There is a real danger that the climate debate is deteriorating into a game of name-calling, with oil and gas companies all too often portrayed as opponents of climate progress. But polarizing the debate in this fashion will not get us any closer to solving the problem. We can achieve far greater and faster emissions reductions if environmentalists and energy companies work together.
Most oil and gas companies recognize the threat of climate change and want to be part of the solution. As a sign of their seriousness, five of the largest — BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Shell and Total — have joined a broad coalition, convened by the Climate Leadership Council, which I run, in backing a concrete plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions in the United States by half by 2035. These oil and gas companies are not only lending their names to this environmentally ambitious solution; they are putting their money and lobbying muscle behind it.
This marks a turning point for American climate policy and the politics surrounding the issue, because the energy majors are an indispensable part of any successful clean-energy transition. It is important to understand why the industry’s technological, economic and political support is so essential in achieving climate progress.
For starters, oil and gas companies have the scale, research and development budgets, expertise and infrastructures needed to expand low-carbon energy sources like wind, solar, geothermal, biofuels and hydro, and to pioneer new technological breakthroughs. Their research and development budgets are many times larger than those of companies focusing only on renewables, and their venture capital divisions help finance many of the nation’s clean tech start-ups.
Movements for positive change often fail not just because of the resistance of entrenched interests but also because of divisions within the movement itself. It is time to overcome unnecessary divisions and work together in promoting an ambitious and politically viable climate solution.