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MODERATOR:  Good day and welcome to this New York Foreign Press Center Briefing.  My name is Daphne Stavropoulos, and I’m today’s moderator.  Continuing on with our City Spotlight series, it’s a pleasure to introduce Bob Harvey, president and – excuse me – chief executive officer of the Greater Houston Partnership; and Christopher Olson, director of international and trade affairs for the City of Houston.   

Mr. Harvey will give us some background on the partnership’s role in positioning Houston to lead the global energy transition to a more efficient and sustainable low-carbon future while accommodating global demand growth.  

MR HARVEY:  All right.  Well, Daphne, thank you.  

MODERATOR:  Oh, thank you so much.  Let me just lay the ground rules if you don’t mind, my apologies.   

MR HARVEY:  No problem.  

MODERATOR:  Mr. Olson is going to talk about Houston generally and more specifically about its role in leading the global transition to an energy-abundant low-carbon future.  Houston, Texas is the fourth largest city in the United States and a leader in the global energy transition.   

Mayor Turner had a last-minute scheduling conflict and could not join us today, but he serves as the chair of the Climate Mayors, a coalition of more than 470 U.S. mayors, and is behind Houston’s climate action plan to make the city carbon-neutral by 2015.  So Mr. Olson can address questions to that and many other topics.  

This briefing is on the record and views expressed by briefers are not necessarily affiliated with the Department of State or those of the U.S. Government.  If you have not had the opportunity to do so, please rename yourself and your media outlet on the screen and let me turn the floor over to Mr. Harvey.  Welcome.  Thank you.  

MR HARVEY:  Oh, thank you Daphne.  Sorry to jump the gun a minute ago.  This – good afternoon or good evening, everyone.  It’s a pleasure to join you.  My name, again, is Bob Harvey.  I’m the president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, and it’s my pleasure to speak with you today and talk about and tell you about the work that’s taking place in Houston with respect to the transition to what we refer to as an energy-abundant low-carbon future or, simply put, the energy transition.  

By way of background, the Greater Houston Partnership is the Houston region’s principal business organization, operating as both the chamber of commerce and the economic development organization for the greater Houston region.  We represent about a thousand member companies.  We work closely with our elected officials, including of course, the City of Houston, Mayor Turner, and others.   

So before I turn to the energy transition, which is most of what I want to talk about, let me say a few more words about Houston itself.  In terms of population, as Daphne just mentioned, we’re the fourth-largest city and the fifth-largest metro in the United States.  Our metro population is about 7.1 million.  We have a roughly $500 billion regional economy.  It’s powered by one of the youngest, fastest growing, and, frankly, most diverse populations in the nation and is known throughout the world, frankly, as a great place to do business, with global connections, a great quality of life.   

Frankly, it’s both enjoyable and affordable, and if you haven’t visited Houston recently, you should.  We have great food, great sports and entertainment, great arts and culture, most anything one would look for, and I’m very pleased that just this past week we announced that Houston would be one of the host cities for the 2016 World Cup – 2026 World Cup, excuse me.  

Now, with respect to our ties to France, thinking about a trip that we’re going to be making next week, France is our 16th-largest trading partner.  A lot of Houston firms operate in France, as you would expect, and many French firms operate subsidiaries in Houston, as you would also expect.  People like Air Liquide, Arkema, EDF, Engie, TotalEnergies, and others, and we both claim Schlumberger as being our company, so we’ll fight over that later.   

I would say this:  Our geographic location in the center of the United States, combined with our top-ranked port in terms of both tonnage and vessel movements, our two international airports, our extensive rail and highway system, our very large foreign-born population – all of these factors combine to make Houston a top location for foreign companies looking to enter or expand in the U.S. market.   

And in addition to energy, Houston enjoys leading positions in life sciences, and of course, we leverage the fact that we have the largest medical center in the world at the Texas Medical Center, and I suspect most of you are familiar with MD Anderson Cancer Center, which lies at the heart of the medical center.   

We also lead in technology and manufacturing in aerospace, of course leveraging the Johnson Space Center, which is still the hub of manned space flight, whether it’s government-owned or commercial in nature.  We’re also a corporate headquarters city with twenty-five Fortune 500 headquarters in Houston.  That’s the third most of any U.S. metro.  

