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Pope Francis

Pope to preach oil executives about climate change

But critics are concerned the two-day event may just turn into a photo opportunity for the company heads

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 June, 2018, 11:39am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 June, 2018, 7:51pm

Pope Francis will meet some of the world’s oil executives next week, probably to preach to them about climate change. However, campaigners are not expecting any miracles.

The conference will be a follow-up to the pope’s encyclical three years ago calling on people to try to save the planet from climate change and other environmental ills, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said on Friday. Cardinal Peter Turkson, who spearheaded the encyclical, set up the June 8-9 conference with the executives. The pope himself will speak to the leaders on the second day of the summit, organised with the University of Notre Dame, Burke said.

Officials at the Vatican and Notre Dame would not say who is going. But BP confirmed that its CEO Robert Dudley plans to attend, and ExxonMobil said CEO Darren Woods would be there. Woods said this week that his company is trying to balance the perceived risks of climate change with growing demand for energy to raise living standards in the developing world.

Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University, said he doubts anything “measurable” will come out of the conference.

MIT management professor John Sterman accused oil companies of not doing much except talk.

The pope offers “moral persuasion”, but if it is just a photo opportunity for oil executives to show off “it doesn’t mean anything and in fact it’s just PR to help oil companies burnish up their image while they continue to delay actions”, Sterman insisted.

Jerry Taylor, president of the Washington libertarian-oriented think tank Niskanen Centre, said he thinks the oil executives will tell the pope they are willing to accept action, such as a tax on carbon dioxide emissions.

“But what is needed is for these oil majors to tell Republican lawmakers of their concern and support for action, not the pope, and this they have not done in any focused, sustained, or meaningful way,” Taylor said. That is where, he said, the pontiff needs to push them farther on the morality of what they are doing.

Gary Yohe, an economics and environment professor at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, said the executives might feel compelled to listen to the spiritual leader of nearly 1.3 billion Catholics.

“This is not somebody you can ignore,” Yohe said. “It might be a come to Jesus moment for them.”