Mar 20, 2024 - Energy & Environment

Tensions between phaseout advocates and oil titans on display in Houston

Illustration of a fissure in the ground opening up towards barrels of oil.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

HOUSTON — John Podesta, a top Biden climate aide, is giving the oil industry mixed grades on energy transition.

Why it matters: His remarks highlight wider tension on display at CERAWeek by S&P Global this year — and in past conferences, too.

Inside the room: "They're differentiated by their general commitments to invest in clean resources beyond carbon management, with companies like Equinor having very high targets and others sort of lagging," Podesta told reporters Tuesday.

  • But he did give the sector props for working on its own methane emissions.

State of play: Oil titans all say they're committed to climate but dispute the viability of rapid transition from fossil fuels.

  • They point to persistently strong and growing demand, and hurdles to scaling some alternatives like hydrogen and offshore wind.
  • But critics — a muted presence here at best — say the fossil fuels industry is passively responding to market realities and thwarting faster progress, even as the window to meet Paris Agreement goals narrows fast.

Catch up quick: The sharpest comments this week came from Saudi Aramco CEO Amin Nasser.

  • "We should abandon the fantasy of phasing out oil and gas and instead invest in them adequately, reflecting realistic demand assumptions," he said Monday.

Zoom in: Reuters and the NYT have nice looks at this dynamic.

The bottom line: While COP29 brought a delicate consensus on the concept of moving away from fossil fuels, defining what that should look like is another matter.

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