Andrew Liveris has defended sitting on the board of the most polluting company in history at the same time as presiding over the organisation of an Olympic Games being billed as “climate positive”, saying: “If you emit, you actually know the solutions.”
Liveris is on the board of directors of the world’s biggest oil company, Saudi Aramco, which is 95% owned by the Saudi Arabian government.
He was named president of the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games organising committee in April.
Appearing at the Queensland Media Club on Wednesday, Liveris spoke of his views on emissions, backing a price on carbon and said “climate positive is no good” without “the technologies or the pricing structures to close the loop on carbon”.
“You’ll make all this a reality: hydrogen, batteries, solar; and you won’t have to subsidise it from your tax base, you let the market pay for it,” he said.
“That’s what I do, I sit at tables where I learn what the better answer is, even if it is from the table like my previous life that emits, because if you emit you actually know the solutions.”
But Queensland climate campaigners described his leading role in the Olympics as “inappropriate” and “untenable” if there were not reassurances the Games wouldn’t be influenced by “the old fashion thinking of fossil fuel industries”.
Jason Lyddieth, a Brisbane-based clean energy and climate campaigner at the Australian Conservation Foundation, said having an Aramco board member on the Olympic committee was “completely inappropriate”.
“This is meant to be a carbon positive Olympics,” Lyddieth said. “It has been internationally promoted as that, and to have a person on the organising committee who is on the board of one the most polluting companies in the world, is absolutely ridiculous.”
Queensland Conservation Council’s director, Dave Copeman, said he was concerned about the influence of Liveris on the games, given the businessman’s leading role in former prime minister Scott Morrison’s proposed “gas-led recovery”.
Copeman said the Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, had demonstrated leadership last week in ushering in a “bright renewable future” by pledging to wean the state entirely off coal by 2037 and generate 80% of its energy from renewables by 2035. He said he wanted the Brisbane Olympics to be “as ambitious as they can be for climate”.
“We need reassurances that the old fashion thinking of fossil fuel industries won’t limit that,” Copeman said. “It would be good to get that from the premier and from Mr Liveris, at the very least, otherwise I think his position is untenable.”
Palaszczuk said Liveris’s “other associations” were “matters for him”.
“The government’s objective is to host a memorable Olympic and Paralympic Games and for all of Queensland to share the pride as hosts,” she said. “All of the [International Olympic Committee’s] climate positive commitments will be observed.”
Lyddieth said Queensland “deserved congratulations” for the $62bn energy and jobs plan but that the government “can’t walk both sides of the fence”.
“It was a great announcement, but we need to take care of exports, we need to get emissions down right across the economy,” he said.
He said the fossil fuel industry should not be allowed to continue to “greenwash its image” through sport.
Asked on Wednesday if he felt comfortable working in a company predominately owned by a government linked to human rights abuses, Liveris said he was helping the region’s economies and was not involved in its politics.
“There is an expression I have learned over the years: ‘If you’re not at the table you’re on the menu,’” he said.
“Frankly if I had a career making people comfortable, I wouldn’t be sitting here. You’ve gotta learn how to do the hard stuff even though it has some downside risks, that’s how you solve complexity.”
Liveris has held a range of business, government and academic appointments in Australia and the US. He was Dow Chemical’s chair and chief executive, and was chosen by Donald Trump to head the American Manufacturing Council in 2016. He has been appointed to similar roles by other US presidents, including Barack Obama.