Dramatic scenes unfolded at the ExCeL venue, as Fossil Free London campaigners tried to storm the stage in front of shareholders.
Around 100 climate activists have disrupted Shell’s annual shareholder meeting in London, demanding an end to oil and gas extraction.
Dozens of protesters interrupted CEO Wael Sawan’s opening remarks by singing “Go to Hell Shell” to the tune of popular song “Hit the Road Jack”, while others delivered speeches condemning the fossil fuel giant.
Some 20 people also attempted to occupy the stage with cries of "shut down Shell".
Shell reported profits of €36 billion earlier this year, the highest in its 115-year history, and is continuing to develop fossil fuel extraction sites. This is despite warnings from the International Energy Agency that new projects will mean breaching internationally agreed limits on global warming.
“Shell is setting our house on fire to fuel their own obscene profits - we have to shut them down,” says Joanna Warrington from Fossil Free London, a grassroots campaign group which organised the disruption inside the ExCeL Centre in east London.
“Oil and gas are driving extreme weather and climate collapse, from lethal floods in Pakistan to freak heatwaves in the UK, yet Shell is doubling down on these dirty, dangerous fuels.”
Outside the venue in east London’s Docklands, dozens more campaigners from Extinction Rebellion, Greenpeace, Global Justice Now, Medact and Fossil Free London gathered to rally against Shell.
Shell faces internal backlash from investors
The oil and gas giant is not only having to contend with activist pressure today.
Shell is facing a backlash amongst its shareholders over climate concerns, with the UK’s largest pension scheme Nest among those voting against the re-election of the company’s chair and its’ ‘energy transition’ resolution.
Nest and other shareholders are concerned that Shell’s resolution does not set “absolute emission reduction targets” for its ‘scope 3 emissions’ - the bulk of pollution which occurs indirectly in firms’ supply chains.
The Church of England, a small shareholder in Shell, has also announced that its retirement fund will be voting against Sawan and chair Sir Andrew Mackenzie today.
“High energy prices produced huge profits at oil and gas companies last year - a golden opportunity to invest very significantly in the transition to a low carbon economy, and one that was comprehensively missed,” said Olga Hancock, acting head of responsible investment at the Church Commissioners, which manages the £10bn (€9bn) fund.
“Shell and BP have recently started to tip-toe away from their climate-friendly pledges,” comments Laura Hoy, ESG Analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. “It’s highlighted a key ESG risk at these companies that investors should be considering governance."
Beyond shareholders, a wider reckoning with the British public looms. Shell landed its record profits at a time when more than seven million people are experiencing fuel poverty in the country, according to the End Fuel Poverty coalition.
New analysis from the Make My Money Matter campaign has found that the average UK pension invests more than £900 (€1,033) into Shell. But, its polling reveals that more than eight million UK pension holders do not want their savings funneled into fossil fuel firms and projects.
“People are struggling under swelling energy bills, yet Shell continues to rake in billions of pounds by profiteering from fuel poverty and war in Ukraine,” says Warrington.
“If we want a safe climate and affordable energy, then we have to stop new oil and gas. That’s why we're calling on Wael Sawan and the bosses of Shell to look beyond their fat paychecks and to shut down Shell. If they don't, an avalanche of protest will do it for them."
Shell is tightening security measures around its meetings
Today’s AGM is taking place inside ExCeL (short for Exhibition Centre London) - a large venue that has played host to a range of meetings and events over the years.
One purpose in particular has struck a chord with climate campaigners.
“Excel Centre is a securitised complex, favoured for year after year by international arms touters at the DSEI Arms Fair,” comments Robin Wells, director of Fossil Free London.
“It’s no coincidence that after we hit such headlines last year as their AGM was shut down for several hours, Shell are running away to hide with the arms dealers.”
This is the first time that the oil major has held its AGM at the venue. Last year’s shareholder meeting was held in Central Hall Westminster. In 2011, it was at the Barbican arts centre.
Shell’s AGM notices also reveal an increasing concern for security. In 2022, attendees were notified that body searches may be in operation. This year, the document’s ‘security’ section adds that “Behaviour that may interfere with anyone’s security or safety or the good order of the meeting (whether physical, verbal or otherwise) will not be tolerated. Anyone who does not comply may be removed from the meeting without warning.”
Chair Sir Andrew Mackenzie’s letter acknowledges that, “In recent years we have sadly seen some attendees at the meeting whose methods of engagement were disruptive and at times unsafe.”
The more secure choice of the ExCeL centre has not deterred campaigners before, however. Despite the extra security measures, Fossil Free London managed to crash BP’s AGM at the venue in April.
At least four demonstrators were forcibly removed from inside BP’s shareholder meeting within 10 minutes of chair Helge Lund beginning his opening remarks on 27 April.
“No amount of being dragged around by security or new government legislation will prevent us fighting for human lives,” adds Wells. “There is nothing worse than losing everything. So we say: bring it on.”
Responding to the protest, a Shell spokesperson said: “We respect people’s right to express their point of view and welcome any constructive engagement on our strategy and the energy transition.
“However, yet again protestors have shown that they are not interested in constructive engagement.
“We agree that society needs to take action on climate change. Shell has a clear target to become a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050 and we believe our climate targets are aligned with the more ambitious goal of the Paris Agreement on climate change: to limit the increase in the global average temperature to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.”