June 2013. Gas in a changing energy landscape and a changing climate – a discussion with Shell

I attended an invite-only discussion, hosted by the CEO of Shell and the Chair of Shell UK, and centred on “global gas developments and their impact on global energy needs over the coming decades” – all within the context of climate change. The event included a small group of senior civil servants, the chair of the Committee on Climate Change, three academics and the representatives of two relevant institutions.

Much of the discussion focused on the how to balance increasing demands for energy, with carbon commitments and the ‘need’ to support economic growth and competitiveness in the UK. Whilst the discussion was fruitful and direct, I did not get any real sense that the debate is being formed by an explicit quantitative framing of climate change around 2°C. By contrast, and at both the Government and industry level, well meaning policies and low carbon dialogue was informed by a much more nebulous framing of the climate challenge. Nevertheless, the chair of Shell was adamant that he wanted the company’s development to be informed by science and coherent thinking – in essence to be evidence-based. I left with a clear impression that the Shell CEO was open to cogent arguments beyond issues of short-term finance; whether this is a view reflected in the concerns of share-holders and other senior Shell executives is open to question.

A final observation not intended as a criticism of Shell directly, but more as a comment that similarly applies to many Universities and other walks of life. Fourteen people attended the lunch, all males, all white and all over 40 (if not 50). It is difficult believe, even with the best intentions, that such a narrow group of contributors can adequately capture the variety of views and range of arguments that a different gender, age profile and cultural make-up may have offered.

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