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THE INDEPENDENT: Oil companies like Shell could destroy humanity as we know it

The climate column: Compulsory and voluntary carbon exposure declarations are a joke. It is time for governments to unite and take the kind of action the planet desperately needs

But instead of listening to its own scientists, it continued to invest billions in fossil fuels...

“It is now too late to leave”…

Imagine living in East Gippsland, Australia, with your family and hearing this message in the middle of an apocalyptic Australian fire-storm.

But this emergency warning delivered to terrified Australians trapped by fires on beaches in pitch blackness, with ash and fiery embers raining down on them, is also a message to humanity.

We are teetering on the edge of the climate precipice; it may already be too late to pull us back.

The rate that we are increasing fossil fuel usage rather than slashing it, means that our remaining carbon budget to avoid breaching a 1.5C rise in global temperatures will be bust in just eight years.

While Australia burned, the BBC invited Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate-activist to edit the Radio 4 Today programme. Fascinatingly, the programme encapsulated the problem humanity faces in this existential emergency.

Guests included Thunberg herself, Maarten Wetselaar, Shell’s director for Integrated Gas and New Energies and Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England.

Thunberg in her usual factual calm manner, outlined the depth of the emergency and the failure to take the necessary steps to protect humanity and what is left of nature.

Wetselaar insisted bizarrely that Shell were part of the solution, while declaring that “We need to produce products that our customers want to buy”, i.e. oil and gas, for at least another 50 years.

Carney declared that the bank and finance industry was being “far too slow to stop investing in fossil fuels.” Carney’s irresponsibly weak solution is to press global fossil fuel corporations to declare their exposure to fossil fuel stranded assets IF global governments finally decide to act on the emergency and crack down on fossil fuels.

Shell already support the global Task Force for Climate Related Financial Disclosures. But this has not prevented them from planning up to $300bn worth of fossil fuel projects over the coming decade, while investing a puny 8 per cent of their capital budget on renewables.

Thunberg rightly called Shell an “engine of fossil fuel destruction”. They knew as early as 1981 that the continued sale of fossil fuels would harm the planet.

But instead of listening to its own scientists, it continued to invest billions in fossil fuels, including tar sands and Arctic drilling and millions more on anti-climate action groups including the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Extinction Rebellion Scotland was absolutely right to occupy a Shell oil rig on Monday, to highlight their continuing destructive North Sea oil investments.

Just imagine if those billions had been invested instead in renewable energy? But we don’t have to envision an imaginary oil corporation becoming a renewable energy company, because we already have the inspiring example of Danish Oil and Natural Gas (DONG Energy).

It installed the first major off-shore wind-farm in the world in 2002 in Denmark and by 2017, it had sold off all its remaining oil and gas fields. It is now the largest offshore wind corporation in the world, with 16 per cent market share and is worth $31bn, with annual sales of $11bn and profits of $4.5bn.

As it had completed the transition out of fossil fuel production, it symbolically changed its name to Orsted Energy in 2017. It now invests about $4.5bn per year in renewables.

Shell has repeatedly claimed to have been on a similar path for decades, with re-iterated declarations about its transition to a low-carbon future and renewable energy. In the late 90s, Shell announced its move into wind and solar and had invested about $1bn by 2005. It then launched huge PR initiatives trumpeting these comparatively tiny investments.

But once the world’s attention was distracted from the climate crisis by the banking crash of 2007, it had quietly closed down all its wind and solar investments by 2009.

As public pressure recovered in the mid-teens, Shell again started announcing new wind-turbine investments and again started major PR initiatives promoting them. Their latest plans extending to the mid-2020s promise only a mere 10 per cent will be invested in renewables, but even the investments they announced in 2016 are so far only delivering about a third of what was promised.

So, despite Carney rightly saying that burning even 80 per cent of existing coal and 50 per cent of existing oil and gas reserves would guarantee an apocalyptic 4C rise in global temperatures, Shell plans to keep investing the overwhelming majority of its £30bn-a-year capital investments in fossil fuels.

Shell publicly accepts the science behind climate change but declare that their aim is to slash their net carbon emissions by 50 per cent by 2050. Note the “net”. This means that they are proposing to include using as yet unproven carbon capture technology to capture and store the CO2 released from the continued burning of their fossil fuels, to reduce their emissions.

Thunberg is right. Shell is an engine of destruction.

For all of Carney’s words, the major oil corporations collectively plan $5 trillion in new fossil fuel assets in the 2020s, which, if it goes ahead, almost guarantees massive human population extinctions and the destruction of most of what is left of the natural world.

Compulsory or voluntary carbon exposure declarations are a joke. It is time for governments to unite and make all investments in new fossil fuels illegal.

This should be a top priority for Carney in his new role as UN Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance.

Orsted have shown it is perfectly possible to make the transition from oil to wind-turbines and remain profitable. The Shells, BPs and Exxons of the world must now be immediately forced to follow suit, if they will not do it voluntarily.

Anything less, and the whole world will be hearing, like the terrified Australian families on the beach “It’s too late to leave”.  And there is no planet B.

Donnachadh McCarthy is an environmental campaigner, writer and eco-auditor. He is the author of “The Prostitute State – How Britain’s Democracy has Been Bought


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