Shell’s CEO Pens LinkedIn Blog Blaming You for Climate Change

The CEO of Shell took to LinkedIn to respond to the court case ordering the company to slash emissions.

If you haven’t logged in to LinkedIn in a while, it might be the time to recover your password to go rubberneck on what the oil and gas bigwigs are up to. In response to a Dutch court curb-stomping Royal Dutch Shell last month over its weak climate plan, the company’s CEO took to LinkedIn to write a response. And he’s got some familiar buddies sounding off in the comments supporting him.

On Wednesday, van Beurden’s LinkedIn blog, published almost exactly two weeks after the court decision, made international headlines. That’s understandable: the post marked the company’s first extensive reaction to the court case, other than simply declaring it planned to appeal. (It would be cool if a blog of mine could make international headlines, but then again, I’m not an embattled oil and gas executive trying to put on a brave face as public opinion turns against my product.) The post is titled “The spirit of Shell will rise to the challenge”—good attitude, Ben!—and is paired with a nice-looking stock photo of a big highway set among greenery, which I guess is meant to convey... something about business or driving? Not sure, but I sure do love corporate stock photos.

In the post, van Beurden sounds a little tired, but also a little bitchy, frankly. He says that Shell was “singled out” and that he does not believe the ruling will “help reduce global CO2 emissions.” (Agree to disagree, I guess?) He also insists that Shell stopping oil and gas production right now “would not help the world one bit” because demand would not decrease.

“People would fill up their cars and delivery trucks at other service stations,” he wrote. That’s right, the CEO of Shell, the historic second-largest investor-owned carbon polluter on Earth, is blaming you for this climate change mess.

He also pulled out a tactic increasingly favored by the fossil fuel industry of whining that Shell’s products are simply too important to consider doing away with. “A court ordering one energy company to reduce its emissions – and the emissions of its customers – is not the answer,” he writes. This is, of course, exactly what has to happen to stave off catastrophic climate change.

 Regardless of his complaints, van Beurden seems determined to project some positivity. He hit a lot of the notes we’ve come to expect from a big multinational oil corporation scrambling to convince everyone they’re the Good Guys, Actually. Van Beurden asserts that “Shell has set the pace in our industry by taking responsibility for reducing all our carbon emissions: not just those we produce ourselves, but also those produced when our customers use the energy products we sell, for example, to drive their cars, power their businesses and heat their homes.”

That’s being a little generous. While it’s true that Shell acknowledges the existence of these types of emissions, known as Scope 3, and has publicly hemmed and hawed about how to fix them, its net-zero by 2050 target doesn’t actually include those emissions in the calculation. In other words, they’ve decided they’re ultimately not responsible for them.

What’s more, the way Shell measures its emissions reductions is in what’s known as emissions intensity, rather than measuring absolute emissions. This type of accounting actually opens the door for companies to keep developing new oil and gas projects, which, the IEA said last month, we basically need to stop doing ASAP. Van Beurden’s brag in his blog that the company’s shareholders embraced its new energy transition strategy at last month’s shareholder meeting, in fact, conveniently ignores that a third of the shareholders voted for a separate measure that would have set more aggressive short- and medium-term targets in absolute terms—more than double the number who voted on the same measure last year.

But no matter! It seems that if there’s any place for an oil and gas giant to post a rebrand, it’s LinkedIn, which appears to be for business types what TikTok is for Gen Z or what Facebook is for your mom and aunts. Scrolling down to the comments on van Beurden’s post, the top comment is from Bernard Looney, the CEO of BP. “Ben – great message,” Looney wrote. “It is clear to us at bp just how committed you and the Shell team are – and have been - to the energy transition. It’s an enormous challenge – so all the more reason for us to continue to work together where we can to help the world get to net zero.” (“Thank you Bernard” van Beurden replied. CEOs: they’re just like us.)

Molly Taft, June 2021