Fueling Change

Top energy CEOs defend low carbon efforts, call for realism from campaigners

Key Points
  • BP CEO says he’s "alarmed" to hear words like "extinction, crisis, and emergency."
  • His counterpart at Siemens says the current energy mix is preventing poverty for millions.
  • Total's Patrick Pouyanne calls for less emotion and more rational thought in the climate change debate.
The world today is very polarized: BP CEO

Energy titans are defending their efforts to secure a lower carbon future and are calling for environmental campaigners to remember how vital the current energy mix is to millions of people.

Speaking on a CNBC-moderated panel Monday at the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition & Conference (Adipec), leaders of huge oil and gas firms offered a defiant voice on current efforts to reduce carbon.

“I am alarmed when you hear things like extinction, crisis, emergency in some parts of the world,” outgoing CEO of BP, Bob Dudley told CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick on Monday.

“And then you spend time in some parts of the world, like I have in India, South East Asia, there is a different type of emergency where villages don’t have access to electricity and pumps don’t produce clean water.”

Dudley said global energy needs are rapidly rising and a 30 to 40% energy capacity upgrade would be needed to accommodate the predicted additional 2 billion extra people on the planet by the year 2040.

The 64-year-old, who is set to step down in early 2020, added that there was a lack of realism from environmentalists and lawmakers who want the energy industry to immediately stop carbon-emitting activity.

“There’s just a lot of people, very well-meaning people, who want to believe that there is a simple solution,” said Dudley.

The BP boss said natural gas, which emits roughly half of the carbon as coal to produce the same level of energy, needed to be a big part of the energy transition story. He said fast-developing technology to monitor gas leakage, such as satellite imagery and drone inspection, would soon help to reduce waste further.

Total CEO: We cannot run the world 100% on renewable energy

Also speaking on the panel was Total CEO, Patrick Pouyanne. The French energy leader said the traditional oil and gas players would not “become dinosaurs,” as the world looks to de-carbonize, “because we have a brain.”

Pouyanne said the world understands an “absolute need for energy” and that the industry has to put its belief into evolving technology as a means to produce “cleaner” power.

The Total boss said without energy, people cannot get out of poverty and the reality was that governments would not likely abandon traditional secure sources of power if it put development at risk.

“The question is not to be emotional, I mean I am an engineer, but more rational and to find together solutions without antagonizing one against the other,” said Pouyanne.

Total CEO: Oil giants 'need time' to make transition to clean energy

The 56-year-old Frenchman noted that in making a transition to low-carbon electricity he was less limited by capital than by securing sites, permits and eventually viable projects in different countries.

Joining the chorus of calls for more realism in the transition of energy was Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser.

"The whole world is calling for de-carbonization. But the fact of the matter is that energy is the lifeblood of modern civilization. And you don't want to mess around with lifeblood," said the German industrial leader.

Kaeser said there are "hundreds of millions of people" being pulled out of poverty because of energy and environmentalists needed to remember that when accusing the energy industry of not moving fast enough to address carbon emissions.

He added that each country would need to make its own plan to balance the ongoing energy needs of humans against its path to using cleaner fuel.

Siemens CEO: We're focused on what our energy customers want