The irony of Shell sponsoring a celebratory event around power generation, and what this says about attitudes to climate change in the UK and wider world, needs to be explored further.

James Murray, editor of BusinessGreen and expert on the green economy, points out that despite the emergence of a multi-billion-pound green economy, Conservative Party climate sceptics have continually refuted climate science and voted against climate change legislation.

Last year, the UK Government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills released their budget for 2017-2020. It contained no mention of climate change or signs of policy initiatives, and allocated nothing to climate change investigation, despite it being devoted to the vital fields of ‘Science and Research Funding’. This comes as the present government has been revealed to have a long – and all-too-close – relationship with fossil fuel giants, who have reportedly given £390,000 to the Conservative Party under Theresa May. The question of whether this is corruption and influences policy-making remains open for debate.

Stephanie Pfeifer, Chief Executive of The Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, a group dedicated to clean energy ventures, states that: “Governments now have to raise their ambition levels to implement the Paris agreement and provide the signals required for the clean energy transition.” The implication is that governments seemed to have dropped the ball on climate change, when it is they who should be leading on the issue, as they have the democratic mandate and means to carry out the sweeping reforms that experts stress must take place.

As governments avoid the subject of climate change and fail to respond to the threat it poses, we see fossil fuel giants prepared to step in and take the lead. Large corporations have extensive, well-funded research teams and scientists that could be put to use finding alternatives to fossil fuels. And yet reports have emerged of oil giant Exxon spending $31 million on groups who sow misinformation and doubt about the very scientific findings they produce. According to John Cook of SkepticalScience.com, fossil fuel companies are funnelling money into ‘think tanks’ in the US that are using “climate scepticism [as] a tactic of an elite-driven counter-movement designed to combat environmentalism”. This suggests that the occasional espousal of green credentials is something of a smokescreen for the oil industry – giving them enough plausible deniability to continue without changing their primary operations.

The fossil fuel industry has known about the long-term effects of climate change for decades – Shell even produced a short information film, ‘Climate of Concern’, on the extreme effects the planet would face as a result of global temperatures rising. However, Shell is investing around £1 billion in renewable energy production, out of a £30 billion investment budget. This means that they can tout having invested a large sum of money in the right place, but in reality they are focusing significantly more on ‘dirty’ energy.

Essentially, we are seeing political disunity on climate change, as the partisan sphere continues to muddy the waters and draw out what science is telling us is a settled debate. More worryingly, we see corporate unity. In many cases, the industry – Shell included – accepts climate science and offers solutions and divestments from fossil fuels, but they are only prepared to take small action. This would include sponsoring a Festival of Science, which, by the direction their money is travelling in, shows how their commitment to the field extends only to promotion of themselves.

In A Nut-Shell

The Science and Industry Museum advertises what to expect at the exhibition sponsored by Shell: “…we uncover how supply companies convinced us of electricity’s importance and explore electricity’s place in a low carbon future.”

There are two striking things about the above phrasing. Firstly, the decision to place the role of ‘supply companies’ at the forefront, despite the fact that the electrical grid and our energy infrastructure has been largely built by successive governments. Energy production being solely in the hands of corporations is a relatively new chapter of our energy history, so it seems odd to heap praise on the role of the private sector when electricity production today is the result of public ownership and policy, which has since been replaced by private enterprise.

Secondly, the ‘low-carbon future’ is only a reality if polluters such as Shell choose to at last divest from fossil fuels, a change in which they seem to be reliably uninterested. As governments are still weak on climate policy, it remains the whim of a tiny clutch of carbon-emitters as to whether or not we can survive the 21st century by ditching oil and gas energy production, a toxic relic of the 19th century.

Lucas Jones