In a once-unthinkable reversal of roles, CEOs of oil giants this week talked up limiting carbon emissions and supporting the Paris Agreement, while the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scoffed at CO2’s role in climate change and disparaged the U.N. pact.
The turnabout was on full display in Houston at CERAWeek, the oil-and-gas sector’s premier annual gathering of industry leaders and key policymakers. On Monday, ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods expounded on his company’s commitments to selling natural gas, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sustaining the Paris Agreement. Eldar Saetre, CEO of Norway’s Statoil, said his company would increase investment in renewable energy from today’s 5 percent to as much as 20 percent of total spending by 2030. “One day, there will be a peak in oil demand,” Saetre said. “At some point, it will be a shrinking business.”
ConocoPhillips CEO Ryan Lance recommended that President Trump keep the United States in the Paris Agreement, while Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden warned that the oil-and-gas sector risks losing public support if it does not embrace the world’s transition to cleaner energy. “I do think trust has been eroded to the point that it is becoming a serious issue for our long-term future,” van Beurden said. “This is the biggest challenge as we have at the moment as a company. …[S]ocietal acceptance of the energy system as we have it is just disappearing.” About half of Shell’s holdings are now in natural gas, according toFuelFix. Shell also announced this week plans to sell most of its Canadian oil sands holdings and to tie 10 percent of executive bonuses to cutting greenhouse gases from the company’s oil and gas operations.
In stark contrast, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, also at CERAWeek, triggered a firestorm of media coverage Thursday when he told CNBC that human carbon emissions were not a primary driver of climate change. “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact…,” he said. “We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.” He went on to call the Paris Agreement a “bad deal” for America that favors China and India and suggested the accord was a treaty that requires the approval of Congress.
Pruitt’s predecessor at the EPA, Gina McCarthy, was quick to respond. “When it comes to climate change, the evidence is robust and overwhelmingly clear that the cost of inaction is unacceptably high,” she said in a statement. “Preventing the greatest consequences of climate change is imperative to the health and well-being of all of us who call Earth home. I cannot imagine what additional information the administrator might want from scientists for him to understand that.” Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz, a Democrat, said Pruitt’s comments disqualified him to head the EPA. “Anyone who denies over a century’s worth of established science and basic facts is unqualified to be the administrator of the EPA,” he said. Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, tweeted that Pruitt should be fired for his comments.