In addition to telling oil producers to cut costs or get out of the market, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister delivered another unpalatable message this week: the green movement can’t be ignored.
Ali al-Naimi, whose nation is the biggest exporter of crude, said that the industry for too long “has been portrayed as the dark side” of energy by environmentalists seeking to curb global warming. He urged executives, who often try to sidestep the debate on climate change, to promote technologies that will rein in emissions — alongside the idea that fossil fuels are needed to sustain economic growth.
“We should not be apologizing,” al-Naimi said in a speech to the IHS CERAWeek conference in Houston on Tuesday. “We must not ignore the misguided campaign to ‘keep it in the ground’ and hope it will go away.”
The remarks are a response to the efforts of environmentalists led by Bill McKibben, who are winning support from investors for divesting from fossil fuels. Insurers such as Axa SA have joined institutions including Oxford University and the Rockefeller Brothers in pledging they will reduce backing for the most polluting industries in favor of cleaner forms of energy.
As oil companies from Exxon Mobil Corp. to Royal Dutch Shell Plc debate how to address climate change, governments everywhere are vowing to rein in greenhouse gases blamed for damaging the atmosphere. Some 195 nations agreed in Paris in December to take steps toward limiting fossil fuel emissions and encourage renewables.
Al-Naimi said he’s a big supporter of renewable energy, noting Saudi Arabia’s ambition to become a major producer of solar power. He said it’s “inconceivable” that clean energy suppliers can meet growing energy needs and that the oil industry needs to be more aggressive in putting across its point of view. He also went further than most industry executives by admitting that pollution from what they produce is damaging.
“The problem is the harmful emissions we get from burning coal, oil and gas,” al-Naimi said. “The solution is to work on technology that minimizes and ultimately eradicates harmful emissions. Some don’t accept this view, but I have faith in technology.”