April 14, 2024

In its latest energy transition strategy report detailing its plans to fight climate change, British oil giant Shell says that things are going swimmingly.

The company “reduced carbon emissions from our operations by 31% compared with 2016 levels, putting us well on the way towards our target of a 50% reduction by 2030 on a net basis,” board chair Andrew Mackenzie wrote in the report’s preamble. Things are going so swimmingly, in fact, that the company is giving itself a bit more breathing room on so-called scope 3 climate goals — or targets for reducing emissions:

🛢️ by the people who use its petro-stuff

🛢️ and the means it uses to get that petro-stuff to them

🛢️ (not to mention the investments it tries to make off-setting the aforesaid carbon production)

🛢️ in addition to the emissions it creates making the petro-stuff.

“We have set a new ambition to reduce customer emissions from the use of our oil products by 15-20% by 2030 compared with 2021,” Mackenzie said.

The only problem is that the goal used to be a hard 20% (pdf). Since Shell’s customers emitted 569 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2021 by its own calculations, that’s more than 28 million metric tons of greenhouse gases it doesn’t have to account for. That’s the equivalent of the carbon footprint of nearly 2 million average Americans.

Risky business

Dutch climate activist group Follow This, which has for years been pushing various oil giants to do more to help keep the climate from becoming uninhabitable by human life, expressed its disappointment in the change of heart.

“This backtracking removes any doubt about Shell’s intentions: the company wants to stay in fossil fuels as long as possible,” founder Mark van Baal said in a statement. “The board not only endangers the global economy by exacerbating the climate crisis, but also puts the company’s future at risk through policy interventions, disruptive innovation, stranded assets, and accountability for the costs of climate change.”

The company is pushing an increasingly popular shareholder resolution that would ask the company adopt bigger emission reduction goals, not smaller ones. Oil behemoth ExxonMobil recently fought a similar Follow This effort ahead of its own annual shareholder meeting.

CNBC reports that British BP also did a similar backtrack last year, releasing plans to cut emissions by 20% to 30% by 2030 instead of its previous 35% to 40% commitment.

In light of its emission reduction targets, would Shell agree with the thought that perhaps its climate fight plans amount to so-called “greenwashing,” the practice of saying you’ll do things to help the environment without actually doing anything that helps the environment?

“No,” the company said in Q&A accompanying its report. “Our approach to reporting is designed to meet regulatory requirements and is in line with our approach to transparency.”

Well, there you have it.

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