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Big Oil and OPEC try to seize climate narrative

Oil refinery
Photo: Ali Al-Saadi / AFP via Getty Images

Some of the most powerful figures in global energy markets sent a clear signal in Houston early this week: The world will and should move to a lower-carbon future — but on their terms.

What they're saying: OPEC Secretary General Mohammed Barkindo, in repeated appearances, has warned against overemphasis on specific energy sources. He instead called for focus on technology that reduces emissions from heavy use of fossil fuels (his members' products) that he says will dominate energy markets for decades to come.

  • BP CEO Bob Dudley, in a major speech in Houston, called for governments to put a price on carbon, and also said that "we need to be agnostic about fuels and focused on a race to lower emissions."
  • “We have never denied the science. We want to debate the policy,” ConocoPhillips CEO Ryan Lance said onstage.
  • Saudi Aramco CEO Amin Nasser offered an extended warning Tuesday against what he called unrealistic expectations about the penetration of alternative energy and electric vehicles (more on that below).

The big picture: Taken together, the speeches at the big CERAWeek conference thus far — and the scarcity of environmental voices onstage — have provided a window into how the oil industry believes energy transition should unfold:

  • Essentially, that's with a slow transition to cleaner technologies over time. But the conference has not featured voices that say far more aggressive policies are needed to avoid the most dangerous levels of warming.
  • A number of the biggest companies, including BP and Shell, have been expanding their investments in areas like renewables and EV charging. But it's still a very small portion of their spending.
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