow this week.

The £1.4 billion Queensferry road crossing over the Forth that the SNP Government led by Alex Salmond decided to build may have helped speed demonstrators from north of the river on their way to Glasgow.

Last month Shell chief executive Ben van Beurden was confronted at a conference in Edinburgh by campaigners who objected to him being invited to speak at it.

However, the fact that the COP26 summit coincided with the quarterly results reporting season for oil majors provided Shell and its rival BP with an opportunity to try to respond to the criticism the industry has faced.

Mr van Beurden hammered home his view that Shell has developed a strategy that will allow the company to play an important role in supporting the transition to a cleaner energy system.

The company will continue to produce oil and gas, which will be needed to meet global demand for energy. But it will use the profits it generates to fund investment in the energy systems that the world will need if emissions reductions targets are to be met.

READ MORE: North Sea oil platforms could harness 'limitless supply of clean energy' in area say experts 

In that context, Mr van Beurden made clear on a call with journalists that he does not think opposition to Cambo makes sense.

Shell’s chief financial officer Jessica Uhl reinforced the view that cutting oil and gas production in the UK without reducing demand would not help to tackle emissions. She highlighted the work Shell is doing to decarbonise the supply chain through projects such as the revamp of the Pernis refinery in the Netherlands, where renewable diesel is to be produced from waste cooking oil.

On a call with analysts, BP chief executive Bernard Looney took a similar tack, underlining his belief that the company’s oil and gas and renewables businesses belong together. Hedge funds see opportunities for investors to make money by encouraging the likes of BP and Shell to break themselves up into separate oil and gas and renewables businesses.

Mr Looney highlighted the range of projects that BP plans to invest in in the UK alone. These include plans to help Aberdeen become a hydrogen production hub as well as a base for BP’s global offshore renewables business. BP bid for acreage in the ScotWind licensing round which closed recently.

The company is a partner in the East Coast carbon capture and storage cluster. This was recently awarded fast track status by the UK Government in preference to the rival Scottish cluster.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson told snub for Scottish carbon capture cluster makes no environmental or economic sense

Mr Looney also noted that the group expects to play a major part in the roll-out of the electric vehicle charging facilities that the country will need.

But in what was essentially an attempt to make a case for the new look BP to the investor community, it was notable that Mr Looney also underlined how much money the company expects to make in the new energy world.

For example, he noted that if one of the group’s EV charging points achieves a utilisation rate of just 10 per cent BP would expect to make a 10% return on its investment. What’s more lots of the people who stop to charge up their cars are likely to pop in to the cafes operated by BP on its sites to buy a coffee and/or a snack. The snack business may sound prosaic but it can be very high margin. It forms a part of what Mr Looney termed a complete “customer capture” strategy.

Mr Looney also emphasised that BP thinks it can make lots of money in the offshore wind market in the UK. It already has licences covering acreage in the Irish Sea, which it won with Germany’s EnBW.

Mr Looney told analysts that directors reckon returns of 8% to 10% on offshore wind investmen are in prospect

BP also expects to be able to use its trading muscle to boost the profits it generates in the renewable energy market. Last year the trading arm struck a deal to sell output from the Kennoxhead windfarm in Lanarkshire to Amazon.

READ MORE: Amazon in major Scottish windfarm deal

BP and Shell both expect to pay out billions to investors in coming years, through dividends and share buybacks. Their bullish forecasts should provide food for thought for the Government when it considers how much support it is appropriate to provide for firms to develop renewable energy assets, either through subsidies or tax breaks.

Italian oil giant Eni may have inadvertently strengthened the case for the Government to cut the subsidies provided for offshore wind through the Contracts for Difference regime, the costs of which fall on consumers.

Eni recently bought a 10% stake in phase three of the giant Dogger Bank windfarm off North East England from Scottish Hydroelectric owner SSE for £70m. It is also buying a 10% interest in Dogger bank C from Norway’s Equinor for £70m.

READ MORE: SSE boss defends treatment of Scottish supply chain amid windfarm row

In December Eni acquired 10% stakes in the first two phases of Dogger Bank from each of SSE and Equinor, for £405 million in total.

Chief executive Claudio Descalzi noted the latest deal would strengthen Eni’s presence in the offshore wind market in Northern Europe, which he described as “one of the most promising and stable” in the world.

Eni applied for acreage in the ScotWind round. It will also face competition from Shell, which bid with ScottishPower, and from SSE.