BP chief on Kyoto

5 August 2004

In an essay in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs, the group chief executive of British Petroleum (BP), John Browne, has said he believes it is "clear that the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is a soluble problem, and that the mechanisms for delivering the solutions are within reach."

After bemoaning the fact that the USA is not a part of the agreement and that even enthusiastic supporters such as Canada, Europe and Japan are "not on track to meet their commitments," he noted that business has already proven that carbon reductions are possible. Browne wrote that BP reduced emissions to 10% below 1990 levels through the elimination of leaks and waste and the greater efficiency even added £650 million to BP's shareholder value.

According to Browne, by replacing 200GWe of coal generation with nuclear would save one billion tons in emmissions, while 400GWe of new natural gas power stations would reduce emmissions by a further one billion tons. Greater efficiency for private cars could eliminate yet another billion tons.

The fact remains, however, that the world faces a huge challenge in reducing emissions by the 25 billion tons per year that experts consider will reduce the effects of the CO2 we've already emitted. Browne applauded emmissions trading schemes and suggested that bringing the power of the market under control of government to bear on the problem is the most sensible strategy for our civilisation.

He concluded: "Taking small steps never feels entirely satisfactory. Nor does taking action without complete scientific knowledge. But certainty and perfection have never figured prominently in the story of human progress. Business, in particular, is accustomed to making decisions in conditions of considerable uncertainty, applying its experience and skills to areas of activity where much is unknown. That is why it will have a vital role in meeting the challenge of climate change – and why the contribution it is already making is so encouraging."

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