So now let me turn to energy.  It’s fair to say that over the last several years there has been a remarkable movement by Houston businesses and civic leaders to position Houston as the leader in the global energy transition.  As you know, Houston has been inextricably linked to oil and gas, power, and petrochemical industries for over a century, and I think it’s fair to say energy was the central driver to our region’s success as a leading global commercial and cultural center in the 20th century.  

But as a result, we’re known throughout the world as the energy capital of the world, but as the energy capital of the world, Houston understands completely the responsibility and the opportunity we have to tackle this dual challenge of meeting the global demand for affordable and reliable energy while lowering the world’s carbon footprint to net zero by 2050.  And we believe Houston is the only city in the world, frankly, with the technology expertise, the commercial skills, the manufacturing talent, the infrastructure to lead the transition to a more sustainable low-carbon future on a global scale.  

So last summer, the Greater Houston Partnership launched the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, which goes by the acronym HETI.  We all call it HETI, and that HETI initiative set forth a strategy for how Houston can leverage its energy leadership to accelerate global solutions for this energy-abundant low-carbon future, and this vision calls for leveraging Houston’s strengths and building on our history of leadership in the energy and petrochemical industry, all of which will be critical for a successful transition.  But it also calls for attracting new and innovative talent, startups, and capital to Houston focused on this low-carbon energy issue.  

And by the way, that includes the large established players who are setting up low-carbon business units all over the world, so our analysis tells us that if we do nothing but follow the path of the traditional energy industry, Houston will likely shed a half million – 500,000 – jobs by 2050 on a base of about 3.1 million jobs.  That’s if we – you might say do nothing, continue to be involved in traditional energy, nothing else, while that industry becomes more and more efficient and less and less the driver of global energy consumption.   

But on the other hand, if we take the lead in enabling sustainable and equitable growth in low-carbon technology, we think we can add, we estimate, 560,000 net new jobs.  So in other words, that’s a swing of about a million jobs in Houston.  And we can have a positive impact for the environment and position Houston as a leading hub of clean energy and climate tech innovation. 

The Houston Energy Transition Initiative, HETI, is led by 18 of our key industry leaders, most of whom operate at the global level.  This group has established four sector-specific, industry-led working groups.  One is around carbon capture, use, and storage, CCUS.  Another is around clean – excuse me – clean hydrogen development.  A third is around what we call industrial decarbonization, which is to say how do we lower the carbon footprint of current operations in energy but in other hard-to-manage sectors?  And then the fourth working group is focused on capital formation, which is to say, how do we fund the literally trillions of dollars of investment that will be needed to reach the net-zero goal by 2050?   

So in addition to these four working groups, we also have some cross-cutting initiatives, one of which is the development of policy and regulatory frameworks that support investment in clean tech.  This requires a whole new set of legislation at the federal, state, and local level to permit this investment to move forward.  And another team is looking at community engagement and environmental justice, which is to say, how do we ensure equitable outcomes for all of this work in the coming decades?   

In just the last 12 months, we are already seeing this strategy translate into tangible projects and actions that truly demonstrate Houston’s commitment to and leadership in the energy transition.  One you may have heard about already:  ExxonMobil’s proposed vision for decarbonizing the Houston Ship Channel using CCUS.  That effort now has 14 member companies working together to develop an implementation plan.  And we continue to see other Houston-area CCUS partnerships being formed and projects being announced.   

Our hydrogen working group, which is actually led by an affiliate of the partnership called the Center for Houston’s Future, just released a whitepaper outlining the case for Houston to be the epicenter of industrial decarbonization and clean hydrogen for Texas and the Gulf Coast.   

And it’s not only the incumbent industry that is driving the transition forward in Houston; we are fast becoming one of the world’s leading innovation ecosystems, particularly for clean energy and climate tech solutions.  In fact, new venture capital investment in the Houston region has seen a nearly fivefold increase since 2017 – fivefold increase since 2017.  Over 60 – 6-0 – new low-carbon and climate tech startups have launched in our – launched in or relocated to Houston over the last two years, including several that emerged abroad but opted to relocate to Houston.  Why?  Because they have access to the industry and to the infrastructure that’s here locally.  

A new report that just came out of an organization you may be familiar with called Startup Genome – they produce a report every year.  They did it this year in conjunction with the Global Entrepreneurship Network.  And it ranked Houston fifth among the world’s top 100 emerging ecosystems for startups.  And that was relative to the report last year, which ranked Houston number 19.  So real progress on that front.   

