Oil and gas companies shouldn’t bother showing up at global climate negotiations later this year unless they’re ready to help deliver on real emission reductions, former United Nations climate secretary Christiana Figueres told a climate journalism conference in New York this morning.
“They have from now to COP 28 to decide which way they’re going to push,” Figueres told a roomful of journalists at the two-day Climate Changes Everything meeting. If “some of them will actually stand up and lead the herd and be responsible, that is a voice we want to hear.”
But “if they’re going to be there only to be obstreperous and only to put spanners into the system, they should not be there.”
Asked whether she saw any specific companies rising to that challenge, Figueres said she could see the possibility of publicly-traded fossil companies moving faster than state-owned entities. But “it is their shareholders who have become accustomed to the level of dividends that they’re now reaping,” she added. “Even if leadership might want to step aside from the herd, the friction is between the leadership and the shareholders.”
In an opinion piece for Al Jazeera in July, Figueres said she had long “held space for the oil and gas industry to finally wake up and stand up to its critical responsibility in history.” But “what the industry is doing with its unprecedented profits over the past 12 months has changed my mind.”
The companies should be “stepping away from any new oil and gas exploration, investing heavily into renewable energies and accelerating carbon capture and storage technologies to clean up existing fossil fuel use,” she wrote. But instead, they’re “slowing down or, at best, painfully maintaining their decarbonization commitments, paying higher dividends to shareholders, buying back more shares and—in some countries—lobbying governments to reverse clean energy policies while paying lip service to change.”
This morning, Figueres told session moderator Zinhle Essamuah of NBC News that she spoke out because she had run out of patience. “The runway for us to be able to address climate in a timely fashion is totally running out,” but oil and gas companies “have apparently not noticed,” she said. “I understand that it’s not their core business, but their core business has got to move beyond their core business.”