Ben van Beurden, chief executive of Shell, acknowledges that we cannot burn all the world’s fossil fuel reserves without risking a breach of the 2C limit needed to prevent catastrophic climate change. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty
Friday 22 May 2015 14.31 EDT
Ben van Beurden agrees that we need to capture the carbon emissions of fossil fuel reserves, but predicts that the world will be ‘zero carbon’ by the century’s end
Ben van Beurden, the chief executive of Shell, has endorsed warnings that the world’s fossil fuel reserves cannot be burned unless some way is found to capture their carbon emissions. The oil boss has also predicted that the global energy system will become “zero carbon” by the end of the century, with his group obtaining a “very, very large segment” of its earnings from renewable power.
And in an admission that the growing opposition to Shell’s controversial search for oil in the Arctic was putting increasing pressure on him, van Beurden admitted he had gone on a “personal journey” to justify the decision to drill.
The Shell boss said he accepted the general premise contained in independent studies that have concluded that dangerous levels of global warming above 2C will occur unless CO2 is buried or reserves are kept in the ground. “We cannot burn all the hydrocarbon resources we have on the planet in an unmitigated wayand not expect to have a CO2 loading in the atmosphere that is often being linked to the 2C scenario,” he said in an exclusive interview with the Guardian.
“I am absolutely convinced that without a policy that will really enable and realise CCS (carbon capture and storage) on a large scale, we are not going to be able to stay within that CO2 emission budget.”
The admission from the boss of the world’s second largest independently owned oil company comes as the fossil fuel sector comes under unprecedented public pressure to change its business strategy. Shell and BP have been forced to accept shareholder demands to be much more transparent about the impact of their activities on climate change issues at annual general meetings in recent weeks. And in the latest sign of sweeping changes, the energy minister of the world’s number one oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, admitted that his country could wean itself off fossil fuels completely within 25 years.