How Shell stands in the way of renewable energy

Subvertised Shell posters appeared in London, Leeds, Bristol and Oxford in June 2018 ahead of Shell's #MakeTheFuture spin festival, which has co-opted pop stars in a bid to appeal to millennials. Image: Brandalism UK

Shell pours millions into lobbying policymakers to act in its corporate interest. Given the company’s dependence on fossil fuels for profit, this often means splashing the cash to try and stymie the progress of renewable energy.

According to Open Secrets website, last year Shell spent almost $8 million on lobbying in the US. It has spent over $136 million on lobbying in the US since 1998. In Brussels, Shell is the sixth largest lobbyist, spending between €4.25-€4.5 million a year lobbying European Union institutions, according to the EU’s transparency register.

And this cash turns into action.

Shell remains reluctant to get involved with more climate-friendly energy and plans to put just five percent of investments into renewable energy sources. That could explain why it was one of the companies that lobbied against subsidies for renewable energy sources in 2014, consequently getting the EU to scrap the support.

In October 2011, Shell was the first to propose that EU policies supporting renewables, such as wind and solar power, should be replaced with a single greenhouse gas target.

Instead of investing in clean energy, the company wanted to substitute one fossil fuel for another through the EU’s Emissions Trading System, promoting gas and the expense of coal.

The fossil fuel giant maintained that expanding natural gas production would be a cost-effective strategy, asserting that it would save Europe €500 billion. In a five-page letter to the European commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, uncovered by the Guardian, Shell’s executive direct Malcolm Brinded wrote:

‘Gas is good for Europe, and Europe is good at gas.’

But while gas has about half the emissions of coal when burned for power, it still significantly contributes to climate change. And there are other issues with basing an electricity generation system on gas — not least the methane emissions that come with it. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Shell’s lobbying activities aren’t always easily reported. The company has admitted that it likes to keep its lobbying under-the-radar.

At the company’s AGM in May this year, an InfluenceMap representative asked about its financial support for organisations which actively undermine climate action. In reply, Shell said it would not reveal to its investors how it decides which groups to form trade associations with, and whether their values aligned.