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Shell defends itself at climate conference in London

The fossil fuel giant was criticised for being "among the most irresponsible companies on earth" at Chatham House conference it was co-sponsoring 

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(Image by Greenpeace / Matti Snellman

Environmental activist Bill McKibben yesterday lambasted Shell for being “among the most irresponsible companies on earth” at a London climate-change conference, co-sponsored by the fossil-fuel giant.

But speaking on the conference sidelines, Shell vice president Jeremy Bentham told chinadialogue it was wrong for his company to be seen as irresponsible because it was focused on natural gas rather than coal. 

Pointing to the company’s drilling activities in the thawing Arctic, McKibben, founder of campaign group 350.org, told the Chatham House audience that Shell “and its brethren” would be remembered by historians for the “shortsighted greed” that had pushed the planet towards dangerous climate change.

McKibben said vested interests in the fossil-fuel industry had been able to block significant action on climate change despite the strength of the science because of a lack of effective resistance. “We won the argument 20 years ago, we have just been losing the fight…It’s a fight about power and money,” he said.

But Bentham said the company's investments in its natural-gas business showed that it was thinking sensibly about climate change and that fossil fuels shouldn’t be lumped together. “People refer to fossil fuels as an umbrella term but clearly there are huge differences in the emissions impact of coal versus oil versus natural gas, with the basic power generation from natural gas emitting half as much as would be emitted from coal," he said.

"The biggest pressure on the trajectory towards aspiration of a 2 degrees outcome is the capacity to push unabated coal out of the global energy system by the 2030s.”

However, Bentham, who manages the company’s “energy scenarios”, a planning exercise, admitted that the firm's vision of a zero-net emissions world by the end of the century was dependent on technology to capture and sequester emissions from fossil-fuel combustion, so-called Carbon Capture and Storage, which has so far proved unaffordable and difficult to deploy. He also said his team had been unable to identify a plausible pathway to 2 degrees, because of “political and social realities".
  

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