Shell CEO Ben van Beurden set off a series of media flurries late last week, saying it would be “foolhardy” for his company to set clear carbon reduction targets but endorsing faster action to phase out petrol and diesel vehicles sales in the United Kingdom.
He also opined that people in “noisy democracies” like Britain are taking too much time debating how to tackle climate change, compared to countries like China that are moving faster.
In the first of three news stories, Reuters says van Beurden is concerned that Shell would only expose itself to legal liability if it set a hard target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. “It would be somewhat foolhardy to put ourselves in a legal bind by saying these are the targets we will adopt,” he told media during a company event.
“Before we put ourselves at the mercy of a legal challenge, I want to make sure we are doing the right thing first,” he added. “You have to believe us that setting an ambition, sticking my neck out, my personal reputation, the reputation of the company, is a big enough incentive to get it right.”
While BP committed this year to keep its emissions flat until 2025, CEO Bob Dudley expressed similar concerns to van Beurden’s during the company’s annual general meeting, Reuters recalls. “You want to get us to make statements here in front of you that you can document that will lead to a class action,” he said, in response to an audience question.
The Guardian reports van Beurden acknowledging that developed countries will have to make the transition to post-carbon technologies faster than the developing world, and expressing support for a faster ban on fossil-fuelled vehicles, as have multiple UK Members of Parliament, mayors, and think tanks. “If you would bring it forward, obviously that would be welcome,” he said. “I think the UK will have to go at a much higher speed than the speed the rest of the world can go.”
The Guardian notes that Shell has responded to the rise of affordable batteries and electric vehicles “by buying electric car infrastructure firms and beginning to install charging points on forecourts” at the front of buildings. BP, meanwhile, recently spent £130 million to buy the UK’s biggest EV charging network.
The Sunday Times [subs req’d], meanwhile, carried van Beurden’s comments on “noisy democracies” and the slower pace of climate action.
“In places like China, it works very well. Governments work very gratefully with us and adopt really incredibly pragmatic and powerful policies,” he said. “Here, there are more participants in the debate, let me put it that way,” at a time when the world “really needs more clear signals from its leaders” to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
“The more time we waste arguing with each other…the more we will find the challenge gets harder,” he added. “It’s not just because we have NGOs disagreeing with us, we have everybody disagreeing with us, and everybody disagreeing with everybody else.” (Extensive recent news coverage has documented the role of colossal fossils in funding and enabling those dissonant voices over the last two or three decades.)
Van Beurden also claimed some NGOs were prepared to accept Shell’s controversial work on carbon capture and storage in private, even if it’s “convenient” to disagree in public.