Tackling Climate Change Is Our Responsibility — and in Our Interest
Many people surely react with doubt, skepticism or mistrust when they hear Total’s CEO proclaim his commitment to combating climate change. Yes, as I have always acknowledged, we are part of the problem. Equally, we are also part of the solution. So I’d like to set out once again the beliefs that I have been publicly, materially and transparently championing for a number of years, both as Chairman and CEO of Total and as a member of the community.
As I wrote in a previous article, our industry has to do two things: supply affordable, reliable energy to a growing global population and provide solutions to climate change. For that, we can rely on our long-term vision, our financial strength and our R&D to advance, for example, cleaner energies such as natural gas and renewables, as well as electricity storage and carbon capture.
Against this backdrop, Total is resolutely pursuing our ambition of becoming the responsible energy major. We are also committed to helping achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically with regard to climate change, access to energy and biodiversity. I was honored to be named a 2017 SDG Pioneer by the United Nations Global Compact, in recognition of Total’s pursuit of partnerships and investment in low-carbon energies. This honor in fact belongs to everyone at Total.
Implementing our strategy also entails dialogue, with ordinary citizens and political and business leaders alike. That’s why I’m here in New York for Climate Week (#ClimateWeekNYC) — to present and explain to our shareholders and investors how Total realistically and responsibly integrates climate into our strategy, in a way that does not negatively impact our financials.
This open and transparent approach is also supported by active partnerships. Only by mobilizing our collective energy can we tackle the full scale of the challenges posed by climate change. We are active in many joint initiatives with other energy majors within the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, which we helped found three years ago. The OGCI’s goal is to work on and invest in innovative solutions to reduce our methane emissions, improve the energy efficiency of our activities and develop carbon, capture, storage and utilization. I was delighted to learn that three leading U.S. companies — ExxonMobil, Chevron and Occidental Petroleum — have decided to join us.
Time for some straight talk now.
You want to halt all fossil fuel extraction and production? Most research, including the IEA’s Sustainable Development and other scenarios, shows that this will take several decades.
You want to reduce the share of the dirtiest fossil fuels? On the road to the objectives set out in the Paris Agreement, our ambition is to steadily decrease the carbon intensity of the energy products we make available to our customers: to reduce it by 15% between 2015 — the date of the Paris Agreement — and 2030. Then, depending on developments in technology and public policies, reach a reduction of 25 to 35% by 2040. As part of this, I decided to pull Total out of coal-related activities in 2016. The best way for this is to approach the problem from an economic standpoint. By assigning a price to carbon emissions, we can combat climate change at the source. This is the most efficient financial mechanism to change the rules of the game quickly and hasten the switch to natural gas and renewables for power generation.
We need to encourage greater use of natural gas, the best option currently available for combating global warming while ensuring the world has access to the energy it needs. This widely available source of energy is the fossil fuel with the lowest carbon emissions when used for power generation. Replacing coal with natural gas in power plants would cut global carbon emissions by 5 billion tons per year, or around 10%. But gas won’t fulfill its true potential unless we mitigate the methane emissions connected with its production and transportation. That’s a priority focus of both OGCI and Total.
Natural gas is also an ideal partner for renewable energies. Their variability means they need backup from a flexible energy. That’s how we will promote and accelerate their development, especially to generate low-carbon electricity.
At the same time, improving storage capacity is another avenue to pursue to integrate this electricity into the grid more smoothly. The lithium-ion batteries developed by Saft, a Total affiliate, could help reduce transportation-related carbon emissions by 40% between now and 2030.
Carbon storage is also an important ingredient in the 2°C scenario. It’s an essential technology for achieving carbon neutrality, both within the oil and gas business and in the community at large. CCUS plays a critical role for the many industries — such as cement manufacturing or steelmaking — where carbon emissions are unavoidable. We need to capitalize on our geosciences expertise to move forward.
As the term energy mix would suggest, there is a blend of solutions. I have shared just some of them. By emphasizing natural gas and renewables for power generation, reinforcing our presence across the entire value chain from production to marketing, improving energy efficiency and developing CCUS technology, we are building a comprehensive and diversified response that will deliver long-term growth.
Clearly, transforming the energy mix is a complex, global challenge to which there is no easy solution. Changes at this scale require hard work, rethinking our models, investment and collaboration. Creating an environment favorable to the investment needed to develop and deploy these many solutions is a major challenge that will require legislation, regulations and incentives to change behaviors and practices. That’s the message I will continue to convey to economic and political leaders. I am determined and committed.