Environmental activist groups climbing a Shell oil tank in Rotterdam

Shell’s 2030 climate target falls short of Dutch court ruling; protests grow

Image credit: Eva Plevier | Reuters

Oil giant Shell will follow only part of a Dutch court order as it promised to slash two types of emissions by the end of the decade. Meanwhile, climate protests against fossil fuel sponsorship continue at London's Science Museum, while in the US oil chiefs have begun to testify at a landmark US congressional hearing.

Shell said it would cut the greenhouse gas emissions produced at its oil and gas sites in half, as well as halve the off-site emissions from the energy it uses, by 2030.

However, this new pledge - which would represent a 50 per cent reduction compared to 2016 emissions - will not touch around 90 per cent of Shell’s emissions, i.e.: those produced when customers burn its fuel.

In May this year, a Dutch court ordered Shell to slash the so-called Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions by 45 per cent by 2030. Unsurprisingly, Shell is appealing the Scope 3 aspect of the ruling, namely the emissions that come from its customers.

A Shell spokesperson said: “It is an important step as we rise to meet the challenge of the Dutch court’s ruling for our Scope 1 and 2 emissions, which Shell expects to meet by 2030. Our 2022 business plan will reflect this new target, which we are committed to delivering regardless of whether we win or lose our appeal against the ruling.”

Shell has a separate target to get to net zero Scope 3 emissions by 2050. The business also said it will stop routine gas flaring by 2025, five years ahead of its previous target.

When extracting oil from the ground producers often also get unwanted gas in their pipes. Sometimes this is used for energy, but often it does not make financial sense to do so and the gas is simply burnt on site. The World Bank estimates that enough gas to power all of sub-Saharan Africa is wasted this way each year.

Ben van Beurden, chief executive, Shell, said: “Today, we also set a new 2030 target to halve the absolute emissions from our operations, compared to 2016 levels on a net basis. Altogether, this is clear evidence of how we are accelerating our 'Powering Progress' strategy, purposefully and profitably.”

Stuart Lamont, an investment manager at Brewin Dolphin, said: “As ever, the tricky balance Shell needs to strike is remaining an attractive investment prospect as it makes the transition towards net zero, which it is currently managing well with a progressive dividend and share buyback programme. However, any detrimental change to the oil price could be a significant challenge in that regard.”

Separately, the oil giant announced on Thursday that it made a $988m (£719m) loss in the third quarter of this year. The figure, which is measured on a current cost of supply basis and attributable to shareholders, represents a significant negative swing from Shell's $177m (£129m) profit the previous year.

Van Beurden said: “This quarter, we’ve generated record cash flow, maintained capital discipline and announced our intention to distribute $7bn (£5.1bn) to our shareholders from the sale of our Permian assets”.

Shell continues to find itself in a sticky situation at London's Science Museum, where protests are ongoing against the Museum's acceptance of sponsorship money from fossil fuel companies for what are ostensibly climate change-focused exhibitions.

In June this year, protestors occupied the gallery where the new 'Our Future Planet' exhibition was displayed. The Museum has faced severe criticism for partnering with Shell to fund the exhibition, which is largely concerned with carbon capture and storage and nature-based solutions to the climate crisis. The chorus of criticism escalated after it was revealed that the Museum's agreement with the fossil fuel giant included a gagging clause, forbidding the the Museum from saying anything that might damage Shell's reputation.

This week, the protests have been revived outside the Science Museum, with climate activists camping out overnight in protest over the close involvement of another fossil fuel sponsor.

A new gallery, to be called 'Energy Revolution: The Adani Green Energy Gallery', will be funded by a subsidiary of the Adani Group, a multinational business involved in coal extraction. The new gallery is due to open in 2023. Adani Green Energy is a solar power developer based in India and is a subsidiary of the Adani Group, which through another arm of its business is also involved in extracting coal.

Meanwhile, in the US, oil chiefs from the biggest firms have begun giving their testimony at a landmark House Oversight Committee congressional hearing.

Top officials from four major oil companies – ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP America and Shell — are set to testify as congressional Democrats investigate what they describe as a decades-long, industry-wide campaign to spread disinformation about the role of fossil fuels in causing global warming.

Darren Woods, CEO, ExxonMobil, claimed that his company "does not spread disinformation regarding climate change" and that ExxonMobil “has long acknowledged the reality and risks of climate change and it has devoted significant resources to addressing those risks".

Woods claimed that ExxonMobil's public statements on climate “are and have always been truthful, fact-based and consistent” with mainstream climate science.

Democratic Representatives Carolyn Maloney, who chairs the Oversight panel, and Ro Khanna, who leads a subcommittee on the environment, said: “The fossil fuel industry has had scientific evidence about the dangers of climate change since at least 1977. Yet for decades, the industry spread denial and doubt about the harm of its products — undermining the science and preventing meaningful action on climate change, even as the global climate crisis became increasingly dire.

“For far too long, Big Oil has escaped accountability for its central role in bringing our planet to the brink of a climate catastrophe. That ends today”.

In calling the hearing last month, Maloney and Khanna highlighted that the five largest publicly traded oil and gas companies reportedly spent at least $1bn between 2015 and 2018 “to promote climate disinformation through ‘branding’ and lobbying”.

The committee released a memo today (Thursday), with the charge that the oil industry’s public support for climate reforms has not been matched by meaningful actions, especially in light of the industry spending hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years to block reforms.

“Today’s staff memo shows Big Oil’s campaign to ‘greenwash’ their role in the climate crisis in action,” Maloney said. “These oil companies pay lip service to climate reforms, but behind the scenes they spend far more time lobbying to preserve their lucrative tax breaks.”

ExxonMobil is expected to come under particular scrutiny after Keith McCoy, a senior Washington lobbyist for the company at the time, was caught in a secret video in June bragging that Exxon had fought climate science through “shadow groups” and had targeted influential senators in order to weaken US President Joe Biden’s climate agenda, including the lynchpin bipartisan infrastructure and climate and social policy bills currently moving through Congress. McCoy no longer lobbies on Exxon's behalf, according to an Exxon spokesperson.

Exxon’s Woods, along with BP America CEO David Lawler, Chevron CEO Michael Wirth and Shell president Gretchen Watkins are among the chief executives lined up to testify at the hearing.

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