By Ron Bousso, Susanna Twidale and Bate Felix
LONDON/PARIS (Reuters) - Oil and gas industry leaders will launch a final charm offensive on Friday to highlight the sector's relevance in the global fight against climate change before a key summit in Paris later this year.
In an unprecedented public appearance, the bosses of Europe's top oil companies, who earlier this year jointly called on governments to introduce a global carbon pricing system, will be joined by the heads of the national oil companies of Saudi Arabia and Mexico who will lend their support to the initiative.
The rare show of unity at a time when companies are all struggling with a sharp drop in oil prices also highlights a deep rift with American oil companies such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron who stayed away from the initiative.
The chief executives of Total, Britain's BP and BG Group, Italy's Eni, Norway's Statoil, Spain's Repsol, Saudi Aramco and Pemex will again call for a global pricing system on carbon, which they say will give an economic incentive for the private sector to use cleaner sources of energy and to develop new technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS).
They will also again urge governments to dump coal in favor of cleaner natural gas in power plants and heavy industry.
For many of the companies, this is a fight for the future of the oil and gas sector in the public debate as a rising number of organizations and politicians call to minimize the use of fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy such as wind and solar power while seeking to ostracize oil companies among investors.
"Sometimes in all these discussions you have the impression that all fossil fuels are the bad guys. But the bad guys are part of the solution," Total's CEO Patrick Pouyanne told a gas and electricity summit in Paris on Thursday.
"Whatever people think, we still need fossil fuels. We need to make advocacy for gas. We need to explain to our policy makers that gas has to be encouraged," Pouyanne said.
"Policy makers are not convinced in many countries that gas is part of the solution for climate change, we in the industry need to speak up."
The meeting, which will be followed by a press conference, comes shortly before diplomats gather in Bonn from Monday for the last formal session ahead of the Paris climate talks starting in November where negotiators from almost 200 nations will meet to try to forge a global climate change agreement, designed to curb rising greenhouse gas emissions.
"The big challenge for them is what is their next business model for the years to come, which I think is a legitimate question to ask of them," Laurence Tubiana, French ambassador for the international climate negotiations, said at an event held by accountancy firm PwC on Thursday.
The International Energy Agency forecasts oil will remain the largest energy source by 2040, although its share will decline while renewable sources of energy will grow.
All major emitting countries have now submitted plans to the United Nations detailing how much they plan to curb their emissions.
Many members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), including leader Saudi Arabia, have yet to submit their plans.
For oil executives, pledges by key oil consuming countries including China and India to cut fossil fuel consumption have crystallized their need to act.
The World Bank estimates around 300 million tones of carbon dioxide (CO2) is emitted from gas flaring each year, equivalent to around 77 million cars.
Total, Statoil, Shell, Eni and BG are already signed up to a U.N. initiative to stop routine gas flaring by 2030.
Critics say however that without clear goals to cut their emissions, oil companies' efforts would have little impact.
"To determine whether or not this is just greenwash ... you need to look for whether or not the initiative announces concrete, quantitative and measurable targets designed to make the oil and gas industry part of the solution," said Anthony Hobley, chief executive of environmental think tank the Carbon Tracker Initiative.
(Additional reporting by Ana Martinez in Mexico; editing by Adrian Croft)