Italian oil and gas group Eni promised investors higher returns on March 15 through a share buyback and bigger dividend, pledging strong cash flow growth over the next four years.

In its 2019-2022 plan, the company announced a four-year buyback program with an initial allocation of $453 million this year and a 3.6% rise in its dividend to 97 cents in 2019.

It said after this year the buyback would be $453 million per year with Brent prices between $60-65 per barrel (bbl) but would rise to $907 million if Brent was above $65 a bbl.

Brent crude was trading around $67 a bbl on March 15.

"We will generate some $25 billion free cash over the plan in our upstream business, almost double our dividend need," Chief Executive Claudio Descalzi said on a conference call.

Over the last year, the world's top oil and gas companies have come under pressure to return more cash to shareholders as profits and oil prices rise after a three-year crunch.

Oil and gas output will grow an average of 3.5% per year to 2025, Eni said, adding it expected 2.5 billion barrels (Bbbl) of oil equivalent of new resources.

Eni, which in 2018 produced 1.85 million barrels per day (MMbbl/d), was struggling to replace reserves a decade ago but giant gas finds in Mozambique and Egypt have since given it the strongest discovery record in the industry.

The company, which produces more than half its oil and gas in Africa, has made a move to diversify away from the continent by clinching a series of deals in the Gulf region.

Eni will invest a total of around $37 billion in its four-year plan to 2022 and will plow $1.6 billion in new energy solutions. It plans to have more than 10 gigawatts of renewable capacity by 2030.

It also said it would be net zero carbon neutral by 2030. "Tackling this is a strategic priority of our board," Descalzi said.

Investors in recent years have ratcheted up pressure on boards of fossil fuel companies to reduce emissions, spend more on low-carbon energy and increase disclosure on climate change.