The UN Climate Summit (COP21) has just completed its third day as of this writing. The 150 world leaders assembled in Paris hope to sign the first-ever universal agreement to limit temperature rise to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels this century.
The executives of 10 IOCs are also at the summit. These mostly European companies together make up the “Oil and Gas Climate Initiative,” and are offering their input at the deliberations over the next two weeks. BP CEO Bob Dudley chairs the OGCI, and will discuss the outcomes of COP21 in February at the International Petroleum Week 2016. (Read about the OGCI in our post previewing the conference.)
Here’s an update of what’s going on around COP21 so far:
1. Obama Wants A “Legally Binding” Final Deal
Since the beginning of his presidency, Barack Obama has sought to make action on climate change a part of his legacy. With that end in view, he said Tuesday before returning to the US that a successful outcome for the UN summit should include a “legally binding” mechanism to ensure countries abide by their carbon reduction pledges. The US has pledged to reduce emissions 26% from 2005 levels by 2025.
Obama enumerated several criteria for a possible agreement, including an “ambitious target” to cut carbon output and a series of mechanisms to measure countries’ progress in achieving this aim. He said leaders should work toward “a single transparency mechanism that all countries are adhering to” and said those mechanisms must be “legally binding.”
However, the nature of an ultimate agreement coming out of the Paris talks has been a subject of debate, as a legally binding accord — if considered a treaty — would need US congressional approval. The Republican-controlled legislative branch has ensured that this will not come to pass.
Here’s what Obama said before leaving Paris:
2. US House of Representatives Votes To Block EPA Regs…A Sign Of Things To Come
Also Tuesday, the US House voted to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s new rules aimed at curbing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
The House voted for a pair of resolutions that would prevent the EPA from enacting regulations the Obama administration released earlier this year to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
While Obama is sure to veto the measures, analysts say the timing of the Republican-coordinated vote is not accidental. The Republicans are indicating that President Obama’s attempts to unilaterally impose climate change action on US industry will not be supported by the legislative branch.
3. US Senate Releases Critical White Paper
Also this week, the US Senate Committee on Environment published a white paper criticizing Obama’s approach on climate change and expressing doubt as to whether the Paris summit will yield results.
The Republican-controlled committee characterized Obama’s pledge of more funding for climate change research as “propaganda” aimed at creating “the illusion that the US will be able to satisfy the demands of the international community.”
The white paper said the administration’s approach to talks “advances a radical environmental agenda with hollow promises … at the expense of the U.S. constitution and the welfare of the American people.”
4. Top US Negotiator: Don’t Worry About Republicans
US climate negotiator Todd Stern told representatives of other countries in Paris that they need not worry about Republican efforts to repeal regulations to curb carbon dioxide pollution from power plants. He was speaking in reaction to the above-mentioned Tuesday vote in the US House.
On Wednesday, Stern said he’s told other negotiators such attempts “will ultimately not prevail,” as President Obama will not sign the measures.
5. California’s Governor Brown Heads To Paris
California Governor Jerry Brown is due to arrive in Paris Friday morning, where he will deliver remarks at an event featuring U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
A discussion about California’s renewable-energy efforts, a keynote speech at a session with climatologists about research and policy, and a talk on how China and California are working together to reduce air pollution and promote clean technology, are among the events.
Even though California is not part of the official talks between world leaders, Governor Brown and the California delegation are expected to underscore the state’s position as a leader in the climate change action.
6. And Then There’s Donald Trump…
The Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump tweeted his thoughts on President Obama’s Paris sojourn on Tuesday:
“While the world is in turmoil and falling apart in so many different ways, especially with ISIS, our president is worried about global warming…What is Obama thinking?”
What is Obama thinking? A video posted by Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on Dec 1, 2015 at 8:12am PST
Other Republican presidential hopefuls have also said in recent days that Obama is placing excessive emphasis on climate change, with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Senator Marco Rubio weighing in with criticism.
7. “Green Jihad” & Pope Francis
A Muslim cleric from Norway, Imam Ibrahim Saidy, is in Paris for the next two weeks. About a year ago, he developed the idea of an environmental holy movement called “green jihad,” which involves monthly fasting and think tank sessions.
On Tuesday, Saidy said from Paris, “The green jihad is to protect and save lives…To make people aware of the dangers of climate change and fight for climate justice.”
Saidy isn’t the only cleric who has urged for action on climate change. Earlier this year, Pope Francis released an official teaching document devoted exclusively to humankind’s relationship with nature.
The Encyclical was significant not only because Francis is the leader of the world’s estimated 1.2 billion Catholics, but also because he was speaking to issues that have assumed an increasingly prominent role ahead of the Paris conference.
8. ExxonMobil Hopes For A Deal
The world’s largest oil company said in blog post Wednesday that it supports “meaningful action to address the risks of climate change” so long as it preserved access to the affordable and reliable energy.
ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson
“The long-term objective of climate-change policy should be to reduce the risks of serious harm to humanity and ecosystems at minimum societal cost, while recognizing shared humanitarian necessities,” Exxon Mobil General Counsel Ken Cohen wrote.
Cohen wrote that ExxonMobil takes climate change seriously and has enacted steps to curb its own emissions.
The most effective solution, he wrote, would be a revenue-neutral tax on greenhouse gas emissions. “Instead of subsidies and mandates that distort markets, stifle innovation, and needlessly raise energy costs, a carbon tax could help create the conditions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a way that spurs new efficiencies and technologies,” he wrote.
“The revenue-neutral carbon tax could be a workable policy framework for countries around the world,” Cohen added.
9. Carbon Pricing Is Emerging As A Major Sticking Point
On Monday, French President Francois Hollande hosted an event on the issue of carbon pricing, saying that “the goal is to gradually set a sufficiently high carbon price around the world to encourage better behavior.”
Hollande was supported in this effort by leaders from Mexico, Canada, Germany, Chile, and Ethiopia. However, there is no global agreement on the issue. These discussions will be ongoing.
In June, BP, BG Group, Shell, Eni, Statoil, and Total sent a letter to UN climate chief Christiana Figueres urging global governments to introduce a pricing system for carbon emissions.
With the goal of reducing carbon emissions, some oil executives have been calling for replacing coal with less polluting gas. BP CEO Bob Dudley recently wrote, “With the UN-led conference on climate change in Paris approaching…we believe the best mechanism to drive a shift to a lower carbon future is to put a price on carbon. That can be done via taxes or by cap-and-trade systems. Either can be effective if well-constructed.”
10. O&G At COP12 Review
BP, Shell, Saudi Aramco, Total, Statoil, Repsol, Pemex, India’s Reliance Industries, BG Group, and Eni, are the ten O&G companies that will be represented at the conference. Together, these companies account for nearly a fifth of all O&G production and supply almost 10% of the world’s energy.
Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) members: Helge Lund, BG Group; Claudio Descalzi, Eni; Emilio Lozoya, Pemex; Bob Dudley, BP; Amin Nasser, Saudi Aramco; Patrick Pouyanné, Total; Eldar Sætre, Statoil; and Josu Jon Imaz, Repsol. (OGCI member CEOs not pictured: Mukesh Ambani, Reliance Industries; Ben van Beurden, Royal Dutch Shell)
Ahead of the summit, these companies have said they will regularly and consistently report on their progress in working toward the goal of a 2°C future. “It is a challenge for the whole of society. We are committed to playing our part.”
The “Who Isn’t”
US-based majors like ExxonMobil and Chevron are among the companies that are not attending the conference. Earlier this year, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson responded to a shareholder who had lauded XOM’s European peers for at least according “lip service” to environmental concerns ahead of UN climate talks next December by saying the following:
“No thank you, that would not be us…We’re not going to be disingenuous about it. We’re not going to fake it. We’re going to express a view that we have been very thoughtful about. We’re going to express solutions and policy ideas that we think have merit.”
Chevron CEO John Watson likewise voiced his disapproval of some of the action items being addressed in Paris. Among these is the trading of carbon-emission permits and carbon taxes, which would raise the price of the companies’ fuels. “I’ve never had a customer come to me and ask to pay a higher price for oil, gas or other products,” he said in June.
Here’s some video from COP21’s conference’s Instagram account:
Behind-the-scenes footage from Monday’s #COP21 ‘family photo’, featuring 150 heads of state coming together to fight #climatechange. A video posted by UN Climate Action (@unfccc) on Dec 1, 2015 at 2:04pm PST