ABU DHABI // Two of the world's biggest oil companies are to quit a prominent climate-change lobby group in Washington, in the latest blow to global efforts to reach a consensus on climate change this year. BP and ConocoPhillips announced late on Tuesday that legislation in the US would hurt their oil refining and natural gas business, and they would not renew their membership in the US Climate Action Partnership. Support from the two oil companies had bolstered the chances that Congress could reach a consensus on reducing US emissions, a prerequisite to any global climate treaty.
Proposed laws "have disadvantaged the transportation sector and its consumers, left domestic refineries unfairly penalised versus international competition, and ignored the critical role that natural gas can play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions", said Jim Mulva, Conoco's chairman. The move by BP and Conoco, along with the heavy equipment maker Caterpillar, comes at a tough moment for the global climate movement after inconclusive talks in Copenhagen in December.
Supporters of legislation to reduce emissions in the US are struggling for political support and new gaps in the science behind global warming have spurred popular doubts across the world about the need for swift, expensive action to cut the use of fossil fuels. The US is likely to take at least two years to approve climate legislation, said Mohammed Raouf, a climate expert at the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai. "In the time after Copenhagen it was very bad," Mr Raouf said. "In a year ending with a meeting in Mexico City, we hope it will be enough of a warning for them to take action."
A prominent British climate advocate said the movement had received too much backing from investors and governments around the world to be stymied for good. "Make no mistake, the spotlight may have temporarily flickered but it is here to stay," said Steve Howard, the chief executive of The Climate Group. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the negotiating process on global warming, is scheduled to meet in June and November of this year.
Mr Howard predicted that, more broadly, negotiators would make progress on an agreement, but declined to offer a forecast for when it could be completed. Mr Raouf predicted negotiators could reach an agreement within 18 months. "I think we will see the accord strengthen and a good, politically binding agreement in place," Mr Howard said. "But this will remain a continual process in the same way as the other major issues of international diplomacy." Support for climate legislation falls largely on partisan lines in Washington, and the US Senate's capacity to pass a bill this year was thrown into doubt by the Democrats' loss of a swing seat last month. The House of Representatives approved its own climate bill in June.
A series of embarrassing errors in climate science exposed recently have added to the sense of stagnating momentum. Media reports have shown that the 2007 report by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), considered the gold standard in climate science, included a number of factual inaccuracies and cited sources that were not robust enough for a scientific publication. Among other errors, the IPCC cited the World Wildlife Fund, an environmental group, in asserting that up to 40 per cent of the Amazon rainforest could be affected by slight changes in rainfall.
Republican leaders in the US have cited the errors as reason to block climate legislation, and a recent poll by the Pew Research Centre shows that only 28 per cent of Americans see climate change as a top priority, down from 38 per cent in 2007. But Mr Howard said the errors would not call into question the broader science compiled by the IPCC. "Whilst it does need to show that it has improved its quality control procedures, we have a couple of data points out of many thousands that are being queried," he said.