HOUSTON (Reuters) - Rajendra Pachauri said he thought he was “walking into the lion’s den” on Tuesday when he told oil executives they need to take a lead in cutting greenhouse gas emissions in order to save the earth.
Pachauri, chairman of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore, said the oil industry has been both lion and lamb when it comes to seeing the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions to prevent global warming.
“It’s a very mixed response,” Pachauri said on the sidelines of the CERA Week Energy Conference held at the heart of the U.S. oil industry in Houston.
“I was very struck by (ConocoPhillips Chief Executive) Jim Mulva’s presentation when he talked about the pressure that the public is going to put on legislators and on companies,” Pachauri said. “And those who do not accept that reality will face a huge reputational risk.”
Mulva on Tuesday told the conference that the U.S. government should enact climate change policies that would tie into programs abroad. Mulva also said the petroleum industry must cut greenhouse gas emissions and that those in it “no longer have the luxury of standing on the sideline.”
Pachauri noted Europe’s BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell Plc have long said emissions must be cut.
“They have been several years ahead of what you see over here,” Pachauri said. “There are others who are still apparently not convinced that something needs to be done. So it’s a mixed picture.”
Pachauri, 67, said he will make a decision in “two or three weeks” whether he will run for another term as IPCC chairman. He joked that the IPCC could be dissolved since “captains of industry” are having the same discussions on climate change.
The IPCC issued its fourth assessment of climate change three months ago, saying greenhouse gas emissions — mainly carbon dioxide — must begin to fall by 2015 to avoid dire consequences from seas rising to droughts and agriculture production declines.
Pachauri said fossil fuel combustion accounts for 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Without policy changes by industry and governments, that figure will rise by about 50 percent by 2020. He said burning coal will account for the biggest share of that global emissions increase.
Business interests including major U.S. oil companies will cut emissions, he said, adding that he hopes they see the financial rationale now to help global emissions start to drop in 2015.
A major reason for this hope is that a price for carbon will soon be set by carbon trading or caps, setting a clear market signal, Pachauri said.
“The world will be moving to a low-carbon future, therefore companies that take the lead will meet with success in both business and in the eyes of society,” Pachauri said.
“Those who don’t will be left behind. I think that’s becoming more and more apparent. Business in the future will be dominated by concerns related to production of greenhouse gas emissions.”
Editing by Braden Reddall