Since teenage activist Greta Thunberg has been grilling world leaders and industry over inaction on the climate crisis, a fair number of people in powerful positions have started to make the right noises, promising to do more.
Perhaps being thoroughly put to shame by a 16-year-old who is still in school has that effect on people.
This week, Thunberg and the many other students globally who have walked out of school in protest got some kind of response to their calls for change, from none other than the UK’s fossil fuel industry.
The chief executive of Oil and Gas UK, the trade association of UK’s offshore oil and gas industry, said at a conference that her organisation is “listening” to Thunberg, the BBC reported.
Deirdre Michie told the industry get together in Aberdeen on Tuesday: “Climate change is a real and present danger that we must deal with together … I would like to reassure Greta Thunberg we are listening, because we want the world to be a better place too.”
Michie added the caveat that “we believe our industry’s global contribution has improved the lives of billions of people." She went on to talk about how the sector could contribute — referencing that some companies had expanded their energy portfolio to include renewables.
"The UK has a mindblowing history of carbon debt."
Thunberg, from Sweden, sparked a global movement of school strikes last year when she decided to walk out of school until adults started taking responsibility for climate change, and taking steps against it.
On her visit to the UK (part of a train travel-only journey around Europe) in April, she told MPs that the UK’s continued exploration and extraction of fossil fuels was “beyond absurd” and said the country had a "mindblowing history of carbon debt."
MPs and party leaders such as the Conservative MP and Environment Secretary Michael Gove; the leader of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn; and the Green Party MP Caroline Lucas listened in awe of the young activist, but she challenged them not to just take selfies with her but to actually do something.
She also called out the UK’s “creative accounting” when it comes to recording its CO2 emissions.
For example, Global Carbon Project records suggest that the UK has reduced carbon dioxide output by 37% since 1990, but in fact, that doesn’t include emissions from aviation, shipping, or imports and exports-related emissions. The real figure is more like a 10% reduction, Thunberg said.
"We can find and deliver the solutions needed while at the same time positioning ourselves to be at the heart of an energy system that also needs to change."
Deirdre Michie, chief executive of Oil and Gas UK
Responding to Thunberg’s argument that “if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, maybe we should change the system itself”, Michie, speaking at the conference, says the industry can try to do something.
Michie said: "I would like to suggest that as the UK's offshore oil and gas industry has so many talented people...we can find and deliver the solutions needed while at the same time positioning ourselves to be at the heart of an energy system that also needs to change — whether it is by the sector working to reduce its operational emissions as well as supporting the advancement of low carbon and abatement technologies."
"Indeed, along with our sector delivering from exploration through to decommissioning, it's already unlocking the energy transition with some operators extending their portfolios into other energies — Equinor, Total, Shell, and BP," she continued. "And of course, the downstream and utilities sectors are doing a lot of work in this too.”