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Pressure mounting on $318b energy giant that says it cares about climate

The Sydney Morning Herald

Pressure mounting on $318b energy giant that says it cares about climate

Laura Chung: November 4, 2022 — 8.45am

All around the world, the pressure on $318 billion oil and gas giant Shell is mounting. In the Netherlands, the company was forced to remove ads promoting “carbon-neutral” petrol after they were found to be misleading by the Netherlands’ Advertising Code Committee. In the US, a House of Representatives committee heard Shell had touted its climate goals and vision but internal emails painted a different picture.

Now it’s Australia’s turn.

The Environmental Defenders Office filed a complaint to Australia’s consumer watchdog and corporate regulator late last month alleging Shell Australia has misled the public about its plans to achieve net-zero by 2050 on its website and social media.

The complaint, filed on behalf of Comms Declare – a climate advocacy group for those in the media, marketing and advertising industry, outlines five claims against the coal and gas giant. These include that the company allegedly continues to explore new oil and gas projects that are inconsistent with the Paris Agreement, it is not significantly transitioning its business into renewable or low carbon energy and that the company’s current plans rely heavily on offsets which, contrary to industry guidance, should only be used as an alternative to absolute reductions.“

The Shell representations are misleading because they provide the general impression that Shell is taking steps to reduce its emissions despite this not being the case,” the 15-page complaint reads. “Comms Declare are concerned that the overall conduct of Shell’s Australian website reproducing these representations creates the impression to consumers and investors that Shell are concerned about climate change and are taking steps to reduce their emissions across their business, consistent with the Paris Agreement, when this is not the case.”

EDO managing lawyer Kirsty Ruddock says the allegations against Shell are an example of greenwashing, which is a serious matter because it delays efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and undermines consumer trust in legitimate products. The practice is defined as creating a false impression about how environmentally friendly an organisation’s products and goals are.

“Shell Australia’s statements about its emissions targets make the public think harmful products are good for the environment. It is clearly in the public interest to ensure big polluters don’t get away with this sort of conduct,” Ruddock says.

Comms Declare founder Belinda Noble says the group wants the regulators to hold companies to account and be more transparent about their environmental impacts. For its part, a Shell spokesperson said the company was investing in low and zero-carbon energy solutions, which included utility-scale solar and wind generation, battery energy storage systems and batteries for household use.

“At the same time, our investment in gas is critical to the energy transition, helping customers mainly in Asia transition away from coal and wood burning,” the spokesperson said. “Addressing a challenge as big as climate change requires a truly collaborative, society-wide approach. We believe smart policy from government, supported by action from business and society, is the appropriate way to reach solutions and drive progress.”

The company has indicated it is making strides in the area, including by increasing the amount it spends on its energy transition and investing in renewable energy projects.

Laura Chung is an environment reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.Connect via Twitter or email.

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