European energy groups seek UN backing for carbon pricing system

Six of Europe's largest oil and gas companies have banded together for the first time to ask the UN to let them help devise a plan to stop global warming.

In a sign of the rising pressure on fossil fuel companies ahead of a UN meeting in Paris to seal an international climate deal, the chief executives of groups including Royal Dutch Shell and Britain's BP have sought direct talks with governments on creating a global carbon pricing system.

"We owe it to future generations to seek realistic, workable solutions to the challenge of providing more energy while tackling climate change," the executives say in a letter to the FT revealing their plan.

"We have important areas of interest in and contributions to make to creating and implementing a workable approach to carbon pricing," said the chief executives, who include the heads of France's Total, Norway's Statoil, Italy's Eni and Britain's BG Group.


Greenhouse gas power plant
Querbeet | Vetta | Getty Images

Energy companies and their trade association representatives have typically preferred to lobby politicians in private meetings rather than via public pronouncements. This highly public proposal marks a shift in the way they typically approach UN climate talks, which they usually attend as observers.

It comes as nearly 200 countries prepare to sign a global climate pact at a UN conference in Paris in December. Some countries want the agreement to include a deadline for phasing out fossil fuels that scientists say must be curbed to avoid potentially dangerous levels of global warming.

It is unclear if such a measure will be approved but growing pressure from politicians and some investors for energy companies to do more to tackle climate change has sparked divisions between European and US energy groups.

The chief executives of ExxonMobil and Chevron, the two largest US oil producers, said last week they would not be joining any European company initiative to forge a common position on global warming.

Rex Tillerson, chairman and chief executive of Exxon, said the company would not "fake it" on climate policy.

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"We're not going to be disingenuous about it. We're not going to fake it," he told shareholders at the company's annual meeting last week.

"We're going to express solutions and policy ideas that we think have merit."

John Watson, Chevron's chairman and CEO, told reporters at its annual meeting on Wednesday: "We think we can make our statements, and our statements speak for themselves."

The six European companies say they believe shunning the use of coal in electricity generation in favour of cleaner burning natural gas, a large source of their revenues, would sharply curb carbon emissions. The chief executives wrote to the UN's top climate official, Christiana Figueres, on Friday asking for "direct dialogue with the UN and willing governments" on designing an international carbon scheme.

They argue the best way to spur climate-friendly investments is for more governments to launch carbon pricing measures, such as the EU's emissions trading system, and create a global framework connecting national or regional schemes.

This would obviously add to companies' costs, the executives say, but it would also create a level playing field for businesses and a clearer idea of how to shape future investments.