The primary focus of most academic climate policy studies has been the robustness of climate science and the development of international negotiations and institutions, in which states, and sometimes societies, have been pinpointed as the key players. Systematic comparative studies of multinational and even global non-governmental actors have been in short supply. This research lacuna is particularly glaring since the position of a major non-state actor—the oil industry—may be crucial to the viability of the climate regime. This analysis shows that there are striking differences in the ways European-based and US-based oil companies have responded to the climate issue—here represented by the Royal Dutch/Shell Group and Exxon Mobil—and that one major source of explanation for this difference is found in the national political contexts of the companies' home-base countries. The importance of political context implies that the conditions for changing oil companies' climate strategies are likely to be located in the political context rather than in the companies themselves.

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Author notes

One main source of information for the analysis is in-depth interviews with the following companies, institutions, and organizations: ExxonMobil, represented by Brian P. Flannery, Science Strategy and Programs Manager, Safety, Health and Environment, Gary F. Ehlig, Senior Advisor, Public Affairs Department, and Giuseppe De Palma, Vice President, European Union Affairs; Shell International, represented by Gerry Matthews, Advisor; Group Policy Development & External Affairs; Shell Nederland B. V., represented by Ir. Henk J. van Wouw, Manager Environmental Affairs; American Petroleum Institute, represented by Phillip A. Cooney, Climate Team Leader, and, William O'Keefe, Solutions Consulting; The European Petroleum Industry Association (EUROPIA), represented by Valérie Callaud, Deputy Secretary General; The European Commission, Directorate-General XI, represented by Marianne Wenning, Deputy Head Climate Change Unit; The Dutch Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment, represented by Barend van Engelenburg; Pew Center on Global Climate Change, represented by Eileen Claussen, Executive Director, and Sally C. Ericsson, Director of Outreach; Global Climate Coalition, represented by Glenn F. Kelly, Executive Director and CEO, and Eric Hold; Greenpeace/USA, represented by Iain MacGill, Senior Policy Analyst; Greenpeace International, represented by Paul Horsman, Oil Campaigner Greenpeace International Climate Campaign; World Resources Institute, represented by Kevin A. Baumert, James J. MacKenzie, and Jennifer Finlay. The interviews were conducted in the period from March to November 2000.