Despite Shell’s move towards renewable energy, oil will continue to grease its wheels for years to come: ILLUSTRATION: HAYLEY DALRYMPLE

Ben van Beurden, a three-decade veteran of the oil industry, did something that went completely against the grain. Last year the chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell traded in his diesel-guzzling car — these days he motors around the Hague in a plug-in Mercedes-Benz S500.

His switch to a hybrid vehicle encapsulates the quandary facing Britain’s largest listed company: the future may be electric, but oil is the mainstay of Shell’s £200bn empire and will continue to sustain its vast profits for years to come.

The question van Beurden, 59, must confront is how quickly to shift gear.

Climate change represents an existential threat to the oil industry — forcing Shell and its rivals around the world to reinvent themselves. Van Beurden has committed to investing…