Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, uses Shell-sponsored conference to accuse oil giant of hypocrisy on climate change
By Sophie Yeo
Leading climate campaigner Bill McKibben confronted Shell today about its “hypocritical” stance on climate change.
At a Shell-sponsored climate conference at Chatham House in London today, the 350.org founder accused the fossil fuel giant of “Jekyll and Hyde” behaviour.
It is exploiting Arctic oil on one hand, while involving itself in the green debate on the other, he said.
“It’s hard to imagine a better example of what we could call Shell’s ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ approach to this question,” said McKibben, adding he would not have attended the conference if he had known it was sponsored by the oil giant.
“I guess conferences like this are the Jekyll part and what they do up in the Arctic and so many other places is the reverse.”
Campaigners from 350.org and anti-fossil fuel group Platform were stationed outside Chatham House with banners this morning, in protest at Shell’s sponsorship of the event.
The international affairs think-tank has hosted a climate change conference ahead of annual UN negotiations for the past 18 years. It is well attended by government delegates, climate strategists and corporate officials from around the world.
No one from Shell’s sizeable delegation responded to McKibben’s criticisms, when given given the opportunity by the host.
Shell is one of the fossil fuel companies seeking to exploit oil reserves in the Arctic, which are becoming increasingly accessible as warmer temperatures melt more of the ice covering the sea in the high north.
It has already invested US$5bn in these ventures, although the difficult environment means they have little to show for it so far: the company has drilled two partial wells but not yet hit any oil-bearing rocks.
This week, it asked the US government for a five-year extension of its drilling leases in the Arctic waters north of Alaska.
Five days later, the UN released its latest science report, which showed that if the world is to stay below the danger threshold of 2C warming, humans can only emit 1,000 gigatonnes more of CO2.
This is far outstripped by the 3,670-7,100 Gt of CO2 the scientists said would be emitted if companies, including Shell, burned the fossil fuels to which they already have access.
350.org has been a leading advocate of the divestment movement, under which organisations from universities to local authorities withhold finance from fossil fuel companies. The aim is to make profiting from producing polluting fuel socially unacceptable.
McKibben said it was the “incredible vested interests” of fossil fuel companies that was holding back the movement to stop climate change.
Analysts at HSBC warned last year that oil companies could lose up to 60% of their market value if the international community sticks to its commitment to limit temperatures to below 2C — a target which would require the majority of fossil fuels to stay in the ground.
But, like fellow oil major BP, which attempted to rebrand itself in 2001 as “Beyond Petroleum”, Shell has tried to present itself as part of the solution.
A recent advertising campaign by the company displays, with a big red bubble, the amount of carbon dioxide that could be captured and stored by Shell’s planned facility in Peterhead.
But carbon capture and storage (CCS) is still in its infancy and the Peterhead project can capture only a fraction of the emissions of the 2.79 million barrels of oil that Shell produces every day.
McKibben said the biggest impact of CCS had been to provide “an excuse for inaction”, as policymakers believed they could emit more now, hoping they could depend on this technology to dramatically reduce CO2 in the future.
“They’re no longer normal companies operating by the normal rules,” said McKibben.
“If they follow their business plans then the planet tanks. That makes them very different to other kinds of corporations.”