Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Grist, and is posted with permission.
By Jonathan Hiskes
I tracked down Brian Flannery today. He’s the top climate advisor for ExxonMobil, a veteran of international climate talks, and a bona fide villain in the eyes of environmental groups. That’s largely due to Exxon’s funding of front groups that sow misinformation about the urgency of climate change.
Today Flannery was wearing another hat: he led a panel on behalf of the International Chamber of Commerce‘s Environment and Energy Commission, of which he’s vice chair. He would seem to be something of an odd choice for leadership at the International Chamber, which has embraced the opportunities of a low-carbon economy far more than the step-boldly-into-the-past U.S. Chamber.
In person, it’s clear that Flannery has done considerable thinking about how his company will deal with a changing climate. He’s described the energy giant’s preference for a carbon tax over a cap-and-trade program, and argued for some advanced technologies as a climate strategy. “The solutions for energy supply are nuclear, advanced genetically modified biofuels, and carbon capture and storage,” he said. “They are the dominant solutions for supply. Energy efficiency plays a huge role. But you to need supply some energy.”
The panel itself—on private-sector finance and climate change—wasn’t particularly newsworthy. There are hundreds of such events going on here. But the lineup of participants was interesting. Accompanying Flannery and Dow Chemical energy policy director Russel Mills was Kaveh Zahedi, climate change coordinator at the United Nations Environment Programme. The conference is full of this sort of elbow-rubbing between environmental officials and business leaders. Observers who have been to more of these climate conferences than I have say they see more of this at each successive gathering.
This isn’t to say that former foes are necessarily pulling in the same direction. They’re not. But they seem to be talking more extensively than ever.
Flannery, by the way, firmly declined my request to ask him about how he’d be spending his time in Copenhagen, his hopes for the conference, his impressions so far. “I’m really not interested in commenting on where the conference is at this stage,” he said. “I think that would be a distraction.”
After three decades working in this arena, does he find these gatherings any more comprehensible? He did offer an answer on that: “I’m trying hard to understand what is happening, as I think everyone is,” he said. “Because it’s very hard to know what is actually happening here.”
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