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Former UK climate envoy criticises Shell’s climate strategy



John Ashton, the UK’s representative on climate change between 2006 and 2012, has criticised oil giant Shell and the fossil fuel industry for its climate change strategy in an open letter.

The letter follows a speech made by the head of Shell, Ben van Beurden, last month. He urged the fossil fuel industry to actively engage in the climate change debate as international talks on a universal treaty continue.

He argued that the future of energy debate is “not always very balanced”, partly because the fossil fuel sector keep a low profile, and called on the industry to be “less aloof, more assertive”.

In response, Ashton argues that “nobody has been less aloof, more assertive, nor more influential than the oil and gas industry” in the climate change debate. He points out that the industry has an “undeniable interest” in the choices society makes about climate change.

The letter, which has been published online by RTCC, states, “The summary that accompanies the published text of your speech also catches the eye. It anticipates an ‘energy transition’. But it foresees no change ‘in the longer term’ in the drivers of supply and demand for oil. And it urges the industry to ‘make its voice heard’ at the COP21 climate conference. This would add ‘realism and practicality’ to a conversion from which, by implication, these attributes are currently lacking.

“In other words, the energy transition to come will be an unusual kind of transition. It will have no structural consequences for the energy itself, or at least for the markets on which your business model depends.”

Ashton continues that Ben van Beurden’s speech implies that this prospect is in jeopardy because the “unrealistic and impractical voices” that currently dominate the climate debate will use the COP21 conference to “unleash a more threatening kind of transition”.

The letter argues that Shell’s strategy, and that of the fossil fuels industry, seems to ignore the urgency of climate change and government commitments to keep average temperature rises below 2C, beyond which scientists have warned irreversible tipping points could be crossed.

Ashden adds, “The choices of your generation of CEOs will be decisive, not only for you as corporations but for the eventual success of failure of our response to climate change.”

The Carbon Tracker Initiative and analysts from the Energy Transition Advisors have previously accused Shell of misrepresenting the risks of climate change to its shareholders, after analysis rejected the oil giant’s assertions that its fossil fuel reserves would not become “stranded assets”.

Photo: Ryan McFarland via Flickr

Further reading:

Shell suspends Arctic oil drilling plans

ShareAction warns investors over Shell’s Arctic drilling plans

Shell ‘underestimating’ climate change risks to investors

Greenpeace targets Lego over advertising relationship with Shell

Shell seeks Arctic drilling licence extension


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