• June 22nd, 2021
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Oil and the Future Don’t Mix

Photo: Courtesy Javier Sierra A huge solution for a huge problem


Javier Sierra


It has been a very lousy spring for Big Oil, with a historic string of upsets.


The first one took place in the Netherlands, where a court ruled that Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell—the world’s 7th worst climate polluter—must reduce its greenhouse gases emissions by 45 percent by 2030 in relation to 2019 levels. The court, the first one ever to demand climate responsibilities to a company instead of a country, ordered Shell to adjust its emissions and those of its providers and clients according to the Paris Agreement’s goals.


Evidence that oil and the future don’t mix keeps piling up.


The winning argument of Friends of the Earth (FOE), the organization that filed the suit five years ago, was based on the fact that Shell—by delaying for decades to adapt to the demands of the climate emergency we all confront—violates the human rights to life and family life, as specified in Dutch law and the European Convention on Human Rights. In an interview with Madrid newspaper El País, FOE’s lead attorney Donald Pols said for years Shell has been prepared to adopt the reforms the court demands, but “it is a prisoner of its own shareholders, who up to now have voted against it.”


Ironically, it was shareholders who scored three other resounding victories for the international climate cause. Fed up with the world’s biggest oil company, ExxonMobil, dragging its feet in the climate fight, activists of hedge fund Engine No. 1 conducted a successful coup by seating at least three of their candidates on the company’s board of directors. This is the first time climate activists have been able to infiltrate the board of the world’s fourth worst climate polluter to force it to take the climate emergency seriously.


At Chevron, the world’s second worst climate polluter, shareholders overwhelmingly voted in favor for the company, its clients and suppliers to curb their greenhouse emissions. The proposal was introduced by Dutch activist group Follow This, which presented another winning proposal at the shareholders meeting of ConocoPhillips, the world’s 13th worst polluter, to reduce the emissions of the commercial use of its products.


These victories, and many others, are happening thanks to the unrelenting pressure of climate activists the world over, and not to the initiative of an industry that for decades has known, hidden and denied the catastrophic effects of its emissions on the atmosphere we all depend on.


Just days before, the International Energy Agency stated that new fossil fuel developments must completely stop this year in order to meet the goal of eliminating all greenhouse emissions by 2050. In its strongest warning yet, the agency indicated that the sale of fossil fuel vehicles must end by 2030 and urged to double the global yearly energy investments to $5 trillion.


After this avalanche of bad fossil fuel news, during public hearings, Republican senators, hat in hand, implored the country´s megabanks to continue financing of this industry, to which the banks gave a resounding yes.


Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund issued a stern warning that the climate emergency could “absolutely” trigger a world financial crisis. Citing the catastrophic effects of weather disasters aggravated by global warming, the IMF researchers concluded that “the climate crisis is an existential crisis.”


It’s also a healthcare crisis. New research blames climate change for 37 percent of the world’s deaths due to excessive heat.


Evidence that oil and the future don’t mix keeps piling up.


Javier Sierra is a Columnist with the Sierra Club. @javier_SC


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