We’re just getting started.  We’re very excited about sharing these developments with all of you.  This marks the official I’ll call it international launch of our Houston energy transition strategy.  And as you can really imagine, collaboration is a common link that connects our vision and we look forward to working closely with our international partners.  It will clearly take all of us around the world working together to achieve a net-zero outcome by 2050.   

Next week, Mayor Turner and the Greater Houston Partnership will be leading an economic development mission to Paris, and during that week-long trip we’ll be meeting with civic and business leaders, talking about a variety of topics but most particularly the global energy transition. 

So now let me turn the floor over to Chris Olson.  Chris had been introduced briefly.  Chris is the director of trade and international affairs with the City of Houston, a good friend of ours.  Chris, let me turn the floor over to you.  

MR OLSON:  Making sure I’m off mute everywhere that I have mute on.  And Bob, thank you very much.  Daphne, pleasure to join you all today, and for all of our foreign press corps that’s here, thank you for joining us today to learn a little bit more about Houston.   

As Bob mentioned, we’re all from the City of Houston that’s here.  I am the director of trade and international affairs.  In this role I kind of serve as the foreign minister and the trade minister on behalf of the mayor of Houston, who as Daphne said in the intro, is unable to join us today because of some urgent city business that conflicted with his schedule.  But on behalf of Mayor Turner, it’s my pleasure to welcome you all and I want to thank you for joining us.  

By way of following up with Bob’s comments, I’ll take just another moment to kind of reintroduce everyone to Houston.  One of the things that we see as we travel around the world and we meet with global leaders from around the world is sometimes we need to change the perspective of what Houston is.  Houston, of course, is known as the energy capital of the world.  We are now redefining Houston as the energy transition capital of the world, because that really defines kind of who Houston is, and as you heard Bob say, where Houston is heading to. 

As Bob noted, we are the nation’s fourth-largest city and the most diverse country in the – or most diverse city in the United States.  One in four of our residents is foreign-born.  More than 140 different languages are spoken here, and we’re home to more than 90 foreign diplomatic missions, which is the third-largest consular corps in the United States, and we continue to try to grow that diplomatic presence.  What started in Houston as a small trading post on the bayou, or the rivers that run alongside Houston, we’ve grown into one of the global capitals for energy, life sciences, manufacturing, logistics, aerospace, and aviation.   

And we’ll touch on that before getting into the global transition side, which is that energy – or Houston is not just the energy transition capital of the world.  Houston leads the United States in oil and gas jobs, and yes, leading the energy transition, but Houston is also home to the largest medical complex in the world, where people from all over the globe come to Houston for medical treatment and to partner with Houston-area hospitals.  We’re also growing our Life Sciences Technology Center, where Houston’s going to remain on the cutting edge of medical innovation.   

We’re the center for manned space flight with the Johnson Space Center, and most recently, we have the world’s only truly urban commercial spaceport, where we’ve recently had commercial astronauts launch and return safely to Earth out of and based out of companies that are here in Houston. 

We’re also greatly growing our center for digital innovation.  Our innovation corridor, as Bob mentioned, has a growing number of technology accelerators and incubators that are most – that are focused on a range of things, including smart cities, renewable and green energy, and advanced manufacturing. 

And finally, as Bob mentioned, anchoring our international trade is the Port of Houston.  It’s the largest port in the United States for foreign tonnage, and we have trade relationships with more than 200 different countries. 

So going back to the energy transition, one of the things that Houston viewed as very important is because we have been traditionally known as the oil and gas capital of the world, when we talk about energy we want to redefine what that looks like for Houston.  Mayor Turner was a very strong advocate both on building increased resilience, climate action, as well as climate adaptation, into his term.  And so after Houston experienced four federally declared disasters – or seven federally declared disasters in seven years – as many will remember, Hurricane Harvey, as well as a number of other hurricanes and the recent winter storm – Mayor Turner really viewed this as an important legacy to leave behind for Houston. 

Houston, as was mentioned – and Mayor Turner is the head of the U.S. Climate Mayors.  It’s a network of more than 470 mayors of both political parties that have committed themselves to climate action and the Paris Accords.  Mayor Turner is also the chairman of the Global Resilient City Network, a global organization dedicated to building more resilient urban environments and withstand external shocks of all kinds, not just those from a climate – the climate challenge. 

