Taking action to accelerate
Jul 14, 2022
Shell Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden on the importance of accelerating the energy transition during the Aurora Energy Summit in Oxford.
Thank you for having me. I’m very happy to be here, even though this venue is a bit intimidating. We are in the examination halls where students come to bite nails, sweat profusely, and take exams.
You never quite forget that feeling – that combination of a fear of being tested and excitement about showing how hard you have worked.
In fact, I still experience it every week, at home, the second before I step on the scale. You see, I have been trying to lose weight recently, after I gained some kilos during all the lockdowns.
Losing weight usually starts with a target. Let’s say you promise yourself to lose 10kg within a year. Two months later, you step on the scale to find out you have not lost weight at all; you gained 2kg.
You had a great target, but you did not take action. You must now lose more weight in less time. Achieving your target has become much harder.
In the past, this was the moment I tended to give up and have some ice cream. Now, I do it differently. I set a target, I go to the gym every morning, I skip breakfast, and indeed I am losing kilos.
My point is: targets only work if they are followed by action. You need both. This is true for losing weight, and it is true for cutting carbon emissions.
That brings me to today.
In an effort to tackle climate change, the world needs to achieve a net-zero emissions energy system. This means our societies need to move away from their dependence on fossil fuels. That cannot happen at once.
The world cannot dismantle today’s fossil fuel energy system before the low-carbon energy system of the future is ready to take over. We need to get the balance right.
The world needs an energy system that provides a secure supply of energy that is reliable and sustainable and affordable. This means Shell will continue to supply oil and gas for many years to come. Across the world, and also in the UK.
At the same time, the energy transition needs to go much faster. And Shell will play a leading role in this acceleration. We want to be a pacesetter.
That requires us to focus on actions as well as targets. This is a crucial point for me – adding action to targets.
Don’t get me wrong, targets to reduce carbon emissions are necessary. The world needs them, and I believe countries and companies that have not yet set ambitious targets should do so as fast as possible.
But after targets are set, we all need to take the next step. We should avoid getting stuck in discussions about whose model is most accurate in 30 years. We should focus on whose actions are delivering the best results today. Because actions that bring you closer to your target make you want to achieve more.
This is why I want to share some of the actions Shell has been taking. And I want to mention three specifically.
First, Shell’s emissions – including those associated with the use of our products – actually went down. By the end of 2021, Shell reduced the absolute emissions from our operations and the energy we use to run them by 18%, compared to 2016 on a net basis.
And by the end of last year, we had also reduced the net carbon intensity of the energy products we sell by 2.5%, compared with 2016 as well. This net carbon intensity includes, beyond the absolute emissions I just mentioned, our customers’ emissions associated with their use of the energy products we sell.
To provide some more context for these numbers: according to data from the International Energy Agency, almost all activities in the global economy produced more carbon emissions last year compared to 2020.
In fact, in 2021, the world economy experienced a very energy-intensive recovery with a 6% growth in global GDP, a 6% increase in CO2 emissions and no improvement in the world’s carbon intensity.
Just try to think of a sector that succeeded in reducing emissions. Power generation did not. Industry did not. Transport did not.
So, while emissions from most sectors bounced back strongly in 2021, our emissions went down. Because we brought down emissions from our own operations, and because we are radically transforming our portfolio.
That brings me to the second type of action I want to share: our changing portfolio.
Let me start with some examples from the UK. In London, on the Fulham Road, you can find our first electric vehicle-only charging hub. This is the first time we have swapped all our petrol and diesel pumps at a site for ultra-rapid charge points.
Also, we won bids at the beginning of this year to develop 5GW of floating wind power off the east and north-east coast of Scotland. This is enough energy to power 6 million homes, which is more than double the number of homes in Scotland.
And there is more to come, since over the next 10 years, subject to Board approval, Shell UK plans to invest between £20bn and £25bn in the UK energy system.
This includes investments in natural gas, which plays an essential role in getting that balance right between energy security and the transition to net-zero emissions – for society, for the UK, and for Shell. Because gas, and oil for that matter, help to fund our investments in low- and zero-carbon energy, and are necessary to provide the energy the world needs today.
But 75% of our planned investments of £20bn to £25bn in the UK are to be spent on the development of low- and zero-carbon energy products and services, including carbon capture and storage, to give British businesses access to clean energy.
Of course, a considerable part will go to renewable electricity. Because clean power from wind and solar will have to supply a much larger part of our total energy demand.
But wind and solar power alone will not be enough to achieve the energy transition. Because there are also parts of our economy that cannot easily use electricity, such as aviation, shipping, heavy-duty road transport and the production of steel, chemicals and cement.
These sectors all need to find their own paths to net-zero emissions. And we are helping them.
That brings me, after reducing our own emissions and changing our portfolio, to the third action I want to mention: reducing emissions from these so-called hard-to-abate sectors.
We have, for example, signed a memorandum of understanding with Hanson, the UK’s largest supplier of low-carbon concrete. We are planning to help lower their emissions with solutions including hydrogen, biofuels and carbon capture and storage.
And on the other side of the North Sea, in the port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, we are building one of the largest plants in Europe to produce sustainable aviation fuels and renewable diesel made from waste and certified sustainable vegetable oils.
In the same port, we are also building a 200MW electrolyser that, once built, will produce some 60,000kg of hydrogen per day made from renewable power from one of our offshore wind parks.
At first, this low-carbon hydrogen will go to our Energy and Chemicals Park Rotterdam. In the meantime, we are working with our partners to further develop a hydrogen network for transport, specifically for buses and trucks.
More than 150 partners are involved in building this factory. Because getting entire sectors to reduce emissions requires everyone in that sector to work together.
So we collaborate with other businesses, with trade organisation, with academics, and with governments. Because for businesses to achieve ambitious long-term plans and actions, they need governments to put the policies in place to make these ambitions possible.
For example, for the energy transition to succeed in the UK, the country needs skilled professionals, and a lot of them. And I’m glad to say here in the UK, by 2030, Shell wants to help 15,000 more people develop the new skills they will need to get jobs in the energy transition.
Apart from more initiatives to help train people, we also need bold governmental policies and regulations that enable technologies like carbon capture and storage, increase the capacity of the power grid, and accelerate and synchronise the supply and demand of low-carbon energy.
At Shell, we need all these policies, and more, but we will not wait for all of them to be in place before we move. Because the world, and companies like Shell, must focus on action as well as targets now, if we want to get the balance right and have an energy transition with both a secure supply of energy and lower emissions.
So we have been delivering results, making crucial investments in low- and zero-carbon energy, and setting up collaborations in sectors that need our help the most.
For me, I get energised by actions like these. It is like standing on a scale and seeing that you have come closer to achieving your target. It makes me want to do more.
I hope we all feel the same about reducing emissions to get closer to achieving net-zero emissions. And let’s take action together.
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