Oil majors face climate grilling at World Economic Forum

Agenda for this year’s Davos meeting focuses heavily on climate change, with UN carbon cutting deal on horizon

The annual World Economic Forum takes place in the small Swiss town of Davos (Pic: Flickr/moonstar909)

The annual World Economic Forum takes place in the small Swiss town of Davos (Pic: Flickr/moonstar909)

By Ed King

The chief executives of Saudi Aramco, Pemex and Total will face questions about their future in a warming world at the World Economic Forum in Davos next week.

Crumbling oil prices and soaring greenhouse gas emissions feature heavily in the agenda for the annual event in the Swiss Alps, which attracts national leaders, heads of business and civil society representatives.

According to the WEF, the fossil fuel chiefs will be joined by Abdalla Salem El Badri, head of the OPEC oil cartel and will discuss, among other issues, the impact of falling oil prices on climate change.

Speaking at the media launch of the meeting, Richard Samans, a former White House official who runs the WEF’s Global Agenda arm said the group had been asked by the French government to help drive momentum ahead of this year’s UN climate summit in Paris.

“Over the last several years we’ve been working closely with the UN and governments who have a stake in this issue to encourage specific economic and technology cooperation on matters that would make a difference with emissions,” he said.

The role of oil and gas producers in efforts to slow global warming has come under increased scrutiny in the last year.

A draft version of a global climate deal, due to be signed off in Paris at the end of 2015, includes references to a complete phase-out of fossil fuels by 2050.

Research from UK scientists published this month suggests a third of oil, half of gas and nearly all coal reserves will have to remain below ground if the world is to avoid dangerous temperature rises.

Private sector

Central to the 2015 WEF meeting are efforts to encourage business leaders to embrace low carbon energy sources and a “circular economy” – where resources are reused rather than binned.

According to a major economic study released last year and backed by seven governments, an estimated $90 trillion will be invested in infrastructure by 2030. How that money is spent will determine whether the world avoids dangerous levels of warming.

UN climate chief Christiana Figueres and former US vice president Al Gore are slated to explain to finance chiefs how they can encourage green investments.

Other delegates expected to participate in the climate debate include US secretary of state and climate hawk John Kerry, IMF chief Christine Lagarde and the World Bank’s climate envoy Rachel Kyte.

At last year’s summit World Bank president Jim Kim appealed to investors and fund managers to ditch some fossil fuel assets and embrace a global carbon price.

He also called on governments and business to back the nascent green bond market, suggesting it could grow to US$20 billion by September 2014. By the end of the year $36.6bn of bonds had been issued.

Earth under strain

Extreme weather events, environmental degradation and inter-state conflict dominated the WEF’s 2015 Global Risk report, according to 900 of its members surveyed in 2014.

Released this week, it warned governments and businesses were “woefully underprepared” for future extreme weather events linked to climate change.

WEF_impacts_2015

Axel Lehmann, head of risk at the Zurich Insurance Group, which helped produce the report, said rapidly expanding city populations could face the brunt of climate impacts.

“When cities develop too rapidly, their vulnerability increases: pandemics; breakdowns of or attacks on power, water or transport systems; and the effects of climate change are all major threats,” he said.

A separate study, which will also be presented at Davos, warned that humans have pushed the planet’s ecosystems to breaking point.

Four of the nine so-called environmental boundaries have been pushed beyond their limits, said scientists in the research, published in the journal Science.

Climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, land-system change and altered biogeochemical cycles could all push the Earth into a “new state” they said.

Global levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have soared past the 350 parts per million (ppm) “safe” level. In December, the measurement was 399ppm.

“Our analysis suggests that, even if successful, reaching this target contains significant risks for societies everywhere,” said co-author Professor Johan Rockström, director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

“Two degrees must therefore be seen not only as a necessary but also a minimum global climate target.”

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