Houston is also the permanent secretariat and a founding member of the World Energy City Partnership, which is another global network of cities that are leading in the energy transition.  As was mentioned, in 2000 Houston launched our climate action plan, as well as our resilience strategy.  This past April, Mayor Turner signed a sweeping decarbonization policy for the city and city-owned buildings, which is following along with the two-year update of that strategy and we estimate will avoid about 250,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, which is around 40 percent of the city’s CO1 and 2 emissions, by 2030.  We also hope and think that this will pay for itself in as little as six to seven years given the energy savings. 

When compared to 42 different cities across the world, Houston came up as one of the top four cities in terms of carbon reduction.  Houston is also the largest municipal purchaser of green power in the entire United States, and since July 1st of 2020, all of the City of Houston’s municipal facilities run on 100 percent renewable energy. 

Houston’s looking at also building that long-term resilience by exploring investment in electric vehicles and infrastructure, repurposing brownfield for renewable energy resources, and expanding our implementation of both our climate action plan as well as our resilience strategy.  That’s going to benefit a range of different communities across the city. 

One of the projects Mayor Turner is most proud of is developing a project called the Sunnyside Solar Farm.  This is an innovative private-public partnership to convert a 240-acre landfill that had been a blight on a community in Houston for decades into the largest urban solar farm in the nation.  This design and implementation is going to transform a lot of the energy and power – about 5,000 homes. 

We’re also working hard on implementing large-scale transformative flood-control projects, like our North Canal project and a few others that are ongoing. 

All of this work is really at the core of what we do in terms of working with industry, which is why I think it’s fitting that the Greater Houston Partnership and the city are doing these things together, because so much of what we do is built on that private-public partnership.  Just as a couple of small examples, our resilience strategy was supported by Shell.  Our climate action plan was actually sponsored by CenterPoint Energy and funded by BP America.  And ExxonMobil, as Bob noted, is really coming forward with the idea and concept to install a hundred-billion-dollar carbon capture and storage in the Houston Ship Channel. 

So, as we noted, the impetus for us doing this is that we’re looking to do a trade mission to Paris, France, and as we do trade missions around the world, we look both at what Houston’s strengths are and also where we’re looking to go.  Agriculture, logistics, manufacturing, health care, life sciences, and, of course, energy – both traditional oil and gas as well as the whole range of renewable power – is something that we do and do well.  France is one of our largest trading partners.  Leading French companies, as Bob mentioned, call Houston home – Air Liquide, TotalEnergies, Engie, Schlumberger, and many more.  We share a sister city with France, which we’ve had since 1973, and we’re both transforming our economies. 

The themes for our planned trade mission next week to Paris is innovation, energy transition, and building new educational opportunities.  Innovation, we’re going to be meeting with Station F, Interstellar Labs, the University of Paris-Saclay.  Energy transition, we’ll be meeting not only with these innovation centers, but also with Air Liquide, TotalEnergies, and Schlumberger.  And education, in addition to meeting with the University of Paris, we’re going to be opening and therefore the grand opening and ribbon cutting of Rice University’s global Paris campus, which is the first expression of Rice University into Europe. 

So with that, I just really want to thank everyone for joining us today.  We are very happy of what we – and proud of what we’ve accomplished, and certainly even more proud of where we see Houston going.  And really, as I mentioned, at the core of this is a lot of our private-public partnerships we have.  

And so, Bob, I’m excited to join you and the Greater Houston Partnership on this today and look forward to answering questions that our global audience may have.  

MODERATOR:  Well, thank you so much for your opening remarks.  We really appreciate them.  I’m going to open the floor for questions.  If you have – if the journalists who are joining us have a question, I’d invite you to raise your virtual hand and wait for me to call on you.  Please enable both your audio and your video, and wait for me to call on you, and identify yourself and your outlet.  And let’s limit the scope of the questions to today’s briefing.  Thank you.   

Well, I’m happy to kick off a general question.  

MR OLSON:  I was going to joke that in my experience, Bob Harvey does such a great job of delivering the Houston value proposition that sometimes we’ve answered all the questions before he starts.  (Laughter.) 

MODERATOR:  Well, I can see that.  But let me – instead of going to me, let’s – the first question that popped up was from Maria Teresa.  Can you go ahead and unmute yourself?  

