Even Coal Companies Asking for Climate Treaty

October 16, 2015


Calling for action on climate change is as trendy as it gets for corporations these days. But the latest businesses to declare support for a global deal on greenhouse gases may turn some heads.

The 14 companies that issued a joint statement Wednesday endorsing international negotiations include leaders from some of the world’s most carbon-intensive industries: coal miners BHP Billiton Plc and Rio Tinto Plc; oil majors Royal Dutch Shell Plc and BP Plc; aluminum producer Alcoa Inc.; and the planet’s biggest cement-maker, LarfargeHolcim Ltd.

Along with a mix of power utilities, industrial-equipment makers and technology companies, the businesses are backing a United Nations effort that’s set to conclude in Paris in December with an agreement among almost 200 nations to rein in fossil fuel emissions blamed for warming the climate. The negotiations are “a critical opportunity” to lay out a path toward “progressively decarbonizing the global economy,” according to the statement.

“These are companies with real skin in the game — either they’re large emitters or their products are,” said Bob Perciasepe, president of the Center for Climate & Energy Solutions, a Arlington, Virginia-based group that helped organize the joint announcement. The businesses “support a Paris agreement that gets all the major economies on board, provides stronger long-term direction and holds countries accountable.”

Center for Climate and Energy Solutions:

We recognize the rising environmental, social, economic, and security risks posed by climate change, and that delaying action will result in greater risks and costs. An effective response to climate change requires strong government leadership, and presents both enormous challenges and significant economic opportunities for the private sector. As businesses concerned about the well-being of our investors, our customers, our communities and our planet, we are committed to working on our own and in partnership with governments to mobilize the technology, investment and innovation needed to transition to a sustainable low-carbon economy.

We support the aim of a more balanced and durable multilateral framework guiding and strengthening national efforts to address climate change. We believe the Paris agreement should commit all parties to undertake nationally determined efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; provide strong transparency to hold countries accountable; require periodic renewal of national contributions to progressively strengthen the global effort; and facilitate international carbon markets. The agreement should, at a minimum, include all of the world’s major economies.

A lot of this is “me too” – we’ve known for years that even the major oil companies support a carbon tax.
One thing that might help would be for those companies to withdraw support from politicians who deny mainstream science – as this recent Bloomberg editorial noted:

Bloomberg View:

Now that six of the world’s largest oil companies have essentially come out in favor of a carbon tax, it’s getting harder to dismiss the idea as some kind of outlandish lefty plot. And those companies can help their cause by engaging Congress directly, instead of outlining their case in a polite letter to the United Nations.

There are two broad arguments against pricing carbon. One is that climate change is exaggerated, or at least unproven, so a carbon tax is unnecessary. The second is to concede that climate change is real but that a carbon tax or similar approach would be too disruptive.

In their letter, sent to the head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in advance of its meeting in December, the oil companies reject the first claim outright and answer the second. They also pledge to work for a change in policy “in our meetings with ministers and government representatives.”

In other words: Their lobbying will consist of more than a letter-writing campaign, which is hardly news. Shell spent almost $15 million in the 2012 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, while BP spent $9 million. If Big Oil wants to change the direction of U.S. climate policy, it’s safe to say it can.

One example: There is legislation that would impose a price on carbon starting at $42 per ton. Big Oil could use its clout to advance the bill in Congress and advocate for the idea in the public debate.

It’s not as if the opposition to a tax is especially stubborn. A poll last year found that while two-thirds of voters oppose a straight carbon tax, 56 percent approve if its revenue is rebated to the public. And if the money it raised were used to fund research into renewable energy, 60 percent approve — including a majority of Republicans.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that voters and companies alike are ready for a carbon tax. Nobody wins by waiting.


15 Responses to “Even Coal Companies Asking for Climate Treaty”

  1. earlosatrun Says:

    Isn’t this like listening to the Fox arguing that he should be prevented from having access to the hen house?

    • andrewfez Says:

      The oil companies want it so they can eat the coal companies’ market share. The only reasons I can think of that a coal company would want it is 1) they like the planet but they know they can’t stop themselves from endeavoring to create profit, and even if they miraculously did, they would then be eaten by other less moral companies who have no intention of stopping on their own; a carbon tax levels the playing field, so everybody dies a slow death together in a fair manner; 2) they know it’s coming if big oil wants it, and want to be in on the negotiations; 3) the particular companies wanting it think they might have a market advantage over less efficient companies and will ultimately gain from the tax; or 4) they think the tax is a lesser evil compared with some other scheme like a sudden, large scale efficiency and/or renewable implementation program; they may be able to string a weak tax out and survive for years, especially if they’re at the negotiating table on defining the tax; in other words, instilling a sluggish component to the policy under the guise that something is being done about the climate.

