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Stanford Report, May 21, 1997

British Petroleum CEO Browne says firm will respond on global warming


Industry and society must not wait for irrefutable proof but must focus now on the looming possibility that concentrations of carbon dioxide are increasing global temperatures, John Browne, CEO of British Petroleum Co., said in a speech May 19.

"The time to consider the policy dimensions of climate change is not when the link between greenhouse gases and climate change is conclusively proven . . . but when the possibility cannot be discounted and is taken seriously by the society of which we are a part," said Browne. "We must now focus on what can and what should be done, not because we can be certain climate change is happening, but because the possibility can't be ignored."

Browne, the top executive of one of the world's largest oil companies, spoke in Frost Amphitheater at an event hosted by the Business School. Banning fossil fuels is an unsustainable approach that would crash into the realities of economic growth and would also discriminate against emerging nations, he said. Instead, he called for research and cooperative efforts to develop solutions.

"Real sustainability is about simultaneously being profitable and responding to the reality and the concerns of the world in which you operate. We [the petroleum industry] are not separate from the world. It's our world as well."

A sustainable world, he said, "means a world where the environmental equilibrium is maintained but also a world whose population can all enjoy the heat, light and mobility which we take for granted."

Research by British Petroleum estimates that only a small fraction of the world's carbon dioxide today comes from activities of human beings. In this category, 20 percent comes from fossil fuels burned for transportation while 80 percent of carbon dioxide comes from static uses of energy for purposes such as power generation.

"Only a fraction of the total emissions come from the transportation sector - so the problem is not just caused by vehicles. Any response which is going to have a real impact has to look at all the sources," said Browne.

He pledged to increase support of scientific work "on the consequences of what appears to be happening, and on the effectiveness of the various actions which can be taken," and to transfer technology and pursue joint implementation to reduce the net emission of greenhouse gases. British Petroleum is also developing new solar power alternatives to supplement the use of oil and gas.

"The oil industry is going to remain the world's predominant supplier of energy for the foreseeable future. Given that role, we have to play a positive and responsible part in identifying solutions to a problem which is potentially very serious."

He pledged that British Petroleum will share its expertise in finding ways to combat climate change "openly and freely," to identify market-based solutions SR