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A Shell Jet A refueler tank truck on the ramp at Vancouver International Airport. Lommer / CC BY-SA 3.0

#ShellKnew 30 Years Ago: Documents Reveal Predictions of Extreme Weather, Climate Lawsuits

Royal Dutch Shell has known about the links between fossil fuel use and climate change for decades, according to newly-released internal company documents.

The documents, unveiled by Dutch newspaper De Correspondent on Thursday, show that the oil giant's researchers flagged that climate change could have major implications for the fossil fuel industry as far back as the 1980s—and predicted that environmental groups could sue following damages from extreme weather.


"With the very long time scales involved, it would be tempting for society to wait until then before doing anything," one 1988 report reads. "The potential implications for the world are, however, so large that the policy options need to be considered much earlier. And the energy industry needs to consider how it should play its part."

On Wednesday, Friends of the Earth announced that it would file a lawsuit against Shell if the company does not bring its investment plan in line with Paris agreement goals within eight weeks.

As reported by Climate Liability News:

One of the documents, written in 1998, models an eerily accurate scenario of violent and damaging storms hitting the East Coast of the U.S. in 2010.

"Following the storms, a coalition of environmental NGOs brings a class-action suit against the U.S. government and fossil-fuel companies on the grounds of neglecting what scientists (including their own) have been saying for years: that something must be done," the report projects.

Bill McKibben told De Correspondent that the documents show that Shell understood the risks of climate change in the 1980s.

"Had they merely been candid with the world, we could have gotten to work then, and while global warming would not yet be 'solved,' we'd be well on the way," said McKibben.

"Instead they appear to have chosen the path of hedging, minimizing, and diverting—and given the stakes, this was both tragic and immoral. Shell knew. And now we do too."

For a deeper dive:

Documents: InsideClimate News, Climate Liability News. Lawsuit: FT, The Guardian, Climate Home

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for daily Hot News.

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