Oil and gas industry officials tell of ‘climate backlash’

Despite holding over half the world’s oil and gas reserves, the Middle East and North Africa region is responsible for just a third of oil production and a sixth of gas, as the industry struggles to stay competitive. (AFP)
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Updated 19 December 2019

Oil and gas industry officials tell of ‘climate backlash’

  • Concerns about climate change are 'causing the energy sector to be unfairly maligned'
  • 'Carbon emissions will continue' as long as Asian keeps building coal-fired power stations

DUBAI: Signs are starting to emerge of a backlash against the oil and gas sector for its contribution to global warming, putting the industry at risk of being labeled the “new Big Tobacco,” according to prominent energy industry figures.

Majid Jafar, CEO of Crescent Petroleum, the region’s first and largest privately owned oil and gas company, made the observation while taking part in a panel discussion on Tuesday at the SALT conference in Abu Dhabi.

Speaking as someone who was “proud to work in an industry that has transformed human standards of living over the last century,” Jafar said the oil and gas sector was being “unfairly maligned,” especially with the advent of electric vehicles, and that its role was being “misconstrued” by activists and the press.

Citing figures from the International Energy Agency (IEA), he added: “While many people are focusing on electric cars, the reality is that natural gas substituting for coal has had 100 times greater impact in lowering emissions over the last five years than the 5 million electric cars today.”

Jafar advised the public to “go beyond the headlines” in order to understand the bottom line of the impact the industry is having on climate change.

While he supports young people in the West trying to campaign and draw attention to the threat of climate change, he said carbon emissions would continue, and might increase, as long as Asia keep on building coal-fired power stations.

In the current scenario, any efforts by the West to curb carbon emissions would be akin to “rearranging the furniture in a bedroom while the living room is on fire,” he said, adding that the climate crisis is in need of global action.

Jafar’s concerns were amplified by David Darst, chief investment officer at The Family Office, who said in a separate session at the SALT conference that the oil sector has been “tobaccoized.”

Discussing the challenge of “managing change in a time of digital transformations,” Darst said it was important to understand the difference in the levels of influence commanded by “big data” companies and the largest oil and gas companies.

“The market capitalization of Apple alone is $1.1 trillion. This is equal to the market cap of the entire energy sector of the US, which includes such oil companies as ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips,” he added.

Were Apple to disappear, people would move on to Samsung, Darst said. But if the same happened to ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and BP, “the world would be on its knees.”

Even so, signs of a backlash against energy companies can be seen in the case of the University of California investment system, Darst said, pointing out that the university, which has a $17 billion endowment and a $70 billion pension fund for its employees, recently took its assets out of hydrocarbon stocks. 

Against this backdrop of mounting challenges, Jafar pointed to developments such as Saudi Aramco’s initial public offering as a new model of partnerships with the private sector that could help the energy industry regain its competitiveness once again.

The Middle East and North Africa region, which holds half of the world’s oil and gas reserves, is responsible for a third of the world’s oil production and a sixth of its gas production, he said.

“We’re punching way below our weight,” Jafar said, adding that over the last decade, the Middle East oil and gas industry had given up a significant amount of its market share to its American counterparts.

SALT, run by Scaramucci, who as well as working at the White House  was also a successful financier, is holding its first conference in the Middle East in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Global Market, aiming to identify global collaboration opportunities in finance, technology and geopolitics.


Capitalism doing ‘more harm than good’ says global survey

Updated 21 January 2020

Capitalism doing ‘more harm than good’ says global survey

  • The poll contacted over 34,000 people in 28 countries

LONDON: A majority of people around the world believe capitalism in its current form is doing more harm than good, a survey found ahead of this week’s Davos meeting of business and political leaders.

This year was the first time the “Edelman Trust Barometer,” which for two decades has polled tens of thousands of people on their trust in core institutions, sought to understand how capitalism itself was viewed.

The study’s authors said that earlier surveys showing a rising sense of inequality prompted them to ask whether citizens were now starting to have more fundamental doubts about the capitalist-based democracies of the West.

“The answer is yes,” David Bersoff, lead researcher on the study produced by US communications company Edelman. “People are questioning at that level whether what we have today, and the world we live in today, is optimized for their having a good future.”

The poll contacted over 34,000 people in 28 countries, from Western democracies like the US to those based on a different model such as China or Russia, with 56 percent agreeing “capitalism as it exists today does more harm than good in the world.”

The survey was launched in 2000 to explore the theories of political scientist Francis Fukuyama, who after the collapse of communism declared that liberal capitalist democracy had seen off rival ideologies and so represented “the end of history.”

That conclusion has since been challenged by critics who point to everything from the rising influence of China to the spread of autocratic leaders, trade protectionism and worsening inequality in the wake of the 2007/08 global financial crisis.

On a national level, lack of trust in capitalism was highest in Thailand and India on 75 percent and 74 percent respectively, with France close behind on 69 percent. Majorities prevailed in other Asian, European, Gulf, African and Latin American states.

Only in Australia, Canada, the US, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan did majorities disagree with the assertion capitalism currently did more harm than good.

FASTFACT

75%

The Edelman Trust Barometer survey found lack of trust in capitalism was highest in Thailand and India on 75 percent and 74 percent respectively.

The survey confirmed a by-now familiar set of concerns ranging from worries about the pace of technological progress and job insecurity, to distrust of the media and a sense that national governments were not up to the challenges of the day.

Within the data there were divergences, with Asians more optimistic about their economic prospects than others across the world. There was also a growing split in attitudes according to status, with the affluent and college-educated much more likely to have faith in how things were being run.

Of possible interest to corporate leaders gathering in Davos this week was the finding that trust in business outweighed that in governments and that 92 percent of employees said CEOs should speak out on the social and ethical issues of the day.

“Business has leapt into the void left by populist and partisan government,” said Edelman CEO Richard Edelman. “It can no longer be business as usual, with an exclusive focus on shareholder returns.”