Energy Companies Urge Trump To Remain In Paris Climate Agreement

President Trump is expected to face pressure from European Union leaders at the G-7 summit in Italy next week to keep the U.S. in the Paris Climate Treaty.

Trump recently signed an executive order aiming to roll back President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan but did not address the Paris agreement. European Union leaders aren't the only ones who are imploring Trump to keep the U.S. as part of the largest climate agreement in history.

Ben van Beurden is the CEO of Shell, the giant energy company. Even though he's in the business of selling fossil fuels, van Beurden tells NPR's Ari Shapiro the U.S. should stay in the climate agreement.

"We believe climate change is real," van Beurden says. "We believe that the world needs to go through an energy transition to prevent a very significant rise in global temperatures. And we need to be part of that solution in making it happen."

Opponents of the Paris climate agreement argue that governments should not require companies to limit their oil and gas exploration projects. But van Beurden says the industry wants governments around the world to develop a consistent policy.

"One of the biggest concerns that I have around climate change is the unpredictability in which governments will go about it," van Beurden says. "If we have a very clear understanding that governments, successive governments, will continue to act consistently with a certain policy set that we believe in, I have no issue with it."

Exxon Mobil, Chevron and BP have also pledged their support for the Paris climate pact. Exxon CEO Darren Woods wrote in a blog post the Paris accord creates "an effective framework for all countries to address rising emissions."

But while energy CEOs often advocate for policies to fight climate change, trade organizations representing the industry do the opposite. Van Beurden argues CEOs have a responsibility to speak out against industry organizations that support politicians who deny the existence of climate change. He says the Paris treaty is not a "regressive agreement," and U.S. involvement will help ensure its success.

"It cannot be in the interest of the United States to put itself offside for such an important, societal debate," van Beurden says. "... we all want in that respect the United States to have a strong, meaningful and impactful voice at all tables around the world. Pulling out of Paris, in that sense, is incompatible with that goal."

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

President Trump heads out on his first foreign trip tomorrow, and the nine-day trip will take him to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican, Brussels and Italy, where he will attend the G7. And one of the things he will hear from European Union leaders at that G7 meeting is that they support the Paris climate treaty regardless of what the U.S. does.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

EU leaders are not the only ones imploring President Trump to keep the U.S. as part of the largest climate agreement in history. Ben van Beurden is the CEO of Shell, the second-largest energy company in the world. Van Beurden joined me in the studio recently, and I began by asking him why, as the head of a company which is in the business of selling fossil fuels - why does he think the U.S. should stay in the climate agreement?

BEN VAN BEURDEN: What do I think of Paris? What do I think of climate change? First of all, we believe climate change is real. We believe that the world need to go through a energy transition to prevent a very significant rise in global temperatures. And we need to be part of that solution and making it happen as well.

SHAPIRO: I think opponents of the Paris climate treaty would argue that companies such as Shell should be free to expand in whatever energy fields they want, but it should not be the role of governments to require companies to limit their carbon footprint, their oil and gas exploration. Are you arguing against Shell's economic interests here?

VAN BEURDEN: No, I don't think at all. But I think I've got a few things a little bit more calibrated or in perspective. If we as society want to move to a different world, which I think we do - this is what governments have agreed - a lot of things will have to change. So we're not necessarily sitting here and say, listen; we want to have freedom to explore and develop and sell hydrocarbons. We want to have a relatively coherent set of policies that will make society move to whatever government has decided it should move to.

SHAPIRO: Are you saying that apart from any particular policy outcome, what Shell needs and wants is predictability and stability so that something committed to remains in effect rather than in the deal than out of the deal?

VAN BEURDEN: That's one of the biggest things that we need, indeed - predictability, consistency and a level playing field. One of the biggest concerns that I have around climate change is the unpredictability with which governments will go about it. If we have a very clear understanding that governments, successive governments will continue to act consistently with a certain policy set that we believe in, I have no issue with it.

