Shell now planning for catastrophic climate change

Issue 
Protesters in kayaks oppose Shell's Arctic drilling.

Hundreds of environmental activists blocked a port terminal in Seattle on May 16 to protest against Royal Dutch Shell’s proposed drilling in the Arctic. Shell is set to carry out more environmentally irresponsible deep-water drilling as a result of their planned $US74 billion takeover of rival company BG.

BG is a British multinational with several deep-water drilling projects around the globe. In 2008, it paid $US3.4 billion for Curtis LNG in Queensland and now exports coal seam gas (CSG) to Asia from Gladstone.

Shell has said that the takeover of BG would expand its presence in deep-water drilling at the same time as increasing operations in liquefied natural gas (LNG). The company is reported as saying, “By combining BG’s portfolio with Shell’s capabilities, we can deliver a step change in the growth priorities for both our companies. This means more deep water and more LNG, plays where we have strong profitability and capabilities.”

What it means for the planet is catastrophic climate change. But that’s of no concern to Shell who argue that its continued exploration projects are actually helping less developed countries to increase living standards by providing the energy needed to expand their economies. Coincidentally, of course, they also increase their profits.

Although some notable climate scientists like James Hansen in the US argue that a rise in temperatures to 2℃ is too much, the scientific consensus is that a cap on global warming of 2℃ is the minimum requirement to prevent irreversible climate damage.

So what might happen if we are on track to see temperatures rise to 4℃? According to a 2013 World Bank report, humanity might well find that it is not possible to adapt to it. Given the uncertainty that surrounds the full scale of the possible and quite probable impacts, “there is no certainty that adaptation to a 4℃ world is possible” is their sober assessment.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change argues that a global rise of 4℃ by 2100 would lead to sea level rises of between 52cm and 98cm which would result in a widespread risk to animal and plant extinction, severe coastal flooding, and a devastating decline in agricultural production. Moreover, an average 4℃ rise would create much more severe local impacts with the Arctic and southern and western Africa at risk of experiencing temperature rises of up to 10℃.

Yet a global rise in temperatures to 4℃ is exactly what Shell is planning for. According to their latest planning document, New Lens Scenarios, which is intended as a guide for future business planning, they have given up on limiting warming to 2℃. In part this seems to be because, as they put it they, “do not see governments taking steps now that are consistent with 2 degrees scenario.”

What their new scenario embraces is a forecast by the International Energy Agency (IEA) that projects a temperature rise of up to 4℃ in the short term which will later rise to 6℃.

As a Greenpeace climate campaigner pointed out in an interview with the Guardian: “What I don’t see is a realisation from Shell about what exactly would happen to its business if climate change escalated dramatically beyond what is safe with all the negative consequences in the world for food and water, never mind energy.”

Shell’s own carbon dioxide emissions increased last year and seem certain to continue to do so. Factoring in global warming of between 4℃ and 6℃ is their plan B. They do not seem to realise there is no planet B.

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