QUESTION:  Yes.  Hi.  Thank you so much for organizing this very interesting press brief.  So I’m with Corriere della Sera, the Italian daily newspaper, and as you probably know, also Italy has a big oil company, Eni, E-n-i.  And so you stressed that the first foreign partner is France, and I’m wondering, what about Italy, if you have any relationship with them.  So what’s going on?  I know that there are a lot of Italians in Houston – in the medical center – a lot of doctors, scientists, and surgeons.  What about the energy industry?  

MR HARVEY:  Well, we certainly do work with Enel Eni closely, and as you know, the CEO of Baker Hughes, we can never quite figure out what city he lives in, whether it’s Florence, London, or Houston.  So he keeps us very well connected to Italy.  But we’ve always had strong relationships between Houston oil and gas companies and Italy, Houston power companies and Italy, and major manufacturers, again, like Baker Hughes, and Italy.  So it’s always been a close relationship.  

And I’ll go back to one point I made earlier.  No one has the technology yet to reach net zero by 2050.  We don’t have it individually; we don’t have it collectively.  The only way we’re going to get there by 2050 is by building these relationships between technology, sophisticated companies and countries that have technology that are leaning into this topic.  And in many respects, we would say – I would say in Houston we’re somewhat following the lead of Europe because, frankly, Europe embarked upon this journey before we did.  Now we’re heavily invested in it.  We need to build those connections.  We need to leverage the progress you’ve already made and then figure out how we can move forward together.   

But certainly would look forward to working with Italian companies and political leaders.  And Chris, I don’t know what connections you’ve had of late.  

MR OLSON:  Yeah.  Absolutely, Bob, and thank you.  And certainly, although this particular trade mission happens to be to France, we really value the ties we have with countries around the world.  And really every continent around the world, we stay engaged, and very strongly engaged with, whether that’s through the consular corps – and we do have an Italian consulate general here in Houston – or whether it’s through direct engagement at the national or city level.  In fact, we were working with Rome last year and Milan last year as they were hosting the Urban 20, which is a city-level engagement group to the G20.  And those two cities were co-hosting it on behalf of Italy hosting the G20.  

So that engagement is happening across the board.  We’ve had some inbound trade missions that come into Houston.  I was actually going to be in Italy this week for a group from the German Marshall Fund talking about that collaboration amongst our cities.  And I think as we highlighted before, even if we don’t always highlight every one of the companies we have, Houston’s really built on that private-public partnership mentality across all of our industries, and certainly Eni, having such an incredible global presence in the energy sector, and us realizing that no one has the answer to the energy transition.   

It’s going to take every country in the world, every company in the world, really bringing the best practices to the forefront that we can all learn and leverage from, whether they come from Italy, France, Africa, South America, or wherever.  That’s where we want to be, in that middle of bringing those best ideas from around the world – not only to Houston, but then feeding those back into the world.  

MR HARVEY:  Chris, I failed to mention one of the most important linkages between Houston and Italy, and that’s Roma, the football club in Rome.  And Dan Friedkin, a Houstonian and the president of the Friedkin Group, as is well-known in Italy and perhaps across Eddurope, bought the team just a couple of years ago.  So we – Dan has got us all wearing Roma jerseys, keeping up with the record, and all that.  So that’s been a lot of fun to watch.  

MODERATOR:   Thank you so much.  Let’s move to Sandra Muller.  Sandra, please, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.) 

MODERATOR:  Sandra, you’re still muted.  We can’t hear you. 

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.) 

MODERATOR:  Sandra, I’m going to — 

QUESTION:  Okay, can — 

MODERATOR:  We can hear you now. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  Yeah, thank you.  So hello.  I’m Sandra Muller.  I’m French, so welcome in Paris.   

My question was:  I don’t have the date.  When do you come, for how many days?   

The second question that I had:  I suppose – are your interests for friends in Paris came out when Anne Hidalgo came to USA maybe it was six years ago, and it’s because, I suppose, of climate change and what French people are doing and (inaudible) not doing for climate change.   

And my last question because my newspaper is about technology, high-tech:  how many high-tech technology – high-tech company do you have and what – I understand about climate, but you have (inaudible) feel like, I don’t know, communication or telecommunication or what is – what are you doing (inaudible) high-tech company?  Thank you. 

