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In Davos, climate debate on the role of oil in the “going green”

DAVOS, Switzerland –

As government officials, business leaders and other elites at the World Economic Forum grapple with how to deal with climate change and its devastating effects, a central question arises: to what extent oil companies and gas companies participate in a transition to low-carbon fuels? ?

In other times, the question might have been academic, the kind of thing that forum critics, set in a tony ski village in the Swiss Alps, would say had no relation to the real world. But today the issue is both practical and urgent, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced many countries that depended on Russian oil and gas to rapidly shift their energy supplies.

The debate comes as examples of the impacts of climate change mount, including recent heat waves in Southeast Asia and flooding in parts of South America. Meanwhile, the world’s top climate scientists have repeatedly warned that increased investment in fossil fuels is undermining the chances of sustaining warming to limit warming to 1.5C (2.7F), and thus avoid even more devastating effects.

“We should not allow a false narrative to be created that what happened in Ukraine somehow eliminates the need to move forward and address the climate crisis. “, declared the American envoy for the climate John Kerry, during a panel on the energy transition on Tuesday.

Kerry added that it was possible both to meet the increased need for energy from fossil fuels in the near term, particularly in Europe, and to stay the course to reduce emissions over the next few years.

Meanwhile, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made a different argument for urgently switching to renewables: She warned that the 27-nation bloc should avoid becoming dependent on untrustworthy countries, as it has done with Russia’s fossil fuels, as it moves toward a greener economy. economy.

She said that the “economies of the future” will no longer be based on oil and coal, but that the green and digital transitions will be based on other materials such as lithium, silicon metal or rare earth permanent magnets which are necessary for batteries, chips, electric vehicles or wind. turbines.

“For many of them, we rely on a handful of producers around the world. So we have to avoid falling into the same trap as with oil and gas. We must not replace old dependencies with new ones. .”

Von der Leyen added that the war in Ukraine has strengthened Europe’s determination to get rid of Russian fossil fuels quickly. EU countries have approved an embargo on coal imports from Russia, but member countries have yet to reach an agreement on sanctions against Russian oil and gas.

Participants in Davos this week will discuss several other high-priority issues, such as the Russian-Ukrainian war, the threat of rising global hunger, inequality and ongoing health crises.

This includes pushing Turkey back to Finland and Sweden who are seeking NATO membership. Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said in Davos that a delegation from his country and Sweden would visit the Turkish capital on Wednesday for talks.

Haavisto and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in separate comments at the meeting that they believed they could overcome Turkey’s concerns over what it sees as support from Finland and Sweden. to groups it considers terrorists.

“We have to do what we always do in NATO, which is sit down and respond to concerns when allies raise concerns,” Stoltenberg said.

But even in discussions of these issues, climate change was often present, as was tension over the role oil and gas companies could play in a transition to green energy.

On Monday and again on Tuesday, the head of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, said the urgent energy needs of the moment should not become an excuse for long-term investment in the exploration and extraction of fossil fuels, which have peaked lately. month.

Instead, Birol argued that the focus should be on a rapid shift to renewables, increasing nuclear where possible, stopping leaks of methane, one of the greenhouse gases the most powerful greenhouses, and the reduction of personal consumption, such as lowering the thermostat by a few degrees.

“Some people may use the invasion of Ukraine as an excuse to invest in fossil fuels. It will forever close the door to achieving our climate goals” to reduce global warming emissions, he said.

Vicki Hollub, CEO of Occidental Petroleum, a major oil company, countered that the oil and gas industries had a central role to play in the transition to renewable energy.

Instead of talking about moving away from fossil fuels, Hollub said the focus should be on making cleaner fossil fuels by reducing emissions. She said Occidental had invested heavily in wind and solar power and planned to build the world’s largest direct air capture facility in the Permian Basin. Direct air capture is a process that extracts carbon dioxide from the air and buries it deep in the ground.

“The United States can provide ample resources to the rest of the world. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so due to the fact that we have a lot of headwinds,” she said Monday. “One is the belief that we can end the use of oil and gas as soon as possible.”

Joe Manchin, a US senator from West Virginia who opposed a major climate change bill proposed by President Joe Biden, said on Monday that fossil fuels were essential for energy security, and that the America had the resources to help provide that security for the world.

“We can’t do it by ditching the fossil fuel industry,” said Manchin, a Democrat, adding that no transition could take place until the alternatives are fully in place.

Many energy experts say viable alternatives are already in place. For example, the cost of wind and solar have come down significantly over the past few decades, while the efficiency of both has increased dramatically. At the same time, other more nascent technologies are promising but require massive investments to develop.


Associated Press reporters Kelvin Chan and Jamey Keaten in Davos and Dana Beltaji in London and Samuel Petrequin in Brussels contributed to this report


The Associated Press’s climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. Learn more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content

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