Woodside’s focus on fossil fuels could push our climate over the edge

Climate polluter Woodside is building its business strategy around the absurd notion that the very cause of the climate crisis should continue as part of the emergency response, writes David Ritter.

THIS WEEK, a group of executives, politicians, lawyers and others gathered in Brisbane to discuss how to increase human suffering and accelerate the destruction of the natural world.

The event was the 59th Annual Conference and Exhibition of the Petroleum Production and Exploration Association of Australia (APPEA), which is the leading national body for Australia’s petroleum exploration and production industry and upstream gas.

The world’s top experts have shut down the oil and gas industry because it is one of the main drivers of climate change. According to the IPCC, if we are to have any hope of meeting the internationally agreed Paris climate target of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, existing fossil fuel infrastructure cannot be fully utilized.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has indicated that there should be no opening of new oil and gas fields (from 2021). Scientists have warned that humanity is facing ‘unspeakable suffering’ if we don’t start reducing greenhouse gas emissions at an emergency speed and scale.

Accordingly, the aim of APPEA should now be the permanent liquidation of these industries at rates consistent with internationally agreed Paris climate targets, while individual oil and gas companies should now be engaged in rapid transition.

The focus should be on developing business strategies to pivot to new products and revenue streams as quickly as possible – most obviously in the renewable energy sector.

Instead, most of the APPEA conference attendees (many of whom presumably must have children who might one day ask what their parents did during the snap years of the climate emergency, the years that really mattered to the humanity) would seem determined to continue to perpetrate the evils of oil and gas exploration and expansion.

In a recent speech, Australian author Tim Winton spoke evocatively of fossil fuel companies “trading cognitive distortions”. This deliberate perpetuation of confusing nonsense is promulgated across the world through countless powerpoints, slogans, graphics, advertisements and sufficiently confident presentations.

Where once the big fossil fuel companies simply scoffed at climate science and funded denial campaigns, they now apply deferral, delay and clever rationalization strategies.

And so Meg O’Neill, CEO of Woodside before the shindig APPEA this week and claims that “the decarbonization imperative is stronger than it has ever been”. This is the same Woodside that was recently named by the world’s largest investor engagement initiative on climate change as one of the worst performers in Australia and globally.

Already one of Australia’s ten biggest climate polluters, Woodside is currently looking to develop the Burrup Hub – which not only poses a huge threat to ocean wildlife, but is the most greenhouse gas-polluting infrastructure project in the world. greenhouse currently being put forward all over the country.

Ningaloo's natural beauty under threat if Woodside gets its way

It’s hard to overstate the immorality of such schemes at this point in the game. Woodside is in selfish denial of our reality, building an entire future business strategy around the absurd notion that the very thing that is causing the climate emergency should continue as part of the emergency response.

During the Vietnam War, a famous sign noted that ‘bombing for peace’ was as logical as ‘kiss for virginity’. Burning fossil fuels to fight climate change falls into the same category of visceral ridicule.

As it happens, Woodside’s rationalizations will receive renewed attention at the company’s annual general meeting this week. Already, proxy advisory firm Glass Lewis has signaled its recommendation to shareholders to dismiss Woodside’s climate report as lacking in substance. The Australasian Center for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) made a similar recommendation.

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said this year that “investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure is moral and economic folly”. In Woodside’s case, it’s the madness of the sociopath – high functioning, disturbingly plausible, blending into the status quo as if there’s nothing to see here.

But the bodies are piling up. Every fraction of a degree of temperature increase will have a measurable impact in terms of human mortality and species extinction – and every big polluter is knowingly guilty of this reality.

Rather than doubling down on the expansion of oil and gas production projects, Woodside should redirect capital allocation to ensure alignment with the Paris Agreement.

This would mean halting any currently planned fossil fuel expansion and refocusing to meet the world’s growing renewable energy needs.

David Ritter is the Managing Director of Greenpeace Australia Pacific. You can follow David on Twitter @David_Ritter.

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