Royal Dutch Shell's chief executive criticized Washington on Monday for spurning the United Nations' Kyoto agreement on global warming, saying U.S. backing for a global regulatory framework would create incentives for oil companies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
"For us as a company, the debate about CO2 is over. We've entered a debate about what we can do about it," Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer said at the Arab Strategy Forum, which was attended by hundreds of political and business leaders from the Middle East and elsewhere.
Van der Veer was asked by an American attending the forum whether the company's business plans were being hurt by the international backlash against global warming, and whether carbon dioxide emissions from burning oil-based fuels were considered the prime cause.
The Shell executive said energy companies would be ready to partner with governments to solve the carbon problem if there were a worldwide framework to bind them to the same standards. He said the Kyoto protocol, which focuses on 35 industrial countries, was a good start.
"You are from the United States. Why don't you join the Kyoto agreement?" Van der Veer asked the American. "You see an initial framework there and you can build on that for our future."
The Bush administration pulled out of the Kyoto accords shortly after taking office in 2001. The Clinton administration signed the agreement in 1997, along with European Union members and Japan.
Kyoto requires industrialized countries to curb emissions of carbon dioxide and five other gases that act like a greenhouse, trapping heat in the atmosphere.
The United States produces about a quarter of the world's greenhouse gases, the largest amount of any country. But searing economic growth and rapid industrialization are boosting emissions in China and India, developing countries not bound by the Kyoto accords.
Van der Veer said there needed to be a "level playing field" of environmental ground rules that all countries followed. Otherwise, he said, companies such as The Hague-based Shell have little incentive to invest in expensive emission-reducing strategies in one country, when they could move operations to a neighboring country that has no such restrictions.