MR OLSON:  Bob, I’ll start with the trade mission then I’ll pass back to you for the high-technology side.  But our trade mission – we actually leave tomorrow.  So we will – our trade mission dates really start on Monday the 26th and – or 27th, rather, and we’ll be there Monday through Friday with meetings with government and industry.  The timing of our visit was designed around the opening of Rice University’s campus, which will be formally opened on Wednesday next week.   

So the president of Rice University, the incoming and outgoing – both presidents of Rice University will be there as well as some of the government officials.  And Mayor Turner and the city wanted to be there for that to help showcase Houston’s engagement with the rest of the world.  And of course, meetings will focus on the range of different sectors – not just energy, but innovation and the big scope of all kinds of innovation and how we can better link what is happening in Paris with what is happening in Houston. 

Bob, do you want to take the technology side? 

MR HARVEY:  Yeah, I’ll mention this.  I mean, first of all, let’s acknowledge that the energy industry itself is extraordinarily technologically driven and advanced.  And again, we could talk about Schlumberger, which – a company that we both share and is a true technology leader in all facets of energy, and therefore will be an energy transition.  But the vast majority of technologists in Houston, Ph.D.-level technologists work for or with one of these energy companies that are here. 

But we also have a strong presence in cloud computing.  All the major cloud players are here in Houston.  By that, I mean the Microsoft, Google Cloud, AWS, and what-have-you.  Perhaps of most note, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, one of the stalwarts of – you might think of Silicon Valley technology moved its headquarters to Houston a year and a half ago.  They already had a major presence here, but they decided frankly that looking ahead and looking at talent and looking at diversity and looking at the industries they wanted to serve and be part of, it made more sense to locate in Houston than to stay in Silicon Valley.  So that was a huge win, I’d say, for Houston to have them move their headquarters here and expand their presence here. 

I’m trying to think of other examples.  We have leading players like Crown Castle that’s a leader in 5G and they’re already talking about 6G and – on the telecom side, so they’re well-connected with all the other major providers in that space.  I could go on.  We – just in terms of the industries we’ve alluded to, in life science – Chris probably made more of this point than I did – we’ve always had some of the leading clinical institutions in the U.S.  MD Anderson, number-one-rated cancer center in the world; Texas Children’s Hospital, the number two children’s Hospital in the U.S.; Baylor College of Medicine, one of the top medical schools in the U.S.  We’ve always had great clinical facilities, medical education facilities.  What we’re developing now is the commercial side of all that.  We do a billion dollars a year of sponsored research in life sciences here in Houston, and heretofore, that research was often licensed by a company elsewhere – New Jersey, Boston, San Francisco, San Diego.   

And now we’re building out what’s called TMC3, which will be a new element of TMC focused on this issue of commercializing the research and allowing commercial companies for the first time to participate on the TMC campus.  We’ve never allowed for-profit businesses to operate on the Texas Medical Center campus.   

So what’s going on?  Obviously, we have other leading manufacturers here in Houston.  It’s very much a manufacturing city.  We still make things here across the board – electronics of all sorts and other goods.   

Let me stop there, Sandra.  I’m not sure I’m hitting head-on your question.  Hopefully I got to the gist of it. 

MODERATOR:  Sandra, you’re still muted for your follow-up.   

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.) 

MODERATOR:  We can’t hear you. 

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.) 

MODERATOR:  I’m going to go on to Alex.  Thanks, Sandra.  Alex, please unmute yourself and ask your question. 

QUESTION:  Yes, Daphne.  Thank you so much.  This is Alex Raufoglu.  I am with Azerbaijan’s independent news agency Turan.  First of all, congratulations on a very ambitious and encouraging goal of – on shifting energy transition capital of the world.   

I have two questions.  One is on Azerbaijan.  Houston-based KBR announced on Monday that the companies SOCAR and KBR Joint Venture has been awarded a front-end engineering design contract from BP to develop Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz Alpha platform.  I’m just wondering, how does that fit into the bigger picture here in terms of Houston’s role in leading the global transition to an energy-abundant low-carbon future?  Actually, this is my way of asking, will this – let’s say these sort of contracts affect at any point your relationships with – in Asia countries like Azerbaijan?   

Second question, I wish the mayor was with us today, but feel free not to respond if you don’t feel comfortable about that because this is like a non-energy related question.  Ukrainian President Zelenskyy recently asked American mayors to cut all ties with Russian cities given what’s going, what Russia has been doing in Ukraine last couple of months.  He said, please do not let those who became murderers call your cities their sister cities.  And now I know Houston has been a sister city with Tyumen of Russia since 1995.  I’m just wondering if Houston would be open to ending its sister city ties with Russia, again given that it violates Houston’s very values.  Thank you so much again.   

