In an open letter 'liked' by hundreds of colleagues, two employees criticised the fossil fuel giant’s lack of leadership in the energy transition.
Shell employees have written a letter addressed to the CEO stating they are “deeply concerned” by the direction the fossil fuel giant is heading in. Namely, away from renewables.
The open letter, written by two employees in the company’s low-carbon division, was posted on Shell’s internal web earlier this month and seen by news agency Reuters this week.
It comes after Shell boss Wael Sawan announced plans to scale back investments in renewable energy at the firm’s investor day in June.
Co-authors Lisette de Heiden and Wouter Drinkwaard took issue with this in their letter, which received 80,000 views, 1,000 likes and many heated comments, according to company sources.
“For a long time, it has been Shell's ambition to be a leader in the energy transition. It is the reason we work here," said the letter, addressed to Sawan and Shell’s executive committee.
“The recent announcements at and after the capital markets day [CMD] deeply concern us,” it continued. “We can only hope the optics of the CMD announcements are deceiving us and that Shell continues its path as a leader in the energy transition.”
Is Shell really a ‘leader’ in the energy transition?
Readers may be surprised to hear Shell described in these terms.
Only 1.5 per cent of its overall expenditure is spent on solar and wind power generation, according to an investigation by NGO Global Witness earlier this year.
The oil and gas company had said in 2021 that it would gradually cut oil production each year for the rest of the decade. But Sawan backtracked on this at the 2023 investor meeting.
Shell also split up its low-carbon and renewables division and scrapped the role of global head of renewables.
And in recent months it has exited offshore wind projects in Ireland and France, and said it was seeking to sell stakes in renewable projects in India.
These are not very promising developments for employees who believe in reforming a polluting industry from the inside.
“Shell bosses are sacrificing our safety for the sake of their own short-term profits, even their employees can see it,” says Joanna Warrington from Fossil Free London, a campaign group that picketed Shell's London HQ throughout the summer.
“There's no point waiting for them to grow a conscience. If you work at Shell, you can help us. Get in touch, leak us sensitive information, or make a public statement and quit."
How did Shell’s CEO respond to the letter?
Sawan himself commented on the open letter, Reuters reports.
“For an organisation at the crux of the energy transition, there are no easy answers and no shortage of dilemmas or challenges,” the CEO wrote in his response.
“We might not always agree on the way forward, but I feel good about the role Shell is, and will continue, to play. I am proud of how we provide affordable and secure energy to people every day, while we work hard to provide lower-carbon solutions to our customers, as we transition over time to a net zero emissions business.”
Shell still aims to be a net zero emissions company by 2050, including through investing in CO2 removal and nature-based carbon offsetting projects.
But climate scientists are clear that the journey is all-important with net zero. Greenhouse gas emissions need to be halved by 2030 (compared to 2017 levels) if we are to limit global warming to 1.5C, the IPCC states. One of the world’s top five oil companies scaling back its 2030 goals makes that much harder to achieve.
A Shell spokesperson told Reuters that, “We appreciate that our staff are engaged in and have passion for both the energy transition and Shell... Shell is playing a meaningful role in addressing the energy transition, and at our recent Capital Markets Day we set out those areas of the energy system of today and tomorrow where we are best placed to invest, compete and win.”