Royal Dutch Shell would be “foolhardy” to adopt firm targets for cutting its carbon emissions because it would open itself up to lawsuits, the company’s boss has said.

The energy group has set an “ambition” to halve the carbon footprint of its energy products by 2050, which it says would put it in line with the Paris climate goals, but has resisted calls for binding commitments.

Ben van Beurden, Shell chief executive, said that the group did not want to “put ourselves at the mercy of a legal challenge”.

“The moment you adopt a target and you cannot quite deliver against elements of it, you immediately have class action suits from shareholders or get the [US] Securities and Exchange Commission investigating you,” he said.

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