MR HARVEY:  Chris, why don’t you either choose or not choose to answer that last one, the latter question, and then I’ll go back to the first question.  

MR OLSON:  I’ll touch the first and I will touch the second and then, Bob, I’ll pass to you.  So one of the things that Mayor Turner has really stressed when we’re talking about energy and energy transition is that from the Houston perspective, this really cannot be an either-or conversation; it has to be all because the global energy demand is increasing.  The need for energy is increasing.  We certainly do not want to create an environment of increasing energy poverty or increasing people’s lack of access to energy just because it’s not necessarily meeting what some of our emission reduction goals may be from a city perspective or a western city perspective, even.  

So it really takes all.  It’s how do we do that while still reducing emissions and still combatting climate action, knowing that we’re going to have to look at all energy sources as much as we increase the use and increase the percentage use of renewables and those that have a lower carbon footprint.  And that’s certainly been one of the things that’s been driving our collaboration with industry, our cooperation with all of our industry partners on how we do these things, fostering technology like carbon capture sequestration and utilization to be able to reduce those emissions even while we’re meeting the energy needs in an equitable and sustainable way.  

Regarding the sister city question, that is one we have been asked quite a bit.  One of the tenets of urban and city diplomacy is the idea that cities can often have conversations that national governments can’t, and often, cities’ and national governments’ policies are completely not aligned with each other.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, especially in a country like the United States.  Part of the reason why the Climate Mayors Organization was formed, which Mayor Turner leads, was because when the U.S. pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, the City of Houston still felt it important to embrace the requirements for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Accords and make sure that we as a city were still doing   everything we can to implement that.  

The conversations between cities then can sort of cross some of those lines.  We had the conversation of whether to eliminate or put on hold some of our sister cities relationships in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and we decided for the time being to keep that because we felt that was an opportunity for dialogue at the subnational and city level.  That was a dialogue that could not happen anywhere else.  Much like all of our sister cities, including our sister city relationship with Baku, those relationships and those conversations were something we wanted to make sure we could continue to have, certainly something we will never take off any table, certain of dialogue that continues to be had, and I do appreciate the concern on that.   


MR HARVEY:  All I would add, Chris, going back to your first point, is that we talk about the dual challenge, which is the challenge to deliver energy in growing quantities.  The world is going to continue to need more and more energy.  Every forecast has energy demand continuing to grow for decades, and virtually every forecast even has fossil fuel growth at least for the next decade.  

So our question is:  How do we make that activity most environmentally sensitive and sustainable.  How do we reduce the carbon footprint as much as we can of that activity?  Scope 1, scope 2, scope 3, how do we across the board reduce the carbon footprint, anticipating a day when we will not have the requirement for fossil fuels like we have today, like were likely to have in the relatively near term?  But it does no good for the climate effort to drive the cost of energy to a level that the consumer cannot withstand, and frankly, we don’t want to lose the support of the public around the world and consumers around the world by driving energy prices to a level where they start to question the wisdom of a low carbon, net zero carbon aspiration.  

So I would certainly suggest that we support energy projects around the world that are managed in an environmentally sensitive manner, low carbon footprint.  We really talk seriously about, all right, where is – where and how is the best way to produce oil and gas around the world such that it has the least greenhouse gas emission element to it on a per barrel, per cubic foot of gas basis?  

And we’re finding that there are some parts of the world that are, frankly, much more environmentally efficient than others, and that’s where we’re trying to put our energies and efforts.  

QUESTION:  I thank you both for your answers.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.  Let’s go to the journalist from Africa-Related.  

QUESTION:  Yes.  Hi, good day.  I am Oyiza Adaba with Africa-Related.  Thank you so much for this opportunity.  I wanted to find out from the mayor’s office if they can speak to the African communities in Houston and their contribution, especially on a social and economic and so many other levels, because I do know that we have quite a few Nigerians specifically in Houston.   

