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Fossil fuel executives pledge emissions cuts: turning point or publicity stunt?

In an unprecedented move, executives from ten fossil fuel companies on Friday announced a joint pledge to lower emissions. The details, however, remain murky.

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CEOs of oil and gas companies stands before a meeting, Friday, in Paris, France. The chief executives of several of the world's biggest oil and gas companies have pledged support for an 'effective' deal to fight global warming at a Paris conference next month.

Jacques Brinon/AP

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In an attempt to boost the industry image, oil and gas executives pledged to lower emissions on Friday, but were unable to agree on a price for carbon emissions.

In an unprecedented move, executives of 10 fossil fuel companies held a joint press conference in Paris. The companies called for an “effective” agreement on carbon emissions at the United Nations summit in December, where nearly 200 nations will try to create a climate change agreement.

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The companies also promised to collaborate on limiting emissions. One promise will likely include commitments to minimize gas flaring from refineries, which the World Bank estimates produces 300 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. The companies, however, did not have an agreed message about a mechanism for carbon pricing, which seven European companies this year agreed to follow.

“We have international oil companies and national oil companies and some of the nations have a different view on carbon pricing as a group,” BP chief executive officer Bob Dudley told Reuters. 

The failure to agree on carbon pricing may show a deep divide among industry leaders. Officials who attended the discussions before the press conference said the heads of national oil companies of Saudi Aramco, Mexico, and India’s Reliance Industries insisted on not including any statement on carbon pricing.

The US counterparts for many of these companies, including Exxon Mobil and Chevron, stayed away from the initiative all together.

Several of the companies involved have previously come out in support of carbon pricing.

Many of the companies represented at the conference are fighting for the future of the industry, as public opinion turns away from fossil fuels and major oil countries like China and India turn toward renewable resources.

The group is trying to recruit more companies and refocus on a clearer stance on reducing carbon emissions. Total chief executive Patrick Pouyanné said a major Chinese oil and gas company would be joining the talks by the end of the year.

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Critics are taking aim at the lack of a clear plan and the absence of a mechanism for carbon emission pricing.

“Their latest intervention contained nothing meaningful that will significantly aid the decarbonization of the global economy,” Charlie Kronick of Greenpeace told Reuters.

This report includes material from Reuters.