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New Document Suggests Shell Knew About Climate Change 30 Years Ago

An internal Shell report from 1988 has revealed the supermajor was aware of the effect of its business on climate. The report, uncovered by Dutch journalist Jelmer Mommers from the De Correspondent news platform, has been published in the Climate Files and might just make life that much more difficult for the Anglo-Dutch company.

The document is an in-depth study of what was at the time called global warming with references to an earlier study and suggestions that the company was interested in researching climate change at least since 1981.

Some parts of a document could be seen as a loud slap in the face of not just Shell, but the whole oil industry: what are the chances that only Exxon and Shell knew about the effects of fossil fuel extraction and use on the climate? 

Here’s one quote that all those suing Big Oil could use as another weapon in their arsenal:

Source: ClimateFiles

And another one, complete with calculations of the contribution of the oil industry to rising CO2 levels:

The document’s authors recommend that the oil industry should start planning how to address its contribution to climate change—and climate change itself—early on, though not “immediately” because of the slow pace of the changes.

The report considers various approaches to tackling CO2 emissions, noting, however, that the consequences of rising CO2 levels are surrounded by “existing large uncertainties.” At the time, scientists were split on the significance of global warming for the world.

Among the suggestions that the authors make are reducing the use of fossil fuels and developing renewable energy sources, alongside removal of CO2, stopping deforestation, and “energy saving”.

If the document proves authentic, the report shows that Shell knew about climate change, it knew about the significant contribution of the fossil fuels industry, and about its own personal contribution to CO2 emissions (4 percent of the global level as of 1984).

Yet, given the lack of an urgent call to action on the part of the authors, it is easily understandable why the company chose not to act immediately to address the issue—it would have required a seismic shift in its business, which no company would undertake readily.

The report’s release comes on the heels of a lawsuit threat against the supermajor from the Dutch arm of Friends of the Earth.

By Irina Slav for

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