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How Effective Has Engagement Been?

By Sheila Thorne - Fossil Free California, April 15, 2023

CalPERS insists engagement is the most effective way to address climate change. In 2017 it co-founded Climate Action 100+, a coalition of 700 large investors who engage with 167 of the worst carbon-emitting companies in order to promote climate awareness in the company's governance and persuade them to disclose the company's climate risk and reduce emissions to net zero by 2050.

How effective has it been?

An evaluation of the impact of CalPERS climate engagements authored by Dr. Clair Brown, Professor of Economics at U.C. Berkeley, profiles 10 major oil companies with which CalPERS engages. It shows that only five of the ten have set emissions targets of net zero by 2050, and none of them have set short or medium term emission reduction goals. There are no consequences for these failures. A review of the 2022 proxy season along with past votes shows that CalPERS usually continues to support directors regardless of a company's failure to make progress in reducing emissions.

CalPERS' own "Addressing Climate Change Report" ( June 2020) admitted that only 9% of companies in the Climate Action 100+ group had targets in line with the Paris Agreement goals and only 8% had lobbying efforts aligned with necessary climate action.

This report considered one of its "significant impacts of engagement" the fact that Shell announced targets for reductions every 3 to 5 years towards a goal of shrinking its net carbon by about half by 2050 and agreed to include its emissions across its supply and demand chains (Scopes 1,2, and 3). However, one half of net carbon emission by 2050 is hardly something to boast about. Worse, a Financial Times article (May 17, 2020) revealed a disclaimer at the end of Shells's announcement that it will NOT change its strategy or capital deployment plans in line with its announcement until society acts. Thus it is going ahead with a new project in Nigeria to produce 30 million tons of liquefied natural gas a year to meet with what it expects to be doubled demand by 2040. And, according to Carbon Brief, Shell's global energy vision "Sky 1.5" plans for continued use of oil, gas, and coal until the end of the century.

The CalPERS Report also claimed it an accomplishment of engagement that Chevron announced reduction goals for GHG intensity in production. However, Chevron at the same time announced plans to double its production in the Permian Basin over 5 years and expected 900,000 barrels by 2023; thus its overall emissions and especially Scope 3 emissions could only rise.

XR UK position on Strike Action

By staff - Extinction Rebellion UK, August 25, 2022

The cost of living crisis is escalating week on week, the movement to refuse to pay energy bills is gaining momentum and workers from an increasing range of industries are voting to take strike action for livable wages and secure jobs. Railway and tube staff, bus drivers, communications workers, warehouse workers and postal workers are among those striking or staging protests in recent weeks. 

At the same time the UK just recorded it’s hottest ever temperature and Extinction Rebellion is seeing a spike in interest from people who have decided now is the time to step-up and take action – over 1000 people registered for our last Open Call and the ‘Welcome to XR’ sessions have seen a significant increase in attendees. 

In this context we need to speak clearly about the common interests of striking workers and the environmental movement.

Shell sends ‘thug’ to stop industrial strike action on Prelude FLNG, says labor union

By Damon Evans - Energy Voice, June 2, 2022

In response to the formal notice served by lawyers representing the Offshore Alliance, a labor union, as well as the Electrical Trades Union (ETU), issued on 30 May, Shell has “now resorted to industrial thuggery in a desperate effort to try and stop protected industrial action on Prelude,” the Offshore Alliance claimed in a post on Facebook today.

“One of the Shell leads, who has been parachuted onto Prelude, is throwing his weight around like he’s some sort of big king dick…this self-styled hero tough guy has been doing his best to intimidate some of the younger female tech’s by demanding they tell him whether they are in the Union and whether they intend to take Protected Industrial Action,” claimed the Offshore Alliance.

“Shell’s senior management need to pull this idiot into line as the Offshore Alliance will bang both him and Shell into the Federal Court for breach of Freedom of Association provisions if he doesn’t pull his head in. Pull off your management thugs, Shell,” added the union.

A Shell spokesperson told Energy Voice that “Shell recognises the entitlement of all workers to exercise their rights, including the right to participate in industrial action.”

The Offshore Alliance has listed 19 activities that will be banned at various times from June 10 to June 21, as part of their plan to implement “rolling stoppages of work and work bans.”

