The chief executive of ExxonMobil will meet with Pope Francis over the weekend for a climate change summit, the oil and gas company’s latest move in a new public relations campaign.
ExxonMobil Chief Executive Darren Woods will be one of numerous energy company officials to meet with Pope Francis Saturday for a summit on environmental issues. The leader of the Catholic Church hopes to use the meeting to discuss ways investment firms and oil companies can curtail carbon emissions, a leading cause of man-made global warming. Other participants will include BP CEO Bob Dudley, Equinor CEO Eldar Saetre, Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock — the world’s largest asset manager — and others. The University of Notre Dame helped in organizing the summit.
Since taking the reins of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has been quite vocal about environmental issues. He subtly criticized the U.S. withdrawal of the Paris climate agreement and wrote an encyclical devoted to the dangers of climate change. However, he has also been silent on issues of great importance to Catholics. Pope Francis has yet to comment of Ireland’s referendum vote that ended its ban on abortion in the Catholic-dominant country.
Exxon’s expected attendance at the summit comes as the company has shifted its public approach with environmental critics. For example, the oil and gas company ran an ad in 2000 that questioned the “unsettled science” on global warming. In 1997, then-chief executive Lee Raymond criticized the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement that aimed to reduce emissions.
Fast forward to present day and the fossil fuel giant appears much more sympathetic to environmental concerns. Exxon ran commercials during the NBA playoffs touting its investment in fuels made from algae, made a pledge in May to slash its methane emissions by 15 percent by 2020, and is now in public support of a U.S. carbon tax as part of a strategy to address climate change. (RELATED: Pope Francis To Convene Global Warming Summit At The Vatican)
Exxon is focused on mitigating the impact of its fossil fuel usage; however, critics argue the company is still too heavily invested in fossil fuels and hasn’t made enough inroads into renewable energy.
The company is also facing increased scrutiny from environmentalist activists. “#ExxonKnew” — a viral Twitter hashtag — is an environmentalist campaign that accuses ExxonMobil of purposely misleading investors about climate change science. Numerous Democratic politicians have hopped on the #ExxonKnew campaign and have accused the company of unethical behavior. Attorney general offices in Massachusetts and New York have continued to investigate how the company measured its own impact on climate change.
The meeting between Francis and energy CEOs was announced exactly one year after President Donald Trump declared the U.S. would be exiting the Paris climate agreement, a sweeping international agreement between countries to decrease pollution and a hallmark of former President Barack Obama’s climate agenda.
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