For years Shell had a clear grasp of global warming 26 years ago. Since then the company has invested heavily in highly polluting oil reserves and helped lobby against climate action, say critics.
Shell’s film, called Climate of Concern, was made for public viewing, particularly in schools and universities. It warned of extreme weather, floods, famines and climate refugees as fossil fuel burning warmed the world. The serious warning was “endorsed by a uniquely broad consensus of scientists in their report to the United Nations at the end of 1990”, the film noted. “If the weather machine were to be wound up to such new levels of energy, no country would remain unaffected,” it says. “Global warming is not yet certain, but many think that to wait for final proof would be irresponsible. Action now is seen as the only safe insurance.”
The predictions in the 1991 film for temperature and sea level rises and their impacts were remarkably accurate, according to scientists. Despite this early Shell invested many billions of dollars in highly polluting tar sand operations and on exploration in the Arctic. It also cited fracking as a “future opportunity” in 2016, despite its own 1998 data showing exploitation of unconventional oil and gas was incompatible with climate goals. Shell has recently lobbied successfully to undermine European renewable energy targets and is estimated to have spent $22m in 2015 lobbying against climate policies. The company’s investments in low-carbon energy have been minimal compared to its fossil fuel investments. Shell has also been a member of industry lobby groups that have fought climate action, including the so-called Global Climate Coalition until 1998; the far-right American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec) until 2015; and remains a member of the Business Roundtable and the American Petroleum Institute today.
Prof Tom Wigley, the climate scientist who was head of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia when it helped Shell with the 1991 film said Shell’s actions since 1991 had “absolutely not” been consistent with the film’s warning.