VICE News is closely tracking global environmental change. Check out the Tipping Point blog here.
With a key global summit to fight climate change less than two months away, ten of the world's largest fossil fuel companies called on Friday for an "effective" agreement to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The group, the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) and includes BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and Statoil, is responsible for a fifth of the oil and natural gas production and nearly a tenth of energy supplied worldwide. Notably absent are any American firms like ExxonMobil and Chevron, who did not respond to a request for comment.
"Our shared ambition is for a 2 degree C future. It is a challenge for the whole of society. We are committed to playing our part," the companies, whose executives held a press conference in Paris on Friday, said in a statement. "Over the coming years we will collectively strengthen our actions and investments to contribute to reducing the [greenhouse gas] intensity of the global energy mix. Our companies will collaborate in a number of areas, with the aim of going beyond the sum of our individual efforts."
The world's nations will gather on November 30th in Paris to begin the United Nations climate conference some scientists deem our "last chance" to avoid dangerous levels of climate change. Negotiators look to cement a deal to keep warming below 2 degrees C, a target some experts consider "inadequate" but governments have accepted as the ceiling on warming that humanity can reasonably withstand without setting off a cascading series of feedback loops.
Although 149 countries, responsible for nearly 90 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, have submitted climate plans so far, there's still a ways to go: Taking all those commitments into account, global temperatures would still jump at least 3 degrees Celsius, analysis by PriceWaterhouseCoopers suggested.
In their agreement, the OGCI did not call for a price on carbon, even though the six largest fossil fuel companies in Europe, including BP and Shell, recommended "widespread and effective" carbon pricing in a letter to the Financial Times just this summer. But according to a BP executive, a price on carbon had to come off the table in order to entice all parties to it.
"We have international oil companies and national oil companies and some of the nations have a different view on carbon pricing as a group," BP chief executive officer Bob Dudley said. "We actually think this is the route that will allow us to allocate our capital and make our investments. It isn't written in the report because we wanted to bring a group together committed to many of the other broader goals out there."
The companies will collaborate to eliminate gas flaring, which the World Bank estimates shoots 300 million tonnes of planet-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere yearly, and leaking methane — 25 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2 over a 100-year time scale — generated through natural gas production.
And while they also agreed to share information about further reducing GHG emissions, to invest in carbon capture and storage, and increase the percentage of renewables in the global energy mix, the companies didn't offer specific commitments on cutting emissions – a major sticking point for environmentalists.
"To have credibility, any initiative such as this must come up with more than warm words," Anthony Hobley, chief executive of the Carbon Tracker Initiative, said in a statement. "[I]t must set out concrete and quantitative commitments to take action. Anything less should be seen as nothing more than a cynical attempt to deflect the momentum for action, transparency and focus on the industry,"
Patrick Pouyanné, CEO of French oil and gas company Total, said the industry should be more vocal supporting natural gas, which emits about half the CO2 that coal does.
"Sometimes in all these discussions you have the impression that all fossil fuels are the bad guys," Pouyanné told an industry summit in Paris on Thursday. "But the bad guys are part of the solution."
"Whatever people think, we still need fossil fuels," he said. "Policy makers are not convinced in many countries that gas is part of the solution for climate change. We in the industry need to speak up."
But that solution won't play with most environmentalists. Scientists estimate that the world's carbon budget — the amount of CO2 humanity can pump into the atmosphere while still having a shot at limiting warming to 2-degrees Celsius — is 565 gigatons. The proven reserves of coal, oil and gas held by fossil fuel companies, the Carbon Tracker Initiative estimated in 2011, is nearly five times that — 2,795 gigatons.
Greenpeace campaigner Charlie Kronick said the agreement contains "nothing meaningful" to decarbonize the global economy and warned that "while it appears progressive, the devil is in the details."
"The oil companies behind this announcement have spent years lobbying to undermine effective climate action, each and every one of them has a business plan that would lead to dangerous global temperature rises, yet suddenly they expect us all to see them as the solution, not the problem," he said. "The world should thank them for their offer of advice but politely turn it down. Arsonists don't make good firefighters."
On the Line: Robert S. Eshelman Discusses Climate Change:
Follow Darren Ankrom on Twitter: @darrenankrom