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When Shell Caved on Climate Change

Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden

By Kelly Gilblom: 11 April 2019, 10:00 BST

A group of Royal Dutch Shell Plc executives sat in a conference room in the company’s Hague headquarters in November. On the other side of the table were representatives for two small shareholders: the pensions board of the Church of England and Dutch fund manager Robeco Institutional Asset Management BV. The leaders of Europe’s largest energy company realized that after months of argument, they’d lost.

The investors wanted Shell to make an abrupt reversal on climate change. Only six months earlier, Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden had declared the company wouldn’t set short-term targets on cutting carbon emissions, claiming they’d be little more than fodder for lawsuits. But unless the company changed course, it faced a public war with these shareholders. And while these two investors owned a small fraction of Shell’s shares, they were backed by allies in Climate Action 100+, a coalition of some of the world’s largest investors, who together manage $32 trillion in assets.

In December, citing work with the little-known group, Shell announced near-term climate targets. A common theme was splattered across the headlines around the announcement: Shell had caved.

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