Shell’s Green Plan Underwhelms Critics
By Mitchell Beer
A leading producer of fossil fuels, which last month announced its intention to reduce its contribution to the global warming stoked by society's prodigal consumption of its products, may now be feeling more backlash than praise. Shell's green plan leaves some critics saying the group's figures don't add up very impressively.
Royal Dutch Shell pledged last month to cut its net greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2035 and 50 percent by 2050, while investing $1-2 billion per year in renewables, and electric vehicles between 2018 and 2020.
The group said its announcement was a response to shareholder pressure and the targets in the Paris agreement on cutting emissions.
"Tackling climate change is a cross-generational, global and multi-faceted effort," said CEO Ben van Beurden. "This is a challenge for the whole planet, for all of society, for customers, for governments and indeed for businesses.
"It will mean meeting increasing energy demand with an ever-lower carbon footprint. And it is critical that our ambition covers the full energy life cycle, from production to consumption. We are committed to play our part.''
The announcement earned measured praise from environmental groups, and van Beurden said the commitment was just a first step. But the cash infusion to Shell's new energies division was still well below 10 percent of the company's total annual investment, and the phrasing of the GHG promise suggested an intensity-based target—which would mean the 20 and 50 percent reductions will be calculated on fossil production levels that Shell will expect to increase year after year.
"Shell will continue to target opportunities in new fuels and power, two businesses adjacent to its downstream and gas businesses that play to Shell's existing strengths in brand and value chain integration," industry publication JWN Energy noted.
"Integrated gas, conventional oil and gas, and oil products are currently cash engines; deep water and chemicals are growth priorities; shales and new energies are emerging opportunities.
"Illustrating the dynamic nature of the company's portfolio, the intention is for deep water to have become a cash engine by 2020, and shales to have become a growth priority by 2020."
This might explain van Beurden's carefully-worded commitment to "bring down the net footprint of our energy products (expressed in grams of CO2 equivalent per megajoule consumed) by around half by 2050," in a letter to Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UN Climate Change Convention.
"As an interim goal, we aim to reduce it by around 20% by 2035—an ambition that we believe is compatible with a 2°C roadmap."
That language either implied something bad or something worse about the actual, tangible carbon reductions Shell is setting out to achieve. "CO2 equivalent per megajoule" means emissions still grow in step with the company's production volume, so that the percent commitment is applied to a higher initial output.
"This ambition includes emissions direct from Shell operations, emissions caused by third parties who supply energy for that production, and emissions caused by the use of our products by consumers, as well as activities that reduce or offset C02 emissions," van Beurden continued.
But if "CO2 equivalent per megajoule consumed" means Shell's ambition is limited to its production emissions—the energy it consumes to produce fossil fuels—it means it's still ducking responsibility for the climate-busting impact of the product itself.
That would be like a tobacco company using only the best air filters to keep its workplace safe, the better to manufacture products that lead to a horrible, lingering death when used as directed.
While "it would be unwise to commit to an exact mix of measures to get to our ambition" at such an early stage in the transition, he said key elements of Shell's plan would include biofuels and hydrogen, growth in electric vehicle charging points, development of natural gas markets for power and transport, renewable power from solar and wind, and carbon capture and storage.
The target received a thumbs-up from Dutch activist shareholder group Follow This. "We applaud Shell's ambitious decision to take leadership in achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement to limit global warming to well below 2.0°C," said founder Mark van Baal.
Dan Becker, director of the Washington-based Safe Climate Campaign, said the promise puts Shell "ahead of their competitors in recognizing that the days of oil dependence are numbered," although "we'll have to make progress a lot more quickly than they are projecting in order to protect the climate."
Earlier this year, Shell earned headlines with a proposal to tie 10 percent of executive bonuses to greenhouse gas reductions. "This is a good move by the company but we would like to see more," Bruce Duguid, stewardship director at Hermes Investment Management, said at the time.
Some critics also pointed to a strange coincidence of timing that had Shell releasing its new carbon targets on the day that Amnesty International called for a criminal investigation of the company's alleged complicity in human rights abuses by the Nigerian military in the 1990s.
Amnesty's review of "thousands of internal company documents and witness statements … pointed to the Anglo-Dutch organisation's alleged involvement in the brutal campaign to silence protesters in the oil-producing Ogoniland region," the Guardian reported.
"Amnesty is urging the UK, Nigeria, and the Netherlands to consider a criminal case against Shell in light of evidence it claims amounts to 'complicity in murder, rape, and torture'—allegations Shell strongly denies."
Mitchell Beer is a climate and energy communicator and curator of The Energy Mix, a Canadian e-newsletter on climate, energy, and the shift to a post-carbon future.
Republished by permission from The Energy Mix.
Many people shop online for everything from clothes to appliances. If they do not like the product, they simply return it. But there's an environmental cost to returns.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
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<div id="da98c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="478a197b7c59c92787c92bec92f1ac39"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1331662923710693376" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Bristol Bay forever, Pebble mine never. #NoPebbleMine #SaveBristolBay https://t.co/CBQ9zuy8A5</div> — Save Bristol Bay (@Save Bristol Bay)<a href="https://twitter.com/SaveBristolBay/statuses/1331662923710693376">1606328156.0</a></blockquote></div>
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