By Barney Smith
Shell’s AGM this year is on 18 May. The” Powering Progress” document distributed to shareholders contains the following two key passages on page 19:
“Achieving net-zero emissions: Tackling climate change is an urgent challenge. That is why we have set a target to become a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050, in line with society. We are transforming our business and finding new opportunities – selling more low-carbon products such as biofuels, electricity generated by solar and wind power, hydrogen and charging for electric vehicles. We are partnering with customers, businesses and governments to address the energy transition and reduce emissions sector by sector. This includes in sectors that are harder to decarbonise, such as aviation, shipping, commercial road freight, power, heating and certain parts of industry”.
After some further words, the document continues “…We are also focusing on using water and other resources more efficiently across all our activities, reusing as much of them as we can. We are reducing waste from our operations and increasing recycling of plastics. We are helping to improve air quality by reducing emissions from our operations and providing cleaner ways to power transport and industry.”
All this is admirable as far as it goes. But how far does it go? First of all there are several points of clarification: we understand that “in line with society” reflects the view that Shell needs to get to reach net zero at the same time as society, so that society is ready to buy Shell’s products. We are also clear that “Sectors that are harder to decarbonise” include steel and cement, while increased use of hydrogen could provide the “cleaner way” to produce power. But will it?
Carbon Capture and Storage,(CCS) is rightly identified as of critical importance in the majority of scenarios for the future. Shell recognise the “Scale of the challenge in developing CCS globally as quickly as is required”, but there is little sign of practical measures to advance CCS as a commercial reality.
Perhaps more troubling is the item under hydraulic fracturing stating “Shale oil and gas remain a critical part of a modern energy system as we move towards renewable resources.” Does that formulation suggest the sort of urgency now seemingly required?
Indeed, when one asks what is Shell actually doing to bring about net-zero by 2050, the answer seems to be “Not enough.” the analysis is there, but not the practical conclusions which are the next step. Shell, rightly, points to the way in which the immediate profits from Oil and Gas will be used to fund the energy transition. But investment is needed now if there is to be time for a real change in the future. We may not know which technology will win out, but it will be too late if our bet is only placed when the outcome is certain: The money needs to be spread around now, betting on all the possible winners.
All this suggests that the weighty (and worthy) Shell document for the forthcoming AGM does not exude the sort of increased urgency which so now needed.