If you say energy transition, you automatically think of climate change. In September you gave a speech expressing your views on this subject at Columbia University in New York. Why is it good for Shell to talk about climate change?
In the past we learned the hard way that it was better to keep a low profile regarding this subject, because everything you say is wrong or considered hypocritical, or whatever. I do understand the choice, but in the end it’s not a good one. Because companies such as ours keep a low profile and because there is too little co-ordination in the energy sector you see strange things happening.
Policies are implemented that have a negative or even counterproductive effect. Take Germany, for example, where they now burn more coal and less gas. That cannot be the right solution. If we want to be seen as being socially responsible we must also play a role in this debate.
Can Shell influence public opinion?
I don’t think that influencing general public opinion should be our approach. I think that we should primarily focus on the questions: what can Shell do to promote the right policy? What instruments are now needed? The discussion now often lingers over the need for more renewable energy and the need to move away from fossil fuels. But that isn’t a policy and it gets you nowhere. Policy about carbon capture and storage, an effective CO2 price, efficient energy use, and so on are necessary. We should influence that discussion rather than general public opinion.
Are policymakers open to Shell’s arguments?
I do think so. When I talk to policymakers or others in the sector, I notice that they see a greater role for companies like ours. But I also think that we cannot do it alone, if only because not everyone sees us as credible. That means that we must work with other parties to make it clear that what we advocate is good for the climate.
Is our credibility an issue in this respect?
I certainly think so, predominantly because we were so often put in the dock in the past. Mostly unjustifiably, for that matter. I’m sometimes bothered by simplistic analyses that don’t acknowledge that our company has high standards, that our staff want to do the right thing for themselves, the company and for society.
We need to address this problem by raising our profile, by communicating better. People at Shell are also ready to be more assertive, I see. I sense a definite relief: finally we are going to try to bring a sense of reality into the climate debate, finally we are going to respond.
But we must also take a critical look at ourselves. For example, you cannot talk credibly about increasing the role of gas and reducing coal if you don’t talk about methane emissions from your own system at the same time. And we took a too limited approach to the problem in the past.
For example, by saying: “It is all terribly complicated, but whichever way you look at it, more gas and less coal would be good, so let’s go for it.” Fine, that is a good approach, but it is also seen as us acting in our own interest by part of society because we are involved in gas but not coal. In order to be credible we need to broaden our narrative.