Jun 12, 2019 - Energy & Environment

The agenda behind big oil and Vatican climate-change meeting

Pope Francis with the backs of men in suits.

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Carbon pricing and investment transparency top the agenda of a meeting later this week between leaders of the world’s biggest oil and investment firms and Vatican officials, according to multiple people close to the event and a draft agenda viewed by Axios.

Driving the news: The meeting, first reported by Bloomberg in April, comes almost exactly a year after the first gathering with Pope Francis. This time, organizers hope to produce a first-time joint statement with the Vatican supporting a price on carbon emissions and investment transparency relating to climate change, according to these sources.

The intrigue: Participants in the meeting are likely to be similar to last year’s, which included the CEOs of ExxonMobil, BP and renewable-energy executives. A few expected attendees to this year’s meeting, according to people familiar with the gathering:

  • Ben Van Beurden, CEO Royal Dutch Shell, who was invited last year but couldn’t attend
  • Michael Wirth, CEO of Chevron, who did not attend last year.
  • Barbara Novick, vice chairman and co-founder of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager. Larry Fink, BlackRock's CEO, went last year.
  • Ryan Lance, CEO of ConocoPhillips, who did not attend last year.
  • Darren Woods, CEO of ExxonMobil, is attending again.
  • Bob Dudley, CEO of BP, is attending again.

The big picture: Climate change has been a pillar of Pope Francis’ leadership at the Roman Catholic Church. He wrote his encyclical — a papal letter sent to all bishops — on the importance of addressing the issue, a first in the history of the Church. Since then, and particularly since President Trump entered the White House, oil companies have come under intense pressure — from investors and the public alike — to support action on climate change.

Where it stands: Concern over climate change is growing and renewable energy is booming, but the world overall is not succeeding at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Some oil companies, along with other types of corporations, have started to lobby Congress for a carbon tax, but such a policy remains unlikely in the near-term as a result of Republican opposition.

One level deeper: The two-day meeting is set to include discussions under the following titles, according to a draft agenda viewed by Axios. This draft, dated in May, said the Pope’s attendance had not yet been confirmed.

  • "Context setting: Climate and Science Updates"
  • "What do we mean by a ‘Just Transition’" (Be smart: This phrase is meant to characterize a plan that aggressively reduces emissions while also ensuring people in developing countries have access to energy, and while preserving the economic well-being of displaced fossil fuel workers.)
  • "What are essential elements of effective carbon pricing?"
  • "What are the opportunities related to climate risk disclosures?"

For the record: A Vatican spokesman confirmed the meeting but no other details.

Go deeper: Pope Francis and Big Oil come together on carbon pricing

Editor's note: This story has been updated to add more expected attendees and a Vatican comment.

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