Shell Canada said the Dutch court ruling will not change its plans
A UBC professor says the Dutch judgment may be symbolic rather than practical.
A court in the Netherlands on Wednesday issued a landmark ruling urging Dutch oil and gas company Shell to cut its emissions by 45% by 2030 compared to 2019.
That, along with an unprecedented shareholder attack on the Exxon Mobil board this week, has led some experts to conclude that 2021 will be a turning point in the race against climate change.
“The world is realizing that something drastic has to happen to our fossil fuels,” said Werner Antweiler, energy expert and professor at UBC Sauder School of Business.
But what does all of this mean for British Columbia?
A Shell Canada spokesman told Glacier Media that the company was preparing to appeal the Dutch court’s decision.
“This decision does not change the actions we take or the actions others need to reduce global emissions,” spokeswoman Tara Lemay wrote in an email.
Speaking for Shell Canada, Lemay said it was already “actively exploring opportunities and investing in areas such as carbon capture, renewable energy and biofuels”.
The company has a number of assets across Canada, including interests in gas and oil fields in Alberta and BC, approximately 1,400 Shell-branded gas stations, refineries in Ontario and Alberta, and two biofuel plants in Ontario and Quebec.
When asked about the future of its investment in the massive LNG Canada natural gas terminal in Kitimat, in which the company has a 40% stake with four other Asian companies, the Shell spokesman said: “It was developed to have the lowest carbon intensity of any LNG achieve project running today. “
It’s the kind of answer Antweiler expects, noting that the Dutch judgment might be symbolic rather than practical.
“It is very unlikely that they can achieve these goals by maintaining current production and accelerating sequestration,” he said. Other companies and countries would likely step in to fill the void left by a company with emissions of 1.65 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases on a CO2 equivalent basis in 2019, just slightly less than Russia, the world’s fourth largest polluter.
One way for Shell, Antweiler said, is to get out of carbon-intensive facilities like LNG Canada, which in the first phase will produce an estimated four million tons of CO2 per year.
That’s a big part of BC’s annual carbon footprint. Data from a 2020 climate change accountability report shows CO2 emissions across the province reached 67.9 million tonnes per year in 2018, up 7% from 2007. Four million more tons of LNG Canada increases emissions by nearly 6% and could easily obliterate future reductions in other industries, Antweiler said.
What is most likely, said the energy expert: “The Dutch court has no global impact as it is not legally binding outside of this jurisdiction.”
Still, there is growing pressure on the oil and gas sector to move faster to low-carbon alternatives. According to a global database, there are over 1,800 active legal disputes related to climate change.
“It’s a big signal to all of the major fossil fuel companies,” said Marc Lee, energy specialist at the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives. “It raises some important questions about LNG Canada.”
On the same day the Dutch court ruled Shell’s future emissions, Suncor Energy Inc. in Alberta became the youngest major oil company to commit to zero net carbon emissions by 2050.
Antweiler said the clearest way for oil and gas companies to meet their net-zero targets is to stop developing new oil and gas projects.
At the same time, automakers like Ford and Volkswagen announced ambitious plans this year to phase out internal combustion engines and increase demand for electric cars.
“2021 is a turning point. The world is realizing that something drastic has to happen to our fossil fuels, ”said Antweiler.
“The only way to cut emissions is to use less oil.”
With files from the Canadian press
Stefan Labbé is a solutions journalist. That is, it covers how people respond to problems related to climate change – from housing to energy and everywhere in between. Do you have an idea for a story? Get in touch. Email [email protected]