Royal Dutch Shell Plc will call on the oil industry to speak up about ways to curb global warming, a shift that suggests executives fear losing ground in the debate to environmental groups.
“In the past we thought it was better to keep a low profile on the issue,” Chief Executive Officer Ben Van Beurden said in remarks prepared for a conference Thursday in London. “It’s not a good tactic. We have to make sure that our voice is heard by members of government, by civil society and the general public.”
U.S. competitors led by Exxon Mobil Corp. have acknowledged climate change is a problem while avoiding specific policy recommendations. As institutions such as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Stanford University divest fossil fuel holdings and nations worked toward a deal limiting emissions, energy producers must inject “realism and practicality” into the debate, according to Van Beurden’s remarks.
While Shell, along with BP Plc, have led the oil industry in acknowledging climate change as a risk, the producers have avoided forums such as the annual United Nations climate talks. Shell, based in The Hague, has backed solutions such as carbon trading and the development of technology to capture carbon emissions and store them underground as a way to pare back pollution.
“Our industry should be less aloof, more assertive,” according to Van Beurden’s remarks.
While accepting that greenhouse gases enhance risks associated with climate change, Exxon has said carbon caps, emissions trading regimes and other measures will inflict economic pain on the poorest consumers and impede efforts to lift developing nations out of poverty.
The Irving, Texas-based company, which sells more than 4 million gallons of gasoline an hour, says energy conservation, greater use of natural gas in place of coal, and more research into technologies such as hybrid automobile engines, are the most practical, affordable response to climate change.
“Creating solutions that protect the environment without undermining the poor and global economic growth is one of the world’s greatest challenges,” Exxon said in a report published last year detailing efforts to curb greenhouse gases and enhance human-rights protections.
Environmental groups have dominated the debate over how to shape global warming policy, according to Van Beurden’s remarks. That has boosted solutions such as emissions targets over policies that encourage investors to back technologies to cut pollution. In Germany, carbon dioxide emissions have jumped because utilities are using more coal plants to back up power from the country’s rapidly expanding wind- and solar-power industry.
“I’m well aware that the industry’s credibility is an issue,” according to Van Beurden’s remarks. “To make our voice heard, our sector needs to enter into the public debate alongside other credible parties — ranging from academics to non-governmental organizations and policy makers.”