Shell boss hopes US-China climate deal will “reinvigorate” UN talks

Ben van Beurden calls for gas and renewables to replace coal, argues Shell wants to be part of solution to climate challenge

Shell CEO Ben Van Beurden (Pic: Shell/Flickr)

Shell CEO Ben Van Beurden (Pic: Shell/Flickr)

By Ed King

Shell’s chief executive has branded last week’s US-China climate pact as “historic” and has written of his hopes it will “reinvigorate” efforts to secure a UN deal to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

In an article in the Times newspaper Ben van Beurden, who took over as CEO of the oil and gas giant in January 2014, said a proposed 2015 Paris climate deal was “desirable” and “achievable.”

“Why should we care? Well, if anyone were still complacent about the scale of the problem that climate change poses then the recent report by the IPCC will have come as a stark wake-up call,” he said.

Van Beurden added his backing to US efforts to decarbonise, arguing the country was now moving “farther and faster than ever before.”

“It seems fair to hope that the joint commitment by President Obama and President Xi will inject momentum into a far bigger effort,” he added.

Echoing recent calls from the head of Saudi Aramco and other leading oil and gas producers, he also argued that coal is the main obstacle to efforts to curb emissions.

Report: Oil majors target coal in fight for climate high ground

“I’ve already acknowledged the importance of shifting our power generation systems away from reliance on coal, by far the most polluting fossil fuel,” he said.

“That means, in part, a great role for natural gas in the medium term, as well as a steadily growing role for renewables, even if experience shows that growth will necessarily be slow.”

Shell’s boss cited plans to develop a carbon capture and storage plant in Scotland as evidence it is taking reducing its emissions seriously, saying a transition away from fossil fuels would be “decades long.”

The company has advertised the new project heavily across the UK, although critics like founder Bill McKibben say its efforts to drill for oil in the Arctic are evidence of its “Jekyll and Hyde” characteristics.

“If they follow their business plans then the planet tanks. That makes them very different to other kinds of corporations,” he told delegates at a climate conference earlier this month.

Van Beurden’s intervention comes a day after the former head of BP Lord Browne lambasted his former colleagues in the fossil fuel industry for ignoring climate change.

In a speech reported by the FT, Browne, who is now on the board of UK fracking company Cuadrilla, said there should be no debate over the basic science of climate change.

“This conclusion is not accepted by many in our industry, because they do not want to acknowledge an existential threat to their business,” he said.

Browne added that the US-China pact would likely see a radical reduction in oil consumption in the long term, reducing those countries’ demands by “17bn barrels of oil over the next 15 years.”

And he warned operators who “remain largely insensitive” to the consequences of new carbon cutting policies they should start accounting for them as a risk to business.

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