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Should Shell Be Excluded From Environmental Discussions?

High-level international talks are increasingly about curbing the effects of climate change. Governments of all stripes should certainly be involved, no matter what their status as polluters is. But who else should be present? What about the oil, gas and coal businesses whose success rests on years of pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere?

So far the feeling among environmental leaders like Al Gore has been that these large multinational companies should be included if they're willing; their behavior, after all, is part of what must change. But a group called the Corporate Europe Observatory is pushing against the inclusion of Shell and several other companies in meetings, according to The Guardian:

"The Danish government appears to be under the impression that some of the world's most polluting companies are going to put forward tough measures to tackle climate change," said Kenneth Haar, a researcher with CEO. "But unfortunately this doesn't seem likely to be the case. The majority of the corporations attending the World Business Summit on Climate Change seem more intent on pursuing business as usual â€" with the promise that future technologies will resolve the problem at a later date.

"Corporate lobbyists have been trying to influence the UN climate talks from the start. But now they are being invited to set the agenda before the negotiators have even sat down. If their demands are listened to, we might as well give up the fight against climate change now."

CEO certainly has a point. Of the oil majors like BP, Chevron and Exxon, few have made serious efforts to expand their business beyond oil (except into natural gas). The difference between them is mainly in how extensive their talk is, versus efforts. Both Exxon and Shell continue business as usual, for the most part -- yet Shell makes a show of changing, running a remarkably straightforward climate change blog even as it pushes to develop resources like the Canadian tar sands.

So while Exxon is a stubborn hold-out, companies like Shell and Duke Energy, which fess up to their part in climate change, are earning more enemies for trying to influence policy in a way that preserves their businesses. The problem is that once various business interests have been protected, there's little room left for rapid change -- which is exactly what most of those companies were happy to point out, before the pressure on them rose.

I think that we do need to have hydrocarbon developers involved in climate talks, for their experience and knowledge if nothing else. But they'll need to be careful of how they spin their message. If environmentalists have their way, these companies will end up excluded altogether.

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