Shell’s Climate U-Turn: Shareholder Profits Over Planet Survival?

In a move with environmental activists shaking their heads, Shell, the London-based oil giant, has axed plans to lower oil production by 1-2% each year. Instead, they’re choosing to keep oil production steady until 2030 and ramp up gas production. And the cherry on this carbon-loaded cake? They’re hiking dividends by 15%, making their wealthy shareholders even wealthier.

This decision flies in the face of scientific consensus emphasizing the need for a swift phaseout of fossil fuels to circumvent an impending climate disaster. Sjoukje van Oosterhout, the lead researcher at Climate Case Shell, lamented, “Shell is now throwing in the towel on reducing oil production and even scaling up gas production.”

To fuel the fire (pun intended), Shell has also disclosed plans to repurchase a whopping $5 billion of its stock in the latter half of 2023. In the words of Jonathan Noronha-Gant, a senior campaigner at Global Witness, “Record profits, off the back of the energy crisis, should be boosting up green investment… Instead, it’s shareholder payouts and a doubling down on climate-wrecking fossil fuels.”

While Shell had earlier committed to annual reductions in oil and gas production through 2030, they now claim to have “achieved its initial output-reduction plan” faster than anticipated. But Noronha-Gant, labeling this announcement a “climate bombshell,” decried the hollowness behind the setting of such a target. He urged that Shell cannot be trusted with their own paltry goals, let alone the futures of upcoming generations.

The outrage echoed across social media channels, with climate scientist Bill McGuire tweeting his disbelief at Shell CEO Wael Sawan’s decision, stating, “People will die — are already dying… I want to see him jailed.”

Shell’s climate backtrack lands on the heels of an analysis by Carbon Brief, which spotlighted Shell’s tacit acknowledgment that capping global warming at 1.5°C by the end of the century necessitates an “immediate end to fossil fuel growth.”

Despite their Wednesday declaration that they aim to attain “near-zero methane emissions by 2030” and “net-zero emissions by 2050,” research indicates these pledges might be mere corporate greenwashing. Without concrete steps toward their environmental goals, these commitments can become empty rhetoric.

Last month, Friends of the Earth Netherlands blasted Shell for exaggerating its spending on renewable energy. They included the sale of sandwiches and flowers at their gas stations in their green spending, in addition to high-carbon-footprint biofuels. Friends of the Earth concluded, “The company continues contributing to catastrophic climate change.”

As young, concerned citizens, we must ask: how can we trust these corporations to take the necessary measures to curb their climate-wrecking activities? It seems their shareholders’ short-term gains take precedence over our planet’s long-term survival. It’s high time we demand accountability, transparency, and concrete action from these corporate giants.