SHAPIRO: The political dialogue here in the U.S. does not match the scientific consensus that climate change is real. And Senator Sheldon Whitehouse writes about one possible reason for this in his book "Captured." And what he writes is that while CEOs of companies often advocate for positions in the public interest, the trade organizations representing those industries do the opposite. And here's how Senator Whitehouse described it to me.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: Best of both worlds - you get to look like you care, and at the same time, you're making sure that nothing happens that is adverse to your existing business model.

SHAPIRO: So while you are here saying climate change is real and something must be done about it, oil and gas industry associations are funding politicians who deny climate change. They're lobbying against the policies that you say are necessary. How do you explain that?

VAN BEURDEN: Well, I think, you know, trade associations quite often are made up of very, very wide range of different views, large, small companies, companies that are left or right of center or have different perspectives. And quite often it is difficult to get a lot of strong common ground, particularly if it is common ground that needs to take a position against the sort of prevailing political or societal wisdom. In those cases, I think it is for companies like us to really make up our mind. Do we want to have a different avenue of getting our perspectives across? And in many a case, we do.

SHAPIRO: But critics would say this is simply PR, that you are the public face of a company saying we want to do all these things that will help the public. But all of this money from oil and gas companies is going to less publicly support people who oppose these very things that you are encouraging.

VAN BEURDEN: And in many a case, indeed, we cannot reconcile ourselves for the position of an advocacy body. We have decided to step out of them and quite often publicly done so.

SHAPIRO: Can you give us some examples?

VAN BEURDEN: Well, you know, I think ALEC here in the United States was one where we increasingly found that we could not reconcile ourselves for that position.

SHAPIRO: ALEC - this is the American Legislative Exchange Council, the organization set up by the Koch brothers to push a legislative agenda that they characterize as business-friendly.

VAN BEURDEN: And there have been other organizations internationally as well. But more often than not, indeed, we often go in and say this is our perspective, and we do not want to associate our perspective with the public perspective that comes from a trade organization.

SHAPIRO: There was this famous case of a Republican member of Congress named Bob Inglis who announced that he believed climate change was real. And in 2010, he lost his primary race largely because a lot of money from the oil and gas industry went to support his opponent who said he did not believe climate change was real. How can the policies that you are arguing for ever get accomplished if money from your industries is going to kick people like Bob Inglis out of Congress?

VAN BEURDEN: I don't know, Ari. I mean these things of course - you know, our industry is not a homogeneous industry, absolutely not. And of course if you look at the industry makeup here in the United States, I think, yeah, you get a wider range of perspectives, many of which are indeed fundamentally different from where companies like us and some of our European peers come from.

SHAPIRO: And even though you are the CEO of the second-largest energy company in the world, you are unable to pull them in the direction you would like them to go.

VAN BEURDEN: Well, you know, we try to create a common perspective. But on the other hand, you also have to respect that different companies will have different perspectives. Also, I believe when it comes to influencing politicians about what are the right things to do, I believe it is a whole lot more powerful to have a broader coalition of companies, bodies, scientific actors, NGOs, I mean not just a group of oil and gas companies where you may have some suspicion of hypocrisy or whatever else. I think you're going to have a lot more effect.

SHAPIRO: If President Trump does decide to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate treaty, what will Shell do?

VAN BEURDEN: I don't think we can or will or should do anything different than what we are doing at the moment. Of course it is the U.S.'s sovereign decision to do so. I think, would we advise the president to pull out of Paris - no, and for a number of reasons. First of all, we believe Paris is the right way forward. We don't think that Paris is a regressive agreement.

But you know, more importantly, perhaps we believe that the United States can play a major role in making an effective Paris treaty really, really work. It cannot be in the interests of the United States to put itself off-site for such an important societal debate which will have, ultimately, also implications on trade, on bilateral relationships, on political relationships, on the way the United States is seen internationally. And we all want in that respect the United States to have a strong, meaningful and impactful voice at all tables around the world. Pulling out of Paris in that sense is incompatible with that goal.

SHAPIRO: Ben van Beurden is the CEO of Shell. Thank you for coming into the studio.

VAN BEURDEN: Thanks, Ari.

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