Oil giants brush up climate credentials ahead of Paris summit

New initiative backed by UK, Chinese and Saudi firms seeks to explore ways they can contribute to emissions challenge

(Pic: OGCI)

How the oil industry’s climate group sees the future – rusting rigs and gleaming panels (Pic: OGCI)

By Ed King

Eight of the world’s top oil and gas producers have offered an intriguing glimpse into a future of rusting oil rigs and gleaming solar panels.

A vision of old and new energy sources, on what looks like a dried out seabed, dominate the front page of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) website, a project launched by BG Group, BP, Eni, Pemex, Saudi Aramco, Shell, Sinopec and Total.

They joined forces last week at the Paris business and climate summit to emphasise their qualified support for carbon cuts, and plan to reveal how they can contribute to global efforts to address climate change in a report due out later this year.

The oil giants – responsible for 25 million barrels of oil equivalent a day – a sixth of global hydrocarbon production – say they want to “drive the sector forward” on climate solutions.

Options discussed at a gathering of the OGCI last week include cuts to gas flaring and methane emissions from production facilities, together with work on measuring climate-related impacts.

“Outcomes from the workshop will help inform the OGCI’s first joint report that will be published ahead of the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP21),” the group said in a statement.

New winds?

It offers another signal that after decades of blocking efforts to tackle climate change, some of the world’s top fossil fuel producers are now acknowledge rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions could be an issue.

Last week Saudi Arabia’s oil minister said the country could be finished with fossil fuels by 2040 or 2050, and offered the thought it could turn to exporting solar power.

BP and Shell recently adopted shareholder resolutions to force them to reveal if their assets will be unburnable under tighter climate regulations.

Chevron and Exxon Mobil, which are not part of the OGCI, have rejected calls to pull out of carbon-intensive projects. And apart from Total, which gas solar projects in the US, South Africa, Chile and Abu Dhabi, other OGCI members have insignificant renewable investments.

The “long term solutions” part of the website talks about digital solutions or regulatory behaviour. It doesn’t mention the UN climate science panel’s warning that at the rate of current emissions, in less than 30 years dangerous warming will be locked into the world’s climate.

Leopard, spots

Many seasoned observers of climate change talks have called the commitment of oil companies to decarbonise into question, pointing to Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic this summer.

Environmentalist Jonathan Porritt, who once advised BP on its environmental strategies, said it was “impossible” for them to adapt to a world that needs to rapidly slash emissions.

The UK’s former top climate diplomat John Ashton has described Shell’s strategy of warning about climate dangers yet continuing to explore as “narcissistic, paranoid and psychopathic”.

But with the Paris summit fast approaching, there appear to be efforts at senior UN levels to offer the oil giants a way to bring solutions to the French capital.

UN climate chief Christiana Figueres and UN assistant secretary-general on climate change Janos Pasztor also addressed last week’s OGCI meeting, according to the statement.

Speaking to RTCC in Barcelona this week, Figueres said it was time to stop “demonising” hydrocarbon producers, arguing their technical expertise was vital in curbing emissions.

“We need everyone – climate change is so important so we cannot afford to demonise any country or company,” she said.

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