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ConocoPhillips signals conditional support for U.N. climate deal

Image: Conocophillips CEO Ryan Lance speaks during an interview with Maria Bartiromo, for her Fox Business Network show “Opening Bell with Maria Bartiromo” in New York April 8, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Oil and gas producer ConocoPhillips on Friday said it would support a UN climate change agreement if it met its own policy principles, including creating a “level playing among energy sources and between countries.”

The comments by the Houston-based company were a clarification of its position on the proposed UN agreement after it earlier in the week answered ‘yes’ to a question in a climate change survey that asked whether it backed a 2015 UN accord.

The company’s partial endorsement comes as pressure grows on U.S. oil majors to follow the lead of European counterparts who backed the UN climate negotiation process and called for a global carbon pricing system to tackle carbon emissions.

The survey by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) asked 2,000 companies whether their boards of directors would support a UN deal that would limit the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees C. []

The CDP on Wednesday pointed to ‘yes’ responses by Conoco Phillips and Russian energy giant Gazprom [GAZPI.UL]. By Thursday the CDP dropped the mention of ConocoPhillips and changed the company’s ‘yes’ answer on the survey to a blank after the oil major complained the UK-based organization had not accurately reflected its position.

“In hindsight, had we known CDP would only include one part of our answer, we would not have responded with an unqualified ‘yes,'” the company said in a statement.

Among Conoco’s other conditions for supporting a global deal are that an agreement that avoids technology mandates and promotes investment in research and development.

Six European majors, including Shell and Total, tried to get US peers to join them in a global sector-wide response to the climate talks and back a global carbon pricing system, but they declined.

“This move by ConocoPhillips highlights the widening gap between European majors who have called for a carbon price and the North American majors,” said Shanna Cleveland, senior manager at environmental advocacy nonprofit Ceres.

The Obama administration has been reaching out to the U.S. private sector for political and financial support to bolster its quest for a deal at the conclusion of the Nov. 30-Dec. 11 UN climate summit.

In July, more than a dozen well-known companies, including Apple, GM and Google, signed on to the American Business Act on Climate Pledge to support U.S. efforts to secure a climate deal. None of those were fossil fuel companies.

Tim Smith, director of shareholder engagement at Walden Asset Management, a responsible investment portfolio management firm, said investors have been pressing ConocoPhillips to improve its climate position by challenging some of the trade groups it belongs to, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber wants to block the regulations needed for the U.S. to meet its Paris emission reduction pledge.

Smith said Conoco faces competing demands from green and investor-activist groups and from industry lobby groups worried that a UN deal will call for a total phase-out of fossil fuels.

“They are looking over both shoulders to see where the pressures are coming from,” he said.

(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Andrew Hay)

Copyright 2015 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

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