Former Shell chair speaks of distress at climate policy inertia

Mark Moody Stuart says dangers were evident decades ago, offers backing to divestment and carbon pricing

(Pic: UN Global Compact/Michael Dames)

(Pic: UN Global Compact/Michael Dames)

By Ed King

The former chairman of Shell has spoken of his “distress” at the lack of action over the past two decades to address the causes of climate change.

Mark Moody-Stuart, who left the oil giant in 2005 after 39 years with the business said Shell and BP had acknowledged the threat of global warming in 1997.

“I find it distressing that 18 years after major oil companies such as Shell and BP acknowledged the threat of climate change and the need for precautionary action, and indeed began to put in to place many of the steps needed, the world has made very modest progress in addressing this challenge,” he said at a Carbon Trust event earlier this week.

In contrast to many senior fossil fuel executives he argued the growing divestment campaign was not “without some rationale”, recalling how oil and gas companies ditched coal assets in the 1990s.

“Given the inevitable continued demand for some forms of fossil fuels for some decades to come, divestment of all such holdings is probably not an economically sensible choice for most investors,” he said.

“Selective divestment or portfolio switching certainly is. As in all such choices, timing is critical.”

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Moves this week by Shell, BP and other European hydrocarbon producers to back UN climate talks and get a global price on carbon were entirely rational – and one they had pushed for over the last 15 years, he said.

It could drive new investment in carbon capture technologies and would also lay to rest the stranded assets debate, ensuring hydrocarbons were not wasted in cars but used for “valuable” tasks in petrochemicals and lubrication.

“Although one might intuitively think that this is not in their interest, it is the only rational way to ensure that the lower carbon emitting fossil fuel sources and mechanisms are favoured. It is a guide to prioritising exploration and investment.”

Hopes of avoiding dangerous levels of warming were fast fading, he said, with only a few holding the 2C target out as an “article of faith.”

But with concern for climate change mounting “perhaps because of unusual weather events” he said he thought a loose climate deal in Paris later this year would take place.

“This is progress and will doubtless be hailed as an agreement, although one can certainly question whether an agglomeration of diverse commitments can really be hailed as a global agreement.”

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