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45 years: Working together to support industry progress

2019 marks the 45th anniversary of the foundation of the organization I lead, IPIECA, the global oil and gas industry association for advancing environmental and social performance. I’ve been in the role for seven years and its fascinating to be at the interface between the industry and some of the major challenges facing the global community. Anniversaries are useful points to reflect on the past, look ahead to the future and consider the way forward.

The driver for the formation of IPIECA was the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as an outcome of the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. At the time, the global community was most concerned about the effects of industrial development in terms of pollution and impacts on wildlife.

With the increase in understanding of the global nature of environmental issues, the need for all actors, besides countries, including industry cooperation was clear as these were issues too big for individual actors to address alone.

It was already understood that there was a strong relationship between the oil industry, development and the environment, and the formation of UNEP prompted a series of approaches by leading oil companies and UNEP to investigate opportunities to cooperate. Sensibly, UNEP encouraged the companies to form an association to act as a liaison channel on their behalf – the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (our name is now just IPIECA) was formed in March 1974. IPIECA was the first global oil industry association to focus on environmental good practice and act as a channel for communication with the United Nations.

Looking back, it is possible to see many of the key elements of IPIECA’s operating model and original principles still in place and enshrined in our Articles of Association today. Convening members to explore emerging issues and work together to develop guidance on environmental (and now also social) good practice is at the heart of what we do. This technical work provides the basis that enables the improvement of industry performance and allows IPIECA to speak authoritatively on environmental and social issues to external stakeholders. The work IPIECA does is based on consensus, which does not mean aligning around the ‘lowest common denominator’, but rather a place that supports and encourages improvement in performance across the industry.

In my view, this technical role is supported by the principle that IPIECA is not a lobby group. Our role is to focus on the evidence and the facts and to ensure that reliable and accurate information is available for members and stakeholders to inform their own decision making.

The non-lobby status also enables IPIECA to engage with stakeholders from the UN, NGOs and other sectors of society in a unique way. Our engagement includes long term partnerships, and collaboration on publications and events. In all these activities, IPIECA is open to constructive and robust feedback and guidance, and much of the input is very influential in our strategy and publications. From my experience we listen a lot more than we speak.

This operating model has led to some enduring and productive partnerships such as the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles with UNEP, the Global Initiative for Oil Spill Preparedness and Response with the International Maritime Organization and our recent publication, Mapping the Oil and Gas Industry to the Sustainable Development Goals: An Atlas, with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

IPIECA is a deliberatively inclusive association. Our vision is an oil and gas industry whose operations and products meet society’s expectations for environmental and social performance. The important word is industry – our work is available to all actors in the industry and the product of that work, our good practice guidance, is freely available to download from our website. You might think that erodes the business case for joining the Association, but the growing membership, now some 68 companies and associations, suggests otherwise. The active members stay as they see the benefits that arise from working with their peers in the industry and from having materials that have broad industry alignment behind them.

Like any organization operating where we do, at the convergence of the oil and gas industry and major sustainability issues, there are challenges that we are facing up to. Supporting global sustainable development and meeting the aims of the Paris Agreement are major challenges in which the oil and gas industry is actively playing a role to help achieve the vision of both. At the centre of this is the energy transition, where the emissions from global energy use need to peak and then decline to net-zero, whilst allowing the world’s growing population to access safe, clean and affordable energy.

The complexity of the transition means that it will take several steps to get to where we need to be. It also means that all parties and all solutions have a contribution to make, not just in terms of managing the emissions of their own operations, but also providing consumers with options that lower theirs. Unfortunately, the reality of this complexity is frequently undermined by attempts to reduce it to binary options, or through the exclusion of parties who can make large positive impacts.

The formation of UNEP and IPIECA reflected understanding all those years ago that there are issues that are too large for individual countries or companies to address successfully on their own. This is never more true than it is now and will be in the future. It’s a privilege to play a small part in addressing the challenges the world is facing today.

About Brian:

Brian joined IPIECA as the Executive Director in 2011 following a 23 year career in BP. He graduated in Metallurgy and Materials Science from Imperial College, London, UK and was recruited into BP’s Refining and Marketing international graduate programme in 1986.

Over the course of 23 years, his career included assignments in London, Copenhagen, Budapest, Athens and Johannesburg, and business experience in over 60 countries. During his time with BP he has had a varied career of technical, commercial, financial and leadership roles across the downstream value chain including crude and products trading, marine fuels, lubricants and alternative energy.


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