On Tuesday in London, Shell held its annual general meeting, a place for corporate shareholders to hear speeches and vote on the company’s leadership and direction. Climate activists managed to gum up the works for about an hour, protesting Shell’s failure to adopt more stringent climate targets with chants of “Go to Hell, Shell,” sung to the tune of “Hit the Road Jack.” Eighty percent of shareholders nevertheless proceeded to reject a resolution, brought by the Dutch campaign group Follow This, to align the company’s climate targets with the Paris Agreement and commit to achieving concrete emissions reductions by 2030.
In voting down the resolution, investors followed the advice of Shell management. They wrote in advance of the meeting that the Follow This proposal was “unclear, generic, and would create confusion as to Board and shareholder accountabilities.” As they argue, the company is already doing its part: “Shell has a comprehensive energy transition strategy which it believes is in line with the more ambitious goal of the Paris Agreement: to limit the increase in the global average temperature to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels this century.” It’s an odd line considering that Shell’s own analysis found meeting that goal would require an immediate end to fossil fuel growth. Shell isn’t planning to do anything of the kind, of course. Newly appointed CEO Wael Sawan has said in recent months that cutting oil and gas production is “not healthy.”
In some strict sense, Sawan is right: Cutting oil and gas production—as Shell researchers say is necessary to reach the Paris Agreement goals—would be bad for Shell. That’s thanks to the obvious fact that Shell is an oil and gas company, not keen to torpedo its core business at a time when that business is raking in record profits. But the other reason halting oil and gas production isn’t profitable has to do with something even climate hawks have trouble admitting: There just isn’t as much money to be made off building clean energy.