Energy CEO: Climate change is real, driven by humans

HOUSTON — BHP Billiton CEO Andrew Mackenzie, who leads the world’s largest mining company, said Tuesday that climate change is real and driven by human activity.

Speaking to energy industry leaders at the CERAWeek conference in Houston, Mackenzie, a geologist by training, said evidence of the climate trend is clear and compelling.

“You can’t argue with a rock,” Mackenzie said, noting geological signs of the change.

Mackenzie — whose Australia-based company produces oil, gas, coal and uranium — also advocated for the creation of a carbon pricing system that would enable the market “to identify the most cost-effective methods of cutting emissions.”

Coal’s role

Still, Mackenzie didn’t denounce the role of coal outright, despite its contribution to emissions and its continued place of prominence in Asia, a growing market where “coal will remain the region’s primary source of affordable energy.”

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That’s because most countries use fuel sources that are local, which means that, despite hopes of minimizing the environmental impact of energy, there will always be a global mix of fuel types.

“In the past, we’ve fallen into the trap of saying ‘my fossil fuel is better than your fossil fuel,'” Mackenzie said.

Environment vs. equality

While he acknowledges the role of climate change, Mackenzie noted  that fossil fuels will be difficult to replace as nations try to boost energy affordibility. Those who refuse to acknowledge that reality, he said, risk putting environmental concerns above the need to alleviate poverty.

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Mackenzie said a fifth of the world’s population lacks access to reliable electric power, including 700 million people in sub-Saharan Africa who rely on burning wood and charcoal to cook food and heat their homes. He said he forecasts 1.7 billion people will get access to electricity for the first time in the next 20 years.

But he also predicted that, globally, gas will not surge as a source of electric power as it has in the U.S. Indeed, as one analyst projected Monday, while coal’s role will decline in the coming decades, it will remain the dominant source of electric power.

Exporting US energy

Mackenzie also weighed in on the debate about crude oil and liquid natural gas exports. U.S. plans to export liquefied natural gas have prompted concerns about rising gas prices domestically. But Mackenzie projected that prices will remain relatively low here, in part because the volume of gas being exported would be limited by transportation costs.

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He also said U.S. political leaders should encourage the development of global markets and “advance its free trade policy for all resources,” an apparent nod toward the growing movement to lift the de facto ban on crude oil exports.  He said more open trading would promote stability worldwide and raise GDPs across the globe.

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