      • jimbills Says:

        The statement referred to by this post says NOTHING about a carbon tax. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions doesn’t include a carbon tax in its initiatives:

        The goal is to promote lower carbon intensity in the economy without actively cutting gross emissions. There’s no carbon tax involved (they do talk about a carbon trading system, but not a tax), no asking governments to declare certain areas off-limits for drilling, and no hard caps on emissions. Instead, it’s about efficiency, technology, carbon capture and storage, and natural gas over coal. None of these things fundamentally threaten the business models of any fossil fuel company in the short- or mid-terms, so they can win marketing points and continue as usual.

        It’s very simple math – lower the carbon intensity of the economy, but increase the size of economy, and you’re in about the same place. We can’t quite seem to work that one out, though.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          “…lower the carbon intensity of the economy, but increase the size of economy, and you’re in about the same place….”

          DUH! I’m a dumb old guy, so I’m not sure I understand. Would that be like taking a bunch of full 12 oz glasses and emptying 6 oz from each into another glass so that they all look half full even though it’s the same amount of liquid in total? Like the developed world and the nearly developed world using less carbon but “passing” that decline to the emerging and developing economies who are using more?

          If I got that analogy right, what happens when the reality is that the total amount of “liquid” does not stay the same but is increasing, because the emerging economies are using enough more to offset the declinr? I get so confused sometimes.

          • jimbills Says:

            Huzzah! That’d be it.

            And yes, it’s more likely that the size of the global economy will increase faster than the carbon intensity of the global economy will decrease. Few want to believe this, however, and as a whole we ignore it.

            That said, in all likelihood, the fossil carbon companies that signed on to this agreement know this aspect full well, and know the current Paris proposals provide zero threat to their business models for decades to come. Why not sign on? They’d look like the good guys and still make a bundle. Win-win!

        • andrewfez Says:

          Thanks Jim – I erroneously concluded the carbon tax was baked into the call for action, based on the Bloomberg comments about such at the end of the post. The cynicism in my original post can be modulated accordingly without any loss of potency!

        • andrewfez Says:

          The efficiency component does seem to wreak havoc on those guys though:

          • jimbills Says:

            They key wording in that chart might be “authors estimates”, because it’s pretty difficult to accurately separate the effect of energy efficiency from declining consumption due to other factors – there’s a lot of assumption there.

            But, I found the graphic you posted on this page:

            Coal was slammed by NG replacement to the tune of 4 to 8 times more revenue loss than efficiency in those estimates.

            And yet, here’s the actual emissions in the U.S. during that period:

            Funny how that works out – coal gets slammed by NG, efficiency is added, and actual emissions remain about the same at the end of 2014 as they were in 2011. Wuzza woozle?

            Now, add that to the global economy and increasing emissions in the developing world.

          • jimbills Says:

            Also, your posted this graphic a while back, Andrew, and it’s exactly the point:

            California, a very progressive place, and one of the most active U.S. states in applying efficiencies and technologies to mitigating climate change, shows pretty dramatic lower carbon intensity from 2000 to 2013 and higher GDP during that period, and yet, it has almost EXACTLY the same total in actual emissions in 2013 as it did in 2000 – and that’s with drop from the recession.

            Growth eats away the gains, and this can be understood both theoretically and in the actual data – but we (and by “we”, I’m not saying you and me specifically, but humanity in total) keep thinking it won’t happen in the future.

          • andrewfez Says:

            Well, as CA has gone from 468 mmtco2e in 1990 to 459 in 2013, the UK has gone from near 600 tonnes to 427 from 1990 to 2014. CA would have to get to the selfsame 427 (433 minus 6 that the forests absorb) to hit 1990 levels. I’m going to put that in the low probability category.


            …and the UK is talking about closing their 12 coal plants within the next 10 years or so. So local hope arises.

            CA has a population growth problem, but i’m under the impression it’s not PC to talk about it. But I can say one major cultural difference between CA and WV is that Californians are obsessed with international travel for recreation.

          • jimbills Says:

            This is on Wikpedia, which shows an aggregate of about 760 MTCO2eq in 1990 to about 600 MTCO2eq in 2010:

            “Local hope arises”

            Emissions can be shown to drop “locally” from efficiencies and replacement (with the large additions of offshored goods production, economic turmoil, and ironically, warmer weather), even though the economic and population growth in those same areas has a dampening effect on the pace of that drop. The UK still has a long way to go, and as it takes 20 years to shed about 20-30% of its emissions, the global economy increases in growth and emissions at a much faster pace and at a much larger scale.

            Anyway, my point is that the businesses signing on to the statement by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions are likely savvy enough to know that the proposals by that organization and the collective emissions targets for the Paris summit will not provide a significant threat to maintaining their own corporate profits for the next several decades. There are no imposed caps or taxes, and with global growth, they can find the customers they’d need as they also adapt in other ways (favoring NG over coal, for instance).

            In the meantime, we’ll spend the next several decades thinking we’re addressing climate change with these business-friendly tactics, but we’ll be continually surprised about the consistently rising CO2 measurements.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Time for me to trot out my old mantra—CHINA–COAL–INDIA!!! (and add to that GROWTH)

            We are really just kidding ourselves. An excellent piece in the Business section of today’s WashPost titled “Notes from the frontier of CHINA”S ECONOMIC MIRACLE” reinforces the points jimbills has been making and that I have only joked about in this thread. Very interesting article, with lots of cultural details about “economic growth” in China. It is also relevant to what is going on in India, and remember that China and India together hold 1/3 of the human population on the planet.


            In actuality, there is no way China and the other developing countries are going to NOT ramp up their fossil fuel use (and particularly coal) as their economies grow and their citizens become more prosperous. It is simply a given under the capitalist model that all of them have now embraced that the cheap and powerful “energy slaves” found in fossil fuels will help them to “grow”, just as they did in the West over the 250 years since the start of the industrial revolution.

            We can hope that the Paris talks produce some significant results, but unless the developed world spends megabucks and helps the “poor” countries in a BIG way to move directly to non-carbon energy, it’s likely to be too little, too late.

            I am always amused by how we here on Crock frame our discussions in terms of our patterns of energy usage rather than what much of humanity experiences. I am STILL wading through a terrific book—-FIRE AND ICE: Soot, Solidarity, and Survival on the Roof of the World—-about the life of villagers in the Indian Himalayas. Among the many excellent points it makes (including a vivid picture of how a small and remote village is following the same steps as the Chinese have—as outlined in the WashPost article) is a discussion of the major problem the world has with black carbon, or soot, a huge factor in global warming. Much of humanity in the third/developing world is still burning wood, coal, animal dung, and kerosene for cooking and heating, and that’s producing large quantities of PM2.5 particles. This is the same stuff Dr. Box and the Dark Snow Project are studying in Greenland, and the book even includes a photo taken by Dr. Box.

            The world suffers 7 million deaths annually because of air pollution caused by burning, and that’s caused by the soot and toxics contained in the smoke, NOT the CO2. That’s one of the reasons the VW diesel coverup is so shameful—-PM2.5 soot particles in diesel exhaust are one of the nastiest pollutants, and although it may be hard to quantify exactly, it isn’t hard to generate some credible figures about the number of deaths VW has caused by allowing its diesel vehicles to exceed standards.

            Black carbon is short-lived but is a very potent short-term GHG. Since we keep putting more in the atmosphere on a daily basis, it never “settles” out. I myself am mystified by the fact that we don’t talk about it much and instead focus on CO2. Google Asian Brown Cloud or Brown Cloud Over India and take a look. And it’s not an “over there” problem—read this and weep.


  2. redskylite Says:

    A reminder from desmog why we in the 21st century should ditch this driver of the industrial revolution.

    10 Reasons Coal Will Always Be Dirty (plus transportation costs)

    “Coal produces 44 percent of our electricity, and it’s the biggest single cause of air pollution worldwide. Now that this is becoming common knowledge, the industry has tried to salvage their reputation with complex marketing tactics and the touting of new technologies. But the environmental impacts of coal continue to be devastating.”


  3. dumboldguy Says:

    I call BS on this brightsideness. My well-trained crap detectors are vibrating over such statements as these:

    “The negotiations are “a critical opportunity” to lay out a path toward “progressively decarbonizing the global economy,” according to the statement”.

    “The businesses “support a Paris agreement that gets all the major economies on board, provides stronger long-term direction and holds countries accountable.”

    “We support the aim of a more balanced and durable multilateral framework guiding and strengthening national efforts to address climate change…”.

    “We believe the Paris agreement should…facilitate international carbon markets”.

    IMO, it’s all PR and smoke and mirrors and delaying tactics so that these companies (Who are among the most exploitative and destructive of the Earth’s resources. Rio Tinto concerned about the environment?—-Please!) can continue with BAU and maximize the return to their shareholders.

    I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but we won’t know until after Paris.

    PS Came across an interesting book that I may wade through some day. An American Bar Association pub on environmental law and court decisions. This link leads to a page on Rio Tinto, but do take a look at the rest of it.


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