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Our response to a statement by Royal Dutch Shell at COP24

The attention of the world is on Poland this week and next as global leaders gather for the 24th U.N. Conference of the Parties (COP24) to determine how the Paris Agreement will be enacted.

Seizing a chance at the global spotlight on these latest rounds of U.N. climate negotiations, Royal Dutch Shell issued a statement on Sunday making ever-more commitments to help combat global warming.  

On its face, Shell’s words sound great.  But the record shows that Shell’s actions fall dramatically short of walking the talk.

Not the First Time Shell has made Climate Promises

This isn’t the first time that Shell made big pronouncements on climate.  Shell is one of eight companies who signed the Guiding Principles to Reduce Methane Emissions document this time last year.  They are one of 13 companies who make up the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) who have committed to reducing methane pollution to near zero throughout the entire gas supply chain–including the operations they did not control.

Yet Shell, and the rest of these companies who have made promises to cut methane emissions, have refused to oppose the Trump administration’s moves to eviscerate the Environmental Protection Agency’s national methane safeguards–the very standards that would require them to fulfill their promises to cut oil and gas methane pollution.  

Worse than refusing to oppose these dangerous rollbacks of methane rules, Shell was caught red handed actually lobbying the Trump White House to weaken EPA’s oil and gas methane safeguards…which is precisely what the Trump administration subsequently did.  

Alongside other big oil and gas companies, BP and Chevron, and their lobbyist minions at the American Petroleum Institute (API), Shell lobbied White House staff to revise federal methane pollutions rules to require less-frequent inspections for detection and repair of methane pollution leaks.  

Shell’s wish to weaken methane standards = more methane pollution

If Shell gets its wish…that is to say, if the Trump administration’s proposal to weaken methane safeguards is finalized, methane pollution will increase. When methane pollution increases, the climate gets hotter, as methane is 86x more potent at warming the planet than carbon dioxide, and public health is immediately threatened.

Don’t take our word for it.  Trump’s own EPA admits it.  EPA’s analysis of its methane rule rollback says that, “Decreasing fugitive emissions monitoring frequency…results in a greater increase in total emissions.”  On health impacts, the EPA analysis pointedly states that weakening methane rules “may also degrade air quality and adversely affect health and welfare effects associated with exposure to ozone,” particulates matter and other hazardous air pollutants.

You have to ask: if Shell wants to be taken seriously about its most recent commitment on climate, are we to assume it was just kidding about its past climate promises?  

Because Shell’s behavior so far seems like business as usual.  So far, Shell still seems to be trapped in the same habits of a company who knew about climate change three decades ago and chose to continue to fund organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and API who sow doubt about climate change in order to block meaningful government action to address it. Unfortunately for the rest of us, those efforts have been largely successful for decades.

Shell’s new commitment adds insult to injury

This brings us back to Shell’s most recent announcement, their latest climate commitment that was issued on Sunday.  There are various steps to which Shell agrees, but one in particular adds insult to the injury that we’ve just detailed here.  

In their statement, Shell “recognises [sic] the importance of ensuring that its membership in relevant trade associations does not undermine its support for the objectives of the Paris Agreement on climate change.”  Shell further promises to conduct a review of its membership with different organizations to “assess alignment with the company’s stated positions.” The statement says that this review will be made public in Quarter 1 of the 2019.

What a crock!

So, to recap:

Shell makes public promises to cut oil and gas methane pollution and co-founds an organization whose major aim is near-zero emissions in the entire oil and gas supply change.  After which Shell and its trade organization, API, lobby the Trump administration to eviscerate methane safeguards, an action that the EPA admits (and Shell definitely knows) will increase methane pollution.  The Trump administration proposes a weakened rule to do just that.  Shell refuses to oppose Trump’s rollback of national methane safeguards.  Then during U.N. climate negotiations, Shell promises that next year they’ll do better to fight climate.

This is absurd.  It is insane. Shell seems to be doing the same thing over and over again.  We should not be expecting different results.

Put Up Now or Shut Up, Shell

So here’s an idea: put up now or shut up, Shell.

The press and public should afford Shell no further credit on the climate unless their commitments are met with immediate action.  Quarter 1 of 2019 is not soon enough. More press statements and piling on more climate commitments are not enough.

If Shell is sincere in its rejection of efforts to undermine the Paris Agreement and trade association work that block combating climate change, if Shell is to be believed that it is committed to cut methane pollution, then Shell must immediately oppose Trump’s proposal to weaken EPA oil and gas methane safeguards before the December 17th public comment deadline.

Anything less from Shell casts an deserved shadow of a doubt on their climate promises in front of a global audience of increasingly wary investors, increasingly litigious governments, and all present and future generations who must live with the consequences of climate change.