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Eldar Sætre. Photo: Niklas Halle'n/AFP/Getty Images

HOUSTON — The CEO of Norwegian oil company Equinor, Eldar Sætre, spends more than half his time on climate change and is optimistic the industry will unite on the issue despite the existential threat it presents, the executive told Axios on the sidelines of a major conference.

Why it matters: Equinor, partially owned by the Norwegian government, is the most progressive global oil and gas company in the world when climate change. It even changed its name last year from Statoil to reflect its transition away from oil and toward cleaner sources like offshore wind. Here are excerpts of our interview Monday at CERAWeek by IHS Markit.

Axios: The Norwegian government recently announced it was divesting its sovereign wealth fund — the largest in the world — from exploration and production companies as a way to make its economy less dependent on oil. That spares bigger companies like Equinor, BP and Shell. What’s your reaction to this?

"I don’t see this having a big impact on these companies. … It’s being read and interpreted in many ways, including getting away from oil and gas, but the government is very clear, it has nothing to do with that."

Axios: In your speech at this conference, you talked a lot about how populism and extreme politics is getting worse. What do you mean by this?

You see this in quite a few countries, where the politics is becoming more short-sighted, driven by how political processes are being run through social media and communicated directly to people.”
  • Reality check: He said he wasn’t referring specifically to any country or politician, but his description captured the dynamic here in the U.S. with President Trump.

Axios: To what extent have you considered ending memberships in trade associations, such as the American Petroleum Institute, for their positions that don’t align with your aggressive stance supporting action on climate change?

When it comes to API, there are dilemmas with API, but we also feel we can have differing views on specific themes, and agree on other themes. As long as we can do that, we find that it's an association we can be a part of. We can also work from the inside, in our view, and promote our views.”

Axios: It takes a large amount of new investments in new oil discoveries just to keep pace with global oil demand. As you shift your portfolio, do you foresee ceasing looking for new sources of oil?

"We’ll shrink our portfolio at some point. Our exploration portfolio is still growing. … Renewables displace oil and gas: We don’t have that situation yet. We do meaningful oil and gas projects, still growing it, not a lot but some, and we can still do a lot of good renewable projects."

Axios: You talked a lot about how the industry can unite around climate change. But you’re a very different company than, say, ExxonMobil or EOG Resources. How can such a diverse industry get on the same page on what ultimately is a competitive space?

Sætre laid out three areas where he thinks the industry can agree, including transparency, supporting regulations and engagement:

“Transparency is an obvious one. Investors want that insight into what our portfolio looks like. It’s not an attack on our industry. … We can engage more. Some companies are hiding a little bit, seeing what’s going on, but staying out of this discussion. We need to engage.”

Axios: How much time do you spend on climate change?

“A lot. Externally, it’s more than 50%. Go back, five, 10 years ago, it’s a big increase. It’s also a big part of the dialogue with investors, almost just in the last year.”

Go deeper:

Go deeper

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The European Central Bank and the market's moment of truth

ECB president Christine Lagarde; Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The biggest event for markets this week will be Thursday's meeting of the European Central Bank's governing council and the press conference following it from ECB president Christine Lagarde.

Why it matters: With interest rates jumping around the globe, investors are looking to central bank heads to see if they will follow the lead of Fed chair Jerome Powell, who says rising rates are nothing to worry about, or Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda, who has drawn a line in the sand on rates.

Mike Allen, author of AM
53 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Manchin's next power play

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), America's ultimate swing voter, told me on "Axios on HBO" that he'll insist Republicans have more of a voice on President Biden's next big package than they did on the COVID stimulus.

The big picture: Manchin said he'll push for tax hikes to pay for Biden's upcoming infrastructure and climate proposal, and will use his Energy Committee chairmanship to force the GOP to confront climate reality.

Why picking a jury for the Derek Chauvin trial is so hard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The tough task of selecting a jury for former MPD officer Derek Chauvin's trial for the killing of George Floyd is set to begin Monday.

The state of play: "This case may be the most highly publicized criminal trial in a long time. ... That means that it's harder to find people who really have an open mind," Richard Frase, University of Minnesota Law School professor of criminal law, told Axios.