Now, also, my second question is about – you had spoken earlier about the energy ties with different parts of the world.  Nigeria, as you know, when you talk about areas like the Niger Delta, we’ve suffered a lot of these environmental injustices, like, as you may know.  So how can your program, this transition program that you’ve planned now, how can you extend it to places like other oil-producing countries?  Because Houston on its own embarking on these initiatives, while it’s great, if everybody else is not thinking like you, we will continue to find ourselves in trouble in the world. 

So I’d like you to address these two areas for me.  Thank you very much. 

MR OLSON:  Absolutely; I’ll be happy to.  And Bob, I’ll start in and then I’ll let you go to the energy and kind of the global ESG component that that we are working with a lot of our companies on.  But certainly you’re right, and cities have sometimes limited abilities to impact what the private companies do.  And what we try to do is by increasing that public-private partnership, by increasing the engagement with a lot of these companies really wanting to build their corporate, social, and equitable kinds of elements of the programs.  As you noted, there’s been great injustices around the world, both from the treatment of the environment as well as the distribution of energy around the world. 

And that’s one thing I do think we’re starting to see, the corporate social responsibility taking a leading role in some of these that hopefully will continue to lead to change.  And certainly we’re working and talking with them about meeting those goals in places around the world, and really and specifically with Africa.  As you noted, Houston has one of the largest Nigerian populations outside of Nigeria, certainly one of the largest in the United States.  We’re still trying to get a consulate here, which we put a plug in every time we meet with the government.  But we have an extraordinarily robust Africa engagement program.   

We just on Africa Day hosted one of the largest community Africa Day celebrations in the United States.  We had the African Union ambassador, as well as 17 ambassadors from Washington, D.C., come down to Houston to take part in a celebration that was partly business oriented so we could talk about the economic opportunities and building economic ties between Houston and the African continent.  It was partly an executive kind of conversation between the mayor and the diplomatic participants of how we can increase that government-to-government collaboration.  And then we had a huge social celebration where we brought the culture of Africa in our extraordinarily diverse African diaspora that’s here in Houston to showcase food and culture and business that really enriches the Houston environment by bringing the African diaspora into the conversation and really putting it up on the pedestal and bringing more light to what that community brings to our city.   

That is something that we’ve hosted for the last five years now – one year off for COVID.  We did a virtual version of it a second year.  But one of Mayor Turner’s initiatives when he came in was: how do we increase our collaboration with Africa?  And we’re currently on the planning process of an Africa-Houston summit for this fall where we’ll be bringing together leaders from Africa with leaders in Houston to have some of the conversations around energy that you mentioned: how does Houston and Houston-area companies help power Africans’ future?  And that’s not just one form of energy; that’s not just production and extraction.  That’s energy in all ways, shapes, and forms across the continent.   


MR HARVEY:  Well, Chris, your answer is very complete.  Let me just come back to the Houston Energy Transition Initiative – HETI – aspects of the question.  When we brought the companies together – 18 on the steering committee, but over 100 companies involved in the effort – we said to them and they agreed that we needed to develop a common framework for thinking about community engagement and environmental justice.  We can’t go forward with a program of this scale with everyone speaking from kind of a different framework, a different philosophy of CSR, corporate social responsibility.  So we’re working with them to develop a common framework that all of the players within the HETI program can use, which will really challenge all of them to work more diligently around these topics. 

And as I often say about environmental justice, you can’t start a conversation about what you plan to do tomorrow without going back to what’s happened previously and the impacts of that past on people’s lives.  You’ve got to acknowledge that and bring that conversation into the present, and it’s – I think it’s an exciting conversation in Houston to really turn a much more proactive eye to this issue.  There is simply no way we’re going to move forward globally – with trillions of dollars of investment to support the energy transition – without it being inclusive and being very mindful of both current and past inequities and how this program is going to speak to that.   

So I’m very pleased.  The energy companies, who I wouldn’t say are laggards but they haven’t necessarily all worked together in a kind of a collective way – and I see that happening in this instance for the first time.  

QUESTION:  Thank you both.   

MODERATOR:  Well, thank you so much.  We are out of time.  I want to thank our speakers, the journalists who joined us today.  Today’s briefing was on the record.  We will share the transcript as soon as it’s available, as well as post it on our website.  Thank you for joining us.  Give our regards to Mayor Turner, and we would love to host him sometime in the future.  Thank you.  Good day.   

MR OLSON:  Thank you all.   

MR HARVEY:  Thanks, Daphne.  Thank you all.   

MODERATOR:  Bye-bye.   

U.S. Department of State

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