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Lord Browne: This time – the Pope is right

Lord Browne: This time – the Pope is right

Lord John Browne

I am sure that many Gay Star News readers disagree with the Pope on matters to do with sexuality. But I must confess that his call to action on climate change is right.

The encyclical issued by the Pope makes the case that our failure to tackle climate change will have hugely damaging consequences for us all.

It is further evidence that the debate on climate change is moving forward and that the ground-swell of public opinion is growing in support of urgent action.

The G7’s recent commitment to decarbonize the global economy by the end of this century has put a clear timeline on the existential threat that the energy industry faces.

Oil companies started to acknowledge this threat almost 20 years ago. The company I led, BP, was one of the first. It surpassed its target of cutting emissions by 10 per cent, and developed an alternative energy business to invest in new low-carbon fuels.

Since then, industry has made great progress. It has engaged in the debate about what can be done and applied resources to the search for solutions. Recently, forward thinking companies have presented a united front, calling for governments to put a price on carbon in order to limit the rise in global temperature to below 2oC.

Some companies are attempting to fight against this rising tide. But resistance is futile.

There is clear scientific evidence for the dominant role that humans have played in the recent rise of global temperatures. The IPCC has stated this case with 95 per cent confidence. The public also has learned more about the costs of inaction. They want practical solutions to mitigate the threat humanity faces. And new research shows that most people want to see engineering focus on improving renewable energy solutions in the future

Those who fail to respond to this hardening of public opinion will be left behind.

After all, companies rely on the trust and support of the public for their license to operate. There are companies who want to prevent government regulation in order to remain masters of their own fate. But they will face extinction sooner than they think.

We will reach a point where cheaper, cleaner fuels make the dirtiest fuels irrelevant. Companies that continue to produce carbon-rich fuels will be unable to compete.

To get there we need changes to the demand and supply of energy. On energy supply, we need more investment in renewable energy to make it a cheaper alternative fuel. For a start, governments should commit to spending $15 billion a year on renewable energy Research and Development, an idea proposed by the Global Apollo Programme which I co-authored.

On the demand side, we need a price on carbon that encourages companies to stop production of the most environmentally damaging fuels.

Public demand for these changes will continue to grow and the resources and regulations necessary to make cleaner fuels more competitive will follow.

So companies should change now if they want to be around for years to come. The public will not tolerate companies which have not fully accepted the existential threat that climate change poses. But this is only the first step. Responsible companies should be seeking to get ahead of the curve and they can do this by focusing on the production of carbon-light fuels such as gas.

The Pope’s encyclical states that humans have a responsibility to take action because we are God’s custodians of the earth. But here I must disagree with the Pope.

It is Gaia Theory that makes the right point. Humans are not all that important when it comes to the survival of our planet. It is our own destiny that is in peril if we fail to act on climate change. The planet will survive. Our actions are about self-preservation.

But I am optimistic.

History shows that mankind has the ingenuity to overcome great challenges. And so often these great innovations have come from companies who are willing to lead the way. The Pope’s call to action presents a great opportunity for them to do so again.

John Browne was the CEO of BP 1995-1997 and is currently the Executive Chairman of L1 Energy. He is the author of The Glass Closet, a commentary on the acceptance and inclusion of LGBT people in business.