Increasingly Cornered, Fossil Fuel Giants Go from Stonewall to “Good Cop”

May 25, 2015

The recent election results in Alberta were a shock to the Canadian Oil patch, including bigwigs in charge of the planet-killing Tar Sands extraction projects underway there.  Add in to that the Pope’s eminent “encyclical” letter that will make climate change a priority for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, and you understand why Oil giants are scrambling to find an alternative to stone walling on climate change solutions. I’ve posted on the recent declarations by executives at BP and Shell in regard to climate and a carbon tax.  Last week, Steve William, CEO of Suncor, one of the biggest Tar Sands players, declared that climate change was real, could not be ignored, and invited the new Alberta Government to come up with a carbon tax plan. Belatedly, the Wall Street Journal has sniffed out a trend.

At the same time, some of these companies’ own shareholders are pushing them to scale back their dependence on carbon-based fuels, worried about the future financial impact of heightened global-warming regulation. The companies are also anticipating rules to limit emissions that would make oil and natural gas more expensive, potentially reducing demand for the fuels. This led to a change in behavior. Where in the past executives could be dismissive of the climate-change debate or leap to defend their companies, industry officials are now raising the issue themselves and proposing remedies such as the imposition of a carbon tax. “We have to stop being defensive,” Total SA Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanné told a major industry conference in Houston last month. “In the end, it won’t be solved by diplomacy only, but by private players, economic players like us.” Total, Saudi Aramco, Eni SpA, BG PLC, Royal Dutch Shell PLC and others have formed an industry group specifically to add their collective voice to the climate debate, and they are trying to bring other leading international oil and gas companies into the group. “Business is engaged in a way I’ve never seen before,” said Rachel Kyte, head of the climate-change division of the World Bank. – “The minute the word got out that the pope was working on this, we had a lot of people contributing,” said Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, who heads the Vatican office tasked with drafting the encyclical. “We listened to everybody who had something to say: physicians, academicians, students; people in all walks of life, including people from the oil industry.”

Listen carefully to yesterday’s audio or watch the video of Suncor CEO Steve Williams below: CBC:

Should a call for a broad-based carbon tax from Suncor, itself a large industrial emitter, raise any eyebrows? While the company isn’t a disinterested third party, Chris Ragan, an economist at McGill and chair of Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission, which organized the panel, doesn’t think so. “I don’t see a conflict, a conflict would be if someone heading up an oil and gas company were to say do this to consumers, not on me at all, that would be a conflict,” Ragan said. “He’s not saying that at all. He’s saying do this on all of us. Get us but get everybody because we’re all the same.” Rare as it is for an oil company to call for a carbon tax, rarer still in this age of partisanship is hearing the oil industry, the environmental lobby and business groups sing from the same song book about the need for that tax. “I think it is a good thing when we have messages across the room echoing the same thing,” Amin Asadollahi, Pembina’s director of oilsands research, said after speaking on the panel. “It should send a clear signal to politicians that industry and environmental groups are ready to move forward on a more effective policy. That’s a good thing.”

Cynics will say that this is a proposal set up to fail, in that Alberta consumers may well balk at having to pay the additional tax. That’s one reason that the Citizen’s Climate Lobby, as well as Dr. James Hansen and others, have advocated a “fee and dividend” approach, where revenue collected at the wellhead, the mine, and the port, is immediately routed back to the citizens in the form of regular dividends. In any case, the evidence is clear that at the executive level, Fossil fuel companies now understand the risks and what is at stake in this crisis.  What they are doing to educate their employees, the media, and their favorite politicians is not yet clear.


12 Responses to “Increasingly Cornered, Fossil Fuel Giants Go from Stonewall to “Good Cop””

  1. Gingerbaker Says:

    ““In the end, it won’t be solved by diplomacy only, but by private players, economic players like us.””

    Anybody but government, right?

    In the end….. it won’t be solved at all. Twenty-five years of waiting around for his “private players” to do something, hands in pockets, scraping dirt with their shoe-tips. And we are supposed to hope that somehow, now, a miracle occurs, and AGW gets solved by these “private players”?

    National scale problems are best solved by national government. Waiting around for “private players” to make enough profit to solve this problem is the path to doom. s proven by the past thirty years of no progress.

    Why is the Department of Energy sitting on its hands??

    • jimbills Says:

      “Why is the Department of Energy sitting on its hands??”

      Because all governmental agencies are essentially maintaining the status quo. It does so due to campaign financing, which ensures only those who will favor the most powerful get elected, and by a ‘revolving door’ of bureaucracy and the private sector. Many governmental agents come from our top corporations, or get hired by them afterwards, on a regular basis. It strongly influences responses to favor those same corporations:

      • Andy Lee Robinson Says:

        Game theory.
        When the status quo breaks, it’ll do it big time.
        Perhaps a tipping point in solar panel costs, adoption and installation will set it off.

        I’d also vote for mass produced personal and portable power packs that can be charged by whatever energy source is available – solar, wind, hydro, donkey, hamster etc… and can be used to power anything, including bicycles, skateboards, scooters, drones, cars, phones, household appliances, lighting etc.
        Lots of things trying to fill the market, but not quite there yet.

  2. jimbills Says:

    CEOs and investors will not overly sacrifice their own short-term profits or their future viability for nebulous and largely unprofitable long-term gains. Instead, they’ll find a way around losing their shirts while appearing to address the situation, and they’ll seek solutions that are spread communally instead of felt individually.

    Corporate lobbying is about maximizing subsidies that directly benefit their businesses and minimizing expenses (by spreading the costs to the taxpayer or by blocking regulation).

    If they’re calling for carbon taxes, it’s because they figure it won’t unduly damage their companies’ bottom line and will protect them from other measures that would do so. They also get to look like the ‘good guys’ while doing so.

    Greenwashing by Suncor:

    A spoof of that site:

    • andrewfez Says:

      They’ll make up the margin loss by selling more volume as they plan on killing off the coal industry and powering ‘merica with nat gas.

  3. Sir Charles Says:

    “Business is engaged in a way I’ve never seen before,” yeah, “engaged”, here the peak of the iceberg:

    Industry lobbyists ‘trying to undermine’ Paris Climate Summit

    • markle2k Says:

      Industry lobbyists ‘trying to undermine’ Paris Climate Summit

      Google Cache Version

      Industry lobbyists could yet succeed in watering down some of the key messages to be presented at next week’s Paris Business & Climate summit, sparking fears the high profile event will fail to adequately demonstrate the level of private sector backing for an ambitious global deal on climate change.
      Documents seen by BusinessGreen reveal how the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) demanded references relating to the “science” behind the need for a 2C temperature target were stripped out of the guideline messages prepared for speakers at the event. The group also attempted to add a number of caveats on industrial competitiveness and carbon pricing mechanisms to the briefing documents….

  4. Sir Charles Says:

    BTW, here an exhausting lawsuit by a courageous lady in Alberta who got poisoned by the fracking industry. She’s not only suing Encana for compensation, she’s also accusing Alberta Environment and Energy Resources Conservation Board of negligence and unlawful activities:

  5. Paul Magnus Says:

    #UINTA basin: 25x recoverable #fossilfuels than #tarsands!

  6. indy222 Says:

    This is all just politics, not real conscience. The kind of mind that engages in the blatant planet-killing denialism of the past 25 years isn’t the mind that suddenly wants to “do the right thing”. Remember too, that people in a democracy only get to elect the politicians – what the politicians do once in office is NOT up to the people. The Princeton study of last year shows overwhelmingly that they do what the corporate lobbies want. At best, we’ll get a strategic compromise with a token carbon tax which industry spokesman have already said they can “live with” and incorporate into their business models. It’s those same business models which must be destroyed, immediately, if we’re to have a real future.

  7. Paul Coppock Says:

    Let’s hear their tune if oil goes back to $120/bbl.

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