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Editorial comment

All eyes will soon be on Glasgow for the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Ahead of hosting the conference, the UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already claimed that it will represent the “turning point for humanity.”

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As the world’s political leaders decide on what actions should be taken to help decarbonise the planet, the global oil and gas sector faces continued uncertainty. In its recently published ‘2021 CEO Outlook’, KPMG notes that climate change risk continues to be seen as the number one threat by energy leaders. Of the 133 CEOs that were surveyed about their strategies and outlook over the next three years, 37% selected climate change as their top risk category as it relates to their organisation’s growth. Over half of respondents also report that they are under pressure from investors and regulators for increased reporting and transparency on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.

Meanwhile, almost one-third of CEOs stated that attracting and retaining talent was their top priority over the next three years, with 86% of energy leaders planning to increase their workforce over the same period. However, attracting new talent to our sector at a time of heightened environmental concerns is challenging, as Regina Mayor, KPMG’s Global Head of Energy and Natural Resources, explains: “The industry has faced talent and skills shortages before, but there’s a sense that, this time, we may not be able to win the hearts and minds of the talented individuals who have gotten us to where we are today.”

It is our responsibility, as an industry, to change this narrative in order to attract the next generation of talent, including passionate environmentalists. The AFPM recently published an interesting article in Politico explaining why the idea of an environmentalist working in the downstream sector need not be seen as the ultimate paradox.1 By seeking out careers in the refining and petrochemical sectors, these workers can advance positive outcomes and encourage change from within. In the article, the AFPM presents three case studies of environmentalists driving sustainability efforts at US refining and petrochemical companies. It highlights an environmental biologist supporting ecological and biodiversity efforts at Valero’s refineries and ethanol plants, a geologist who founded an environmental stewardship committee at CITGO, and a principal engineer and wildlife photographer aiding a wetland’s transformation at Westlake Chemical.

Each of these workers entered the downstream sector with a vision to help improve the environment and aid sustainability efforts. As Bill Goulet – the nature photographer at Westlake Chemical – explains: “If you want to make the most impact and protect the environment, why would you not work for an oil, gas or a petrochemical plant? That is where the most good can, and is, being done. That is where you want the experts.”

This is a message that we need to make loud and clear in order to ensure that our sector continues to attract (and retain) the next generation of talent, who will be essential to driving both growth and sustainability efforts within our industry.

1. ‘From the inside: how industry environmentalists are driving sustainability efforts within refining and petrochemical companies,’ Politico, (15 September 2021).

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