The Economist explains why Exxon Mobil would support a carbon tax

By H.T., The Economist.

“I don't think putting a price on carbon is necessarily the answer,” John Watson, the boss of Chevron, an American oil company, said in remarks reported in the Financial Times in June. “I've never had a customer come to me and ask to pay a higher price for oil, gas and other products.” It might seem safe to assume that all oil-and-gas businesses would share his dismissive view. After all, a levy on carbon dioxide, whether via a cap-and-trade system along the lines of the EU's Emissions Trading System, or via a carbon tax, should be about as welcome to their industry as Christmas is to turkeys. Yet since 2007 Exxon Mobil, the world's biggest publicly listed oil company, is proposing a carbon tax, and has already put a shadow price on each tonne of CO2 it emits. And in the lead-up to the climate-change summit that starts in Paris at the end of this month, six European oil majors have advocated carbon-pricing systems. Are they serious? If so, why this strange burst of altruism?

Cynics start from the premise that this is a public-relations exercise, rather than a commitment to wean the world off fossil fuels—which still account for 87% of the global energy mix. They note that the oil majors which are supportive of a carbon price put the onus on governments to implement it, knowing full well that higher petrol prices look like vote-losers in many parts of the world. And they point out that the industry is divided. State-run oil companies are as sceptical as Mr Watson. And like Chevron, Exxon Mobil declined to join the six European energy companies in signing their letter to the UN.