Shell Chair urges UK government to act on climate change

Posted: 31 January 2005

Warning against the "angry beast" of climate change, Lord Ron Oxburgh, Chairman of the UK arm of Shell, called for more determined action by the UK government to limit emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Delivering the fourth Greenpeace Business Lecture on 25 January, Lord Oxburgh said that the Shell Group has nothing to fear from the taxation and regulatory changes that are needed to avoid the potentially disastrous consequences of climate change.

He said, "Governments in developed countries need to introduce taxes, regulations or plans such as the European Union carbon trading scheme to increase the cost of emitting carbon dioxide."

This is the only way that technologies such as bio-fuel, carbon sequestration, the use of hydrogen as a fuel and wave, tidal, wind and solar power would displace the use of oil, coal and gas. "None of this is going to happen if the market is left to itself," Lord Oxburgh said.

Renewable energy

In his 50-minute address, Lord Oxburgh outlined Shell's strategy for coping with tougher laws and taxes on using oil and gas by gaining expertise in the various environmentally-friendly technologies that may play a role in meeting future energy needs.

He focused on the need for more research into marine renewables - particularly wave and tidal power which he said were "under researched and under resourced" and into better ways of storing renewable energy. He also highlighted the important role that biofuels and biomass could play in producing energy for transport, electricity and heating.

On transport he said that in addition to biofuels, hybrid cars were a cost and fuel-efficient way of bridging the gap into a possible future energy economy based on hydrogen. Further he acknowledged the need for aviation growth to be curbed, either by bringing it into the emissions trading scheme or instituting an aviation tax.

Industrial giants

Lord Oxburgh also said that the highest priority in the western world is to find ways for emerging countries to meet their energy needs in a clean way. None of the emerging industrial giants of the future - Russia, Brazil, India and China - will accept a lower standard of living, and history has shown that as countries become more prosperous their demand for energy increases. According to Lord Oxburgh, we need to work with them to help them leapfrog existing polluting technologies.

Lord Oxburgh then responded to an hour of questions ranging from the role of Shell in a changing world, to solving China's growing energy needs.

During the question session, Lord Oxburgh revealed the practical dilemmas of the third largest oil company in the world. Shell is in the energy business and must "stick to their knitting". "It is our job to explore new technologies" and once again he hammered home the message that the future will be determined by government action.

On emissions trading schemes, Lord Oxburgh felt it would be significant, but would take three to four years to develop market confidence in the scheme and get the bureaucracy right.

Responding to a question on Shell's lobbying activities, Lord Oxburgh stated: "There is no shortage of information and suggestions on how we can halt climate change and we are working on a range of government advisory committees. But there is a shortage of determination to act by government."

A copy of the full transcript of Lord Oxburgh's speech is available from