“Shell have had two years to sort out our key bargaining claims and nothing less than tier 1 rates and conditions and job security are going to cut it,” said the union, which combines the industrial and organisational resources of the Australian Workers Union (AWU) and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), to provide effective representation of offshore construction, maintenance, catering, and rig workers in Western Australia.

Shell Needs to be Dismantled. Here’s How:

By Marie-Sol Reindl - Open Democracy, February 11, 2022

Don’t be fooled by Shell’s green rebrand. The company is still deeply undemocratic and destroying the environment.

It has been a turbulent year for the oil and gas giant Shell.

Last May, Dutch courts ruled that Shell must drastically reduce its carbon emissions. In October, ABP, a major shareholder, divested from the company. The following month, the firm announced plans to move its headquarters from the Hague to London and drop its iconic prefix, ‘Royal Dutch’ (the company is now just Shell plc). And, in recent weeks, it has come under fire for its mammoth 14-fold increase in quarterly profits, having made $16.3bn (£12bn) pre-tax profit in the last quarter of 2021, while gas prices surged across Europe.

Now, as Shell presents itself as a global leader in the green energy transition, it is still actively investing in new oil and gas drilling.

But that is not the company’s only problem.

For a start, Shell’s profit-maximising business model is deeply undemocratic, benefitting top management and shareholders at the expense of communities around the world. The firm has also not reckoned with its colonial past and severe human rights violations, while its privileged access and influence over political decision-making processes are an obstacle towards building a democratic and green energy system. And, finally, its investment in ‘innovation’ is primarily dependent on gas and carbon capture, which keeps the world locked into a fossil fuel future.

While many agree that ending fossil fuel extraction is necessary, questions remain over how to dismantle oil and gas giants such as Shell. These companies will certainly not stop polluting of their own volition – so governments and civil society must take strategic action to force them to do so.

Can this be done via carbon pricing, bankruptcy, strategic litigation or nationalisation? When assessing these mechanisms, it’s critical to consider how – and if – they would reckon with the corporation’s colonial legacy and safeguard labour rights to build a fairer and regenerative energy system.

A Farewell to Copitalism

By Brendan Montague - The Ecologist, November 12, 2021

The future was supposed to be copitalism: a new global economic paradigm where national governments work together through the United Nations (UN) Conference of the Parties (COP) process to limit emissions and prevent runaway climate breakdown - while leaving capitalism otherwise intact.

The climate conferences have taken place annually for a quarter of a century. The aim is to negotiate global emissions targets that will be translated into national policies. The high-water mark was the Paris Agreement of COP21 when the worlds’ leaders agreed to limit global heating to 1.5C. 

The mechanism agreed was "nationally determined contributions" (NDCs). This means national governments are responsible for submitting commitments to cut emissions to the UN. The COP process is also supposed to include a “ratchet mechanism” where those government commitments are made increasingly ambitious. 

California Kids to Teachers' Pension Fund: Divest from Oil

By Marcy Winograd - Common Dreams, August 26, 2021

The kids are mad as hell—and so are teachers who want their California teacher pension fund, CalSTRS, to join 1,000 other institutions collectively divesting $14.5 trillion from the fossil fuel industry that threatens climate catastrophe. The retirement fund divestment fight, led by retired teachers in Fossil Free CA and students from Youth vs Apocalypse and Earth Guardians, estimates CalSTRS' portfolio investments in fossil fuels at $16 billion, mostly in oil and gas delivery systems, but $6 billion in direct investments in oil behemoths, with $400 million in Exxon-Mobil, $350 million in Chevron, $250 million in BP and $108 million in Enbridge Inc. This is the same corporation sending attack dogs to maul water protectors protesting drilling at river crossings on indigenous land, where Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline will send sludgy tar sands through Minnesota. The estimated pollution from the pipeline is equivalent to 50 coal powered plants running for 50 years.

Fossil Free CA and other divestment advocates, including this author, warn that CalSTRS, the nation's second largest pension fund with a $310 billion dollar portfolio, just behind CalPERS' $444 billion in holdings, risks sticking its members, over 700-thousand active and retired California teachers, with stranded assets—unless the pension fund moves the money before it's too late, too late for the portfolio, too late for the planet.

CalSTRS's resistance to divestment from Big Oil comes at a financial cost to rank and file public school teachers. In 2019, the Corporate Knights, a Toronto-based research firm, published a study showing that had CalSTRS divested during the last decade the teacher retirement fund would have generated an additional $5.5 billion. Forbes reports that during that same decade, the energy sector of big fossil fuel companies, such as Exxon (ejected from the Dow in 2020), Chevron and BP, shrunk to the smallest investment sector in Standard and Poor's (S & P) index of the 500 largest US publicly traded companies. This year oil companies underperforming the index saw their credit ratings cut in half.

Power, Workers, and the Fight for Climate Justice

By Tara Olivetree (Ehrcke) - Midnight Sun, July 12, 2021

Power

Who has more power than Shell Oil? This is one of the first questions a climate activist should ask themselves, because without finding an answer, we can’t win.

The power of the fossil fuel industry is massive. Fossil fuel companies are worth at least $18 trillion in stock equity, which represents about a quarter of total global stock markets. These vast resources and their outsized share of the world economy allow the industry to continually assert their interests, no matter the destruction this entails. They do so through any means available, of which there are many.

The notorious work of Exxon in first understanding, and then deeply misrepresenting, the science on climate change is one example. After generously funding its own climate research, and being told explicitly in 1977 that global warming due to the burning of fossil fuels was likely to lead to a two- to three-degree increase in global temperatures, Exxon embarked on an industry-wide quest to promote doubt in the science. This lengthy “fake news” campaign cost millions of dollars, and arguably set back the climate movement by decades.

However, the power of the fossil fuel industry goes well beyond the manipulation of global public thought. From the time of the industrial revolution in the 19th century, the history of modern capitalism has been replete with wars fought over fossil fuels. These have served to maintain strategic interests and, just as importantly, the profits of fossil fuel companies. A map of twentieth-century imperial conquest would show the disproportionate number of wars waged in the Middle East, where the world’s largest and cheapest oil deposits lie. As Alan Greenspan, a former chair of the US Federal Reserve, stated about one of these wars: “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”

How, then, do we go about exerting equivalent force, in order to dismantle the fossil fuel industry within the limited timeline outlined by scientists, while at the same time building an equitable, habitable, and just society?

There are a number of competing answers to this question. 

It’s time to nationalize Shell. Private oil companies are no longer fit for purpose

By Johanna Bozuwa and Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò - The Guardian, June 7, 2021

It has been a bad month for big oil. A Dutch court just ruled that Shell must cut its carbon pollution by 45% by 2030. The court’s decision has rightly been celebrated: it is a much more stringent requirement than the ineffective regulations imposed to date. Meanwhile, shareholders are waging rebellions at various oil giants – ExxonMobil shareholders won two seats on the board to pressure the oil company towards a greener strategy, and shareholders at Chevron and ConocoPhillips passed nonbinding resolutions pressuring the companies to disclose their lobbying efforts and emissions amounts.

Private oil and gas companies are finally up against the wall. Shell has promised to appeal the Dutch court decision, but oil prices went negative last year and put companies on bankruptcy notice, and last week the International Energy Agency said to stop digging. Politicians have floated the idea of oil and gas magnates becoming “carbon management companies” as a way for those companies to have a “future in a low-carbon world” while retaining control over oil, gas, and profit in a planet increasingly aware of and hostile to their emissions-generating activity.

But as far as the Dutch court’s ruling or the new bout of shareholder activism goes, neither go far enough. Nor should Shell be turned into a “carbon management company”. Like all private oil companies, Shell should not exist.

Oil and gas companies are a political structure: they possess private, authoritarian dominion over the pace and volume of oil and gas production, and thus of important determinants of global emissions. These emissions and their consequences do not respect any sort of public/private distinction, nor borders, nor the rights to clean air or clean water. For decades, private oil companies have intentionally and recklessly obscured their role in the destruction of countless local environments as well as their role in the global climate crisis.

Private oil companies have propped up an ever-failing business on a complex system of national and international government subsidies, all of which function to privatize the benefits of oil and gas production while socializing its financial, environmental, and social costs – making the public pay in tax dollars, human rights abuses, and an unlivable climate. Now that these companies fear being left behind by a changing political context, their public relations strategy is to insist to a public increasingly aware of the dire need to stop carbon emissions that there is still a place for private oil companies in a “green” world.

There is a role for the workers, their skills and knowledge, and the equipment and infrastructure of oil and gas companies. But there is no longer a role for companies or profit-seeking as an organizing principle of this aspect of human society – not if we want to continue to have human society...

Read the rest here.

Victory for climate activists in the Dutch Courts and in Exxon and Chevron boardrooms

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, May 27, 2021

May 26 will go down in history as a very bad day for the fossil fuel industry for three reasons: in the Netherlands, the courts issued a landmark decision that requires Royal Dutch Shell to cut its carbon emissions – including Scope 3 emissions – by 45% by 2030. Also on May 26, activist shareholders won separate victories at the corporate annual meetings of ExxonMobil and Chevron. Bill McKibben reflects on all three events in “Big Oil’s Bad Bad Day” in The New Yorker , and Jamie Henn wrote “A Landmark Day in the fight against fossil fuels” in Fossil Free Media.

The case of Royal Dutch Shell is summarized by Friends of the Earth Canada in their press release , which also links to an English-language version of the Court’s decision.

“On May 26, as a result of legal action brought by Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie) together with 17,000 co-plaintiffs and six other organisations the court in The Hague ruled that Shell must reduce its CO2 emissions by 45% within 10 years.

…..“This is a turning point in history. This case is unique because it is the first time a judge has ordered a large polluting company to comply with the Paris Climate Agreement. This ruling may also have major consequences for other big polluters,” says Roger Cox, lawyer for Friends of the Earth Netherlands.

The verdict requires Royal Dutch Shell to reduce its emissions by 45% by the end of 2030. Shell is also responsible for emission from customers and suppliers. There is a threat of human rights violations to the “right to life” and “undisturbed family life”.

German news organization Deutsche Welle offers an excellent, more thorough discussion in “Shell ordered to reduce CO2 emissions in watershed ruling”, which points out that the case was argued on human rights grounds – much like the precedent-setting Urgenda case and the recent German constitutional case. In those cases however, governments were called upon to defend the human right to a future safe from the dangers of climate change. The Shell case is the first time such an argument has been tried against a corporation – and is seen as a harbinger of future legal action.

Corporate net zero goals: solution or deception?

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, March 16, 2021

Climate change superstar Mark Carney set off a media flurry in a video interview with Bloomberg Live on February 10, in which he claimed that Brookfield Asset Management is a “net zero” company because its renewables investments offset emissions from its other holdings. Carney reflects a new trend of corporate aspirational statements, for example: Jeff Bezos’ corporate network The Climate Pledge claimed in February that 53 companies across 18 industries have committed to working toward net-zero carbon in their worldwide businesses, most by 2050. Recent high profile examples include Royal Dutch Shell , Canada’s TD Bank  and Bank of Montreal, and FedEx , which on March 5 announced its goal to be carbon-neutral by 2040 as well as an initial investment of $2 billion to start electrifying its delivery fleet and $100 million to fund a new research centre for carbon capture at Yale University.

Will these corporate goals help to reach the Paris Agreement target? Many recent articles are skeptical, labelling them “sham”, “greenwash”, and “deception” which seeks to protect the status quo. Some examples:

The climate crisis can’t be solved by carbon accounting tricks” (The Guardian, March 3) which offers a concise explanation of why “Disaster looms if big finance is allowed to game the carbon offsetting markets to achieve ‘net zero’ emissions.”

Global oil companies have committed to ‘net zero’ emissions. It’s a sham” by Tzeporah Berman and Nathan Taft (The Guardian, March 3) – which instead advocates for an international Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Call the Fossil Fuel Industry’s Net-Zero Bluff” by Kate Aronoff in New Republic. She writes: “This isn’t the old denialism oil companies funded decades ago. … Instead of casting doubt on whether the climate is changing, this new messaging strategy casts doubt on the obvious answer to what should be done about it: i.e., rapidly scaling down production….. For now, it’s one part creative accounting and many parts a P.R. strategy of waving around shiny objects like biofuels, hydrogen, and carbon capture and storage.”

Can the market save the planet? FedEx is the latest brand-name firm to say it’s trying” in the Washington Post , which quotes Yale Professor Paul Sabin, warning that “carbon capture research also should not become an excuse for doubling down on fossil fuel consumption, or delaying urgently needed policies to move away from fossil fuel consumption, including the electrification of transportation.”

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