ExxonMobil boss warns against tougher climate regulations

Global warming risks “serious” says Rex Tillerson, but innovation not regulation is answer to soaring greenhouse gas emissions

(Pic: Ed King/Climate Home)

(Pic: Ed King/Climate Home)

By Ed King

The free market’s ability to spur innovation holds the key to tackling climate change, not tougher government policies, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson told fellow executives in London on Wednesday.

The threat of global warming could be addressed, said Tillerson, by using more natural gas, employing carbon capture (CCS) technologies and investing in energy efficiency measures.

“Government works best when it maintains a level playing field, opens the door to competition and refrains from picking winners and losers,” he said.

The Texan, who runs a company with a market value of US$357 billion, said Exxon was already a “global leader” in CCS, a technology deemed essential by many climate experts but which operates to scale at a mere 14 sites globally.

The head of the largest US oil major made a point of mentioning this year’s Paris climate summit in his address to the Oil and Money summit, an annual gathering of hydrocarbon leaders.

“We believe the risks [from climate change] are serious, but we also believe that by sound and wise actions we can mitigate those risks,” he said.

And he urged policymakers away from adopting tougher greenhouse gas cutting measures, suggesting the best policy was a global “revenue neutral” carbon tax.

“It’s up to the people in this room to communicate the foundations of these policies,” he added.

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Earlier this year the Guardian revealed Exxon was still channelling millions to climate sceptic lawmakers in Congress, despite a 2008 pledge to quit lobbying on this issue.

The newly crowned Petroleum Executive of the Year swerved this issue, instead stressing the company’s focus on environmental standards and efficiency investments.

Exxon scientists had mapped internal climate scenarios since the 1970s he said, stressing the company had also cooperated with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The UN climate science panel’s latest report suggests the world has less than 30 years on current emission levels to avoid warming above and beyond the 2C danger zone.

But Tillerson dismissed calls for an end to oil and gas use, a potential outcome at this year’s Paris climate summit, calling fossil fuels a “moral and humanitarian imperative”.

Oil exploration companies had a better perspective of how energy poverty was affecting the world’s poorest than many campaigners, he said, given the geographic breadth of their operations.

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