Shell claims it does not lobby against climate action, despite its associations with denial groupsA Shell official said the company has not worked against climate action, despite research showing its many associations with anti-climate groups. Photo credit: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

By Karen Savage

A Shell official falsely said the company has  not lobbied against climate action during an energy debate staged by the oil giant and live-streamed on Twitter Monday.

“Shell has never lobbied against climate action, not 30 years ago, not 5 years ago, not 10 years ago,” said Maarten Wetselaar, director of Integrated Gas and New Energies for Shell and a member of the Royal Dutch Shell executive committee said.

Shell was a member of the Global Climate Coalition, a fossil fuel industry front group launched in 1988 to undermine the growing scientific consensus that global warming was a major global threat and was overwhelmingly caused by burning fossil fuels. The GCC was set up primarily to block international action to fight climate change and to build public support for delaying action in the U.S. The group disbanded in 2002.

Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Total have spent more than $1 billion on misleading climate messaging and lobbying since 2015, according to a report published earlier this year by the United Kingdom-based research group Influence Map.

Wetselaar’s comment came  during what Shell billed as the “Great Energy Debate.” Held at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, the debate focused on tackling climate change while meeting energy demand. It included questions from audience members at Delft, Imperial College London and people participating via Twitter. 

While acknowledging the urgency of climate change, the debate also centered on the need for further research and technology development, the need to provide energy to less developed nations and personal consumption habits—all familiar industry talking points. 

“Why are we having this debate in 2019 when we’ve known about this issue since 1988?” a Delft student asked. “I think this has to do with Shell’s lobbying that it did for the last 30 years to block climate action globally in governments.”

Host Diederik Jekel, who at times appeared to receive feedback through a headset, quickly shifted the conversation to Shell’s recent departure from a U.S. trade group before passing the question to Wetselaar. 

“There is indeed an association of petrochemical manufacturers in the United States that we left a year and a half ago, not because they lobby against climate change but because their position on climate change is ambivalent, and there’s a difference between lobbying and taking a position, of course,” Wetselaar said. 

It’s unclear which, if any, trade group Shell left a year and a half ago, but this year, Shell cut ties with the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers after a company review found the oil giant had “material misalignment” with the group.

“We review all the mostly industry societies and clubs that we are a member of, and if their position on climate change is too far removed from ours and we can’t influence them, then we leave them,” Wetselaar said. 

Shell is still a member of the American Chemistry Council, the American Petroleum Institute (API), BusinessEurope, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, European Chemical Industry Council, FuelsEurope, National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Western States Petroleum Association.

Both NAM, which initially launched the GCC, and the Chamber of Commerce are supporting Shell and its fossil fuel company peers in climate liability lawsuits.

Shell spent more than $50 million on greenwashing campaigns to convince the public it is supporting action on climate change, according to Influence Map. It also continues to invest in oil and gas projects, including a $13 billion liquefied natural gas project in Canada.

Shell, headquartered in the Netherlands, has employed 42 lobbyists and spent more than $5.5 million in U.S. lobbying in 2019. That figure is down from a high of nearly $15 million in 2011. It spent the equivalent of about $41 million on lobbying in the European Union since 2010. It’s difficult to tell how much was spent targeting climate-related issues, 

The company’s insistence that it did not target climate action with that lobbying did not convince everyone in the audience. 

“I’m a bit upset about this and I think that’s also why most environmentalists also say why Shell is an evil company, it’s because of the lobbying it did against climate,” the Delft student  said. 

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