Activists dressed as polar bears in Paris in December, 2015, as the proposed 195-nation accord to curb emissions of the heat-trapping gases that threaten to wreak havoc on Earth's climate system was about to be presented at the United Nations conference on climate change.

Activists dressed as polar bears in Paris in December, 2015, as the proposed 195-nation accord to curb emissions of the heat-trapping gases that threaten to wreak havoc on Earth's climate system was about to be presented at the United Nations conference on climate change.

On the campaign trail, President Donald Trump promised to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement, which nearly 200 nations signed on to in 2015. But now that he’s in office, the president is facing some surprising opposition. Exxon Mobil (whose former CEO is now Secretary of State), Shell, and — reportedly — members of the Trump family all oppose leaving the agreement. The President’s EPA chief, however, opposes the accord.

Which side will win? And if the U.S. does leave, what does that mean for the Earth and for industry?

Guests

  • Amy Harder Reporter covering energy and climate, Axios; former reporter, The Wall Street Journal
  • Andrew Steer CEO and President, World Resources Institute; former special envoy for climate change for the World Bank
  • Marlo Lewis Senior fellow, Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative free-market think-tank
  • Charles Holliday Charles Holliday, chairman of the board of directors, Royal Dutch Shell

Why One Of The World's Biggest Oil Companies Wants To Keep The Paris Agreement

We mentioned in the program that a number of the world’s largest oil and gas producers and energy companies support the United States remaining with the Paris Climate Agreement. We discussed this with Charles Holliday, the board chairman of Royal Dutch Shell. Here is a transcript of the interview.

Why does Royal Dutch Shell support the United States staying in the Climate Agreement?

I think it’s the right thing for the country. We have momentum that we’re building on our climate change efforts, including energy efficiency, which has been a very important part of what we’re doing, which is good for everybody. That unit of energy that we don’t have to produce from any source, plus we have abundant natural gas, which feeds our system appropriately. So, I just think it’s in the country’s best interest, and I know it’s in the world’s best interest.

If the U.S. pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, what difference would it make to Royal Dutch Shell? You still have all your lines of business; you would still make billions of dollars, wouldn’t you? 

The world has come together with essentially every country of the world aiming in a direction, each country’s been able to make their own commitments they think are right. No one’s edicted what those commitments have to be. And continuity of direction’s important. We’re in a process at Shell of working with shipping companies and over-the-road trucks to convert to natural gas, which would be more efficient for them, plus better for the environment. We’d hate to see a disruption in that movement in the right direction.

Talk about what natural gas has been like for the energy sector lately, especially Royal Dutch Shell. I mean, it burns cleaner, but there have been a number of pockets of it found in various parts of the world, and it seems like the energy sector’s really loving the potential of natural gas from a bottom-line perspective, as well as from an environmental perspective these days.

So clearly we have abundant natural gas in the U.S., and I think there is much more potential if you replace coal with natural gas and say, in power generation, it’s about fifty percent less CO2. So I think it’s a win-win for the country, because of our availability and the reduction of CO2. And you don’t have to worry about, you know, whether it’s clean coal or not– you know it’s clean to start with.

Have you had the opportunity to deal with anyone in the Trump Administration directly? I know they’ve been having a lot of conversations with big business and major industries about their policies and about what the U.S. needs to do going forward. Has Royal Dutch Shell, either you or anyone else in the country had any direct connections with the Trump Administration yet? Or are you still waiting on that phone call?

I haven’t had any direct communications, but I think through the Energy Transition Commission, which we’re a part of, and the group you announced in your introduction, we certainly made our views known. And the Administration will have to take everything into account, make the right decision. I just hate to see the U.S. outside the table when discussions are going on about the direction of this important subject to the world.

It occurs to me that natural gas certainly does burn fewer — produce fewer carbon emissions than other forms of non-renewable energy. But it’s still a fossil fuel. It’s kind of delaying the inevitable, in that it is a non-renewable resource. When is Royal Dutch Shell going to go carbon-neutral?

We have a great publication that I recommend to all your readers, that talk about the various scenarios of going net-zero carbon emissions for the world, not necessarily for Royal Dutch Shell. And what the different time sequences are for that. What’s important is we slow down the growth and CO2 and eventually take it to net-zero. A transition tool to do that now is natural gas. How long that will last, we’re going to have to tell over time. But we can’t wait for the technology to catch up with us. Because renewables are a great resource, but they’re not the total answer where we stand today. And I think these are steps in the right direction.

A lot of the argument over — and I know we’ve got to let you go shortly — but a lot of the argument that the Trump administration has made about climate policy has to do with jobs here in the United States. Coal miners, for example, being put out of work. And certainly no one wants former coal miners to be without future industry. Talk about your argument, jobs-wise, for the Climate Agreement. If these kinds of old energy jobs are going away, where will the West Virginia coal miner find that future job under a Paris Climate Agreement America?

I think if you look at the data, you’ll find that the jobs in solar and wind industries have grown 12 times faster than our overall economy over the last five years. So, what I see is a lot of jobs being created in these industries, plus the efficiency piece I was talking about earlier. So I believe there are jobs in coal, but there are jobs. And I think one thing we need to do as a country is to be sure we’re giving anyone that’s displaced the opportunity for training, so they can take on different roles. And remember there’s a lot of feeder industries that have to, you know, be a part of creating solar, and the electric vehicle industry, which we see taking off. So I think there’s big opportunities overall for the country, and we do have to help those people that are being displaced in their specific jobs, no matter where they are.

Last thing I’d ask you, and then I promise I’ll let you go — Marlo Lewis raised the concern that the top of our conversation about an overreach, a government overreach, and the Paris Agreement being approved through improper channels, and ceding too much control of America’s energy future to international authorities. What do you make of that?

I couldn’t speak to that directly, but I think there is a process for every five years, the countries get to readjust their goals. I think that’s a very unique part of this process, because the technology would change. What the right goal is for any country might shift over time. So it seems to me there’s a mechanism to adjust.

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