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Exxon CEO Darren Woods likely to attend COP28 – sources

APEC Summit in San Francisco

By Sabrina Valle and Sarah McFarlane

HOUSTON (Reuters) -Exxon Mobil Corp Chief Executive Darren Woods is making plans to attend the COP28 climate summit in Dubai next week, two people familiar with the matter said, in what would mark a first for an Exxon CEO, if confirmed.

Woods is expected to advocate that reducing carbon emissions should be a priority in addressing climate change, rather than reducing oil production. He has made that something of a mantra in the past couple of years that the world needs affordable energy and that cutting emissions is a more effective solution.

"We commit to solving the world’s energy and emissions challenges simultaneously," Darren Woods said at the APEC CEO summit earlier this month.

A record number of oil and gas industry representatives are expected to be in attendance at this year's COP, a summit intended to address the catastrophic effects of climate change, which scientists say is largely fueled by fossil fuel industry emissions.

Leading the climate talks is Sultan al-Jaber, also chief executive of the UAE’s state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), whose work with the industry in the run-up to the summit has led to more than 20 oil and gas companies signing up to voluntary climate pledges.

Environmentalists have criticized Exxon's plans to increase oil production and failure to address scope 3 emissions, or emissions caused by burning the fuels that Exxon sells.

Exxon on Wednesday said it decided to join a United Nations-led initiative to monitor its methane emissions, following in the footsteps of its European rivals taken years ago.

Exxon has been catching up with industry emission reduction initiatives since 2021, when it suffered an investor rebellion over the company's lack of climate strategy.

The move follows the acquisition in October of U.S. shale producer Pioneer Natural Resources, already a member of the U.N.'s Oil & Gas Methane Partnership (OGMP). Reuters reported in October that Exxon was considering joining the partnership after that deal.

Exxon could either join the group or face the reputation risk of removing Pioneer assets from OGMP, the world's largest initiative to monitor methane emissions. The program uses standardized, independently verified methods that are comparable across the industry.

Exxon says technology advancements allowed it to join the initiative and that the decision guards no relation with Pioneer's acquisition.

"The evolving technical landscape and ongoing collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have opened the door for us to meet OGMP 2.0’s expectations," Exxon's Chief Environmental Strategist Matt Kolesar said in a statement. More than 95 companies, including Shell, BP, Total, Conoco and Occidental are part of the U.N. initiative. Chevron is the main absence among large Western oil producers.

(Reporting by Sabrina Valle and Sarah McFarlane; Editing by Josie Kao